John Tavares has been happy to tell anyone who asks that he wants to remain an Islander when his entry-level contract expires after this season, even though the team didn't make the playoffs his first two seasons and despite its uncertain future on Long Island.
Tavares and his agents are putting their money where his mouth is. Newsday has learned that the Islanders and Tavares' representatives have had substantive talks regarding a long-term contract that could be completed before the season opens. That's what Tavares, who turns 21 Tuesday, wants to happen.
"It's not something I want hanging over the season and affecting the team," he said Tuesday after an informal skate at IceWorks in Syosset. "I know I'm going to be here for a long time and I'd like it to get done."
The numbers are not known; it's believed that the length of the deal being discussed is in the five- to six-year range. Islanders general manager Garth Snow and Pat Brisson, Tavares' agent, declined comment on the talks.
Tavares, drafted first overall in 2009, has showed steady improvement. As a rookie, he had 24 goals and 30 assists. Last season, he went up to 29 goals and 38 assists and seemed much more at ease with NHL life.
"You can see the difference in him, on and off the ice," Mark Streit said. "He's really matured quite a lot."
That maturity has manifested itself in his steadfast desire to remain an Islander, even if it's uncertain where the team will be located beyond the 2014-15 season.
"Once this [contract] is done, it'll finally show people that this is where I want to be," Tavares said. "At the end of the day, until it's signed, some people will think there's a possibility I don't want to be here. I don't quite understand it; I never have.
"Right now, my focus is on getting ready for the season. I'll keep saying that I want to stay here, I guess, until the contract's done. Nothing's changed for me." If the deal doesn't get done before the season, Tavares isn't worried.
"For a lot of entry-level guys, sometimes it takes until after that last season," he said. "However long it takes. Hopefully, we'll make the playoffs this season and improve as a team and people will know why I want to be here."
Notes & quotes: The Islanders rookies won Tuesday night, 7-2, over the Bruins' prospects at the Coliseum. Ryan Strome and Casey Cizikas had two goals apiece, and Anders Nilsson made 38 saves . . . Former captain Alexei Yashin skated with the Islanders' veterans again and said he has no plans for this season. The Islanders may extend a training-camp invite to Yashin, 37, whose contract was bought out after the 2006-07 season.