John Tavares has not ruled out re-signing with the Islanders before the season ends, the captain said Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center. He added that his decision to remain will not hinge on the team making the playoffs.
The Islanders made good on their word not to deal Tavares, a pending free agent, before the NHL trade deadline of 3 p.m. Monday. The next step is up to Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Asked if he will decline to re-sign before the conclusion of this season, Tavares said, “I wouldn’t say it’s a foregone conclusion. There’s no question my focus mostly right now is to help the team get to the playoffs. And obviously, we’re right in the thick of things.”
The Islanders are four points behind the Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, and Tavares was asked if failing to reach the playoffs would trigger his departure. “No. No,” he said. “Things happen and change so quickly with the standings and how tight it is for us and where we stand right now. I’m never going to close the door on anything, but at the same time, the priority is to help this team get to the playoffs . . . Whether anything [contract-wise] happens between now and then, we’ll see.”
Teammate Josh Bailey, another potential free agent, recently agreed to a six-year, $30-million deal.
General manager Garth Snow has said the conversations he’s had with Tavares and his agent will remain confidential, but he has made it clear the organization wants Tavares to stay.
Tavares has been in a dry spell offensively and does not have a point in seven straight games. “I think it’s a slump,” coach Doug Weight said. “I think the pucks aren’t going in. We’ve been through it.
“He took a lot of heat on himself for the Jersey game,” Weight said, referring to a 2-1 loss to the Devils on Saturday. “He played faster, he took shorter shifts, he was our best centerman getting back, breaking the puck out. It’s going to turn, and when it does, look out. Obviously, as a selfish coach you hope it’s sooner than later.”
Weight said Tavares has no ailment hindering his play. “I think [I’d know] if he had an injury,” he said.
Do the Islanders have enough to make the playoffs? “I guess that would be the message in the long and the short of it,” Weight said before the deadline passed. “Would you want an Erik Karlsson or a Ryan McDonagh or whoever these guys are talking about? Sure. I’m sure we dipped our foot in every pool.
“Even if we were six points north of where we are, are we going to salvage a couple of first-round picks or two second- round picks? Those are decisions, if they’re not attractive enough, you’re not going to make them regardless of your position. We believe in our team and the direction we’re going. I think we are good enough to make the playoffs this year. And we got a month-and-a-half to prove that.”
Tavares thinks the team can get back to the form it showed early in the season. “For sure, we don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “Obviously, still some hockey left to be played, but the urgency is here now.”
Deadline deal. In a swap of pending free-agent forwards, the Islanders obtained 26-year-old Chris Wagner from the Ducks for 38-year-old Jason Chimera, who was a healthy scratch in the last five games. Chimera had 11 points in 58 games. Wagner has six goals and nine assists for a career-high 15 points and was effective on the Ducks’ penalty kill.