The message has been clear for more than a year now, ever since Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky took over majority control of the Islanders: John Tavares is the face of the franchise and everyone, from the owners on down, wants him to be an Islander forever.
But with no extension talks currently underway, is that feeling mutual?
Tavares could have signed an extension when free agency began at noon on July 1. But while there hardly is any animosity on either side — general manager Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight are in regular contact with their star and captain, who still has a year to go on his current deal — there have been no announcements and no indications that Tavares is ready to sign on.
The Islanders did not respond to requests for a Tavares interview and Snow hasn’t commented since the NHL Draft two weeks ago when he said, “We want him to retire as an Islander.”
So what’s the holdup?
Here are a few factors Tavares is considering, according to various league sources:
It’s certainly not something that Tavares can control, but the process toward the Islanders finding a permanent home has been typically slow and rocky. That there might not even be a public Request For Proposals issued by New York State for the Belmont property before next season begins makes no one around the Islanders happy.
Same goes for the staredown with Barclays Center over the lease deal, which certainly won’t make Tavares and his teammates happy if they have to stay in Brooklyn with a hostile landlord that won’t fix the slushy ice — ice that Cal Clutterbuck, Tavares’ teammate and close friend, said was responsible for Tavares’ torn hamstring late last season.
The front office
Snow drafted Tavares and the two remain close after eight seasons, five of which didn’t include a playoff appearance. Ownership definitely has taken the lead in making sure that Pat Brisson, Tavares’ agent, has been kept up to date on the state of the organization, with Malkin and Ledecky holding regular meetings with Brisson throughout last season and into the offseason.
Brisson was on ownership’s short list of potential replacements for Snow, but the high-powered agent gave no indication that he was ready to move over to the team side. The owners’ prolonged “listening tour,” in which they spoke with dozens of agents, executives and retired players last season, might have gotten Tavares wondering who exactly will be in charge in the coming years and in what direction the organization will go.
The McDavid deal
With all the leverage in any negotiations with the team, given how clear the Islanders have made it that they want Tavares locked up, an eight-year deal worth between $10 million and $11 million per year always seemed like the end result.
Now that Connor McDavid’s likely deal at $13.25 million per year has leaked out, Brisson and Tavares no doubt are taking a cautious approach. Although McDavid is seven years younger and already a Hart Trophy winner, Tavares is not going to take significantly less than another star in the league. He already did Snow and former owner Charles Wang a favor by quickly agreeing to the six-year, $33-million deal that expires after next season. There will be no favors this time around, and it’s easy to see Tavares ending up a $12-million-a-year man when this is done.
This is not to say that Tavares is simply biding his time until he can leave the Isles for nothing next July 1. If that were the case, his camp would have communicated that to Snow by now and the GM would have held one heck of an auction for Tavares’ services on the draft floor in Chicago.
Tavares has decided to wait and the Islanders have decided to ride it out, however long it goes. It could be a month, two months or all the way into next offseason before the captain decides he likes what he sees or decides he’s headed elsewhere.
It’s not exactly a comfortable feeling, certainly for Islanders fans who have made it known on social media how they’ll react if Tavares walks away. But the fans might have to live with that queasiness for a little while, because there doesn’t seem to be any decision coming soon.