TAMPA, Fla. — John Tavares can expect to be pushed, prodded and barely given room and time to breathe this weekend. Not on the ice, where the NHL All-Star Game’s three-on-three format gives talented players plenty of space. The Islanders captain will face pressure from the international (read that “Canadian”) media about where his hockey future will be.
All-Star Weekend, featuring media day on Saturday, the skills competition on Saturday night and the game itself Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena, probably will be Tavares’ final moment in a big fishbowl before he either decides to re-sign with the team that drafted him in 2009 or moves along.
Not that this will worry him. He faces the opponent’s best shot every night. Most likely, he will reprise something like his comment during the team’s trip to Montreal last week: “I hope to stay in Long Island. There’s a lot of positive things going forward with the organization and the team here.” And if the topic of splitting the next few seasons between Uniondale and Brooklyn comes up, he probably will repeat what he said this past week: “Like anybody would, everything that goes into this decision, I’ll think about.”
Still, there will be no shortage of speculation for a player who remains a huge figure in Canada and in the National Hockey League at large. The Professional Hockey Writers Association released the results of balloting Friday for its midseason awards and listed Tavares third in the race for the Hart Trophy as league Most Valuable Player (behind Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning and Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche; Mathew Barzal of the Islanders was first in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year).
Last week, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger quoted a hockey executive saying that if Tavares goes on the open market, he will be offered a seven-year, $105-million contract.
In any case, it will be interesting that Tavares’ final All-Star Game in this phase of his career will be held at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s rink, Steven Stamkos’ home. Stamkos, the No. 1 overall pick the year before Tavares was chosen first, generated the same anticipation and scrutiny when he approached free agency two years ago. He was linked to various possible destinations, including the Islanders, but chose to stay with the Lightning.
“I think the Stamkos thing should have taught us not to assume anything,” Elliotte Friedman, an insider for Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada, said on Sportsnet’s morning radio show Friday. “We all thought Stamkos was leaving and at the end of the day he stayed and he had some pretty big numbers thrown at him. There’s a reason John Tavares is still an Islander, and it’s because the team believes they can keep him.”
Stamkos and Tavares each helped the other’s game, having played several summers together in youth hockey. Stamkos has said he recalls that their team went 49-0-1, with the only loss coming against a team from Ottawa when Tavares missed in a shootout. Stamkos’ father was the coach and chose Tavares for the assignment.
Tavares will be joined on the Metropolitan Division’s squad by Islanders teammate Josh Bailey and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Former Ranger Brian Boyle of the Devils was named to replace injured teammate Taylor Hall. Boyle has had a standout season after being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.
Notes & quotes: The Islanders announced that Tanner Fritz, Michael Dal Colle and Ross Johnston have been loaned to Bridgeport. The Rangers assigned Tony DeAngelo, Peter Holland and Vinni Lettieri to Hartford.