John Tavares’ looming decision on where he wants to play will have a trickle-down effect throughout the NHL, affecting more than the Islanders and the other five teams reportedly bidding for the impending unrestricted free agent’s services.
In the wake of Tavares’ decision, a salary bar will likely be set for other high-profile free agents. Some teams will be forced to look elsewhere for upper-echelon help and this free agent market, which opens on Sunday, should take a more definitive form.
Tavares on Wednesday reportedly finished off the in-person meetings at the Los Angeles CAA office of his agent Pat Brisson as the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning made their presentations.
The San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins reportedly spoke to the center on Tuesday and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Islanders reportedly met with him on Monday during the five-day negotiating period leading up to Sunday.
The Islanders and president Lou Lamoriello, who flew to Los Angeles directly from the NHL Draft in Dallas on Saturday, may also get a second chance to meet with Tavares after the other teams’ pitches.
But now Tavares, completing a six-year, $33-million deal with the Islanders after being selected first overall in 2009, must weigh his options and choose where he will feel most comfortable and have the best chance for playoff success.
The Islanders are the only team that can offer Tavares an eight-year deal. Until Sunday, that is. After that, the Islanders, like the other suitors, will be limited to seven-year offers.
The Islanders reportedly started the bidding with an eight-year, $88-million offer but the intense competition for Tavares’ services will likely push his annual salary cap figure to the $12 million year range, if not more.
In other words, if Tavares opts to remain with the Islanders, who have $32.8 million in salary cap room per CapFriendly.com, expect that news to break before Sunday, possibly as soon as Thursday.
Currently, the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, one season into an eight-year, $100-million deal, has the league’s most lucrative contract.
Here’s how the Tavares’ trickle-down effect could potentially immediately impact other teams.
The Stars, who have $19.8 million in cap space, have their own in-house star to re-sign in Tyler Seguin. Starting on Sunday he can be offered an extension on his six-year, $34.5 million deal that runs through 2019. Seguin’s eventual new deal is very likely to mirror what Tavares gets.
The Lightning have just $5.3 million in cap space after signing restricted free agent J.T. Miller to a five-year, $26.25-million deal on Tuesday. But the Lightning also want to work out a long-term extension for former Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged this week he would need to shed salary in order to accommodate Tavares.
However, NHL teams may exceed the salary cap, set at $79.5 million for 2018-19, by 10 percent between Sunday and the last day of training camp.
Once Tavares makes his decision, the Winnipeg Jets’ Paul Stastny will potentially be the top center available as a UFA, with the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak also likely to see his value rise. And the Buffalo Sabres may field more trade offers for Ryan O’Reilly.