The fans who encounter John Tavares away from the rink have made it very clear they want the impending unrestricted free agent to remain with the Islanders.
Tavares, entering what could be his final home game with the franchise that selected him first overall in 2009, is not offering any assurances.
“The fan base has been tremendous since I got here,” Tavares said on Wednesday as the Islanders prepared to face the Rangers on Thursday night at Barclays Center. “People say certain things. I hope it all works out, too, and I’m back as well. I just want to focus one game at a time and finishing the season strong and in the days and weeks ahead there will be plenty of time to think about it and start looking at the future and move forward.”
How much money the Islanders are willing to offer Tavares, completing a six-year, $33-million deal, is not likely to be the issue. Rather, Tavares will likely consider the direction of a franchise missing the playoffs for the second straight season and one that will have a somewhat nomadic existence until a new arena can be built.
Tavares is likely to get a rousing ovation Thursday, though he said he hadn’t thought about that possibility until the media brought it up to him. But he said he doesn’t want to approach it as his possible last home game as an Islander.
“I don’t try to really think about it that way,” Tavares said. “My contract situation, I’ll start to think about it more and more in the days and weeks to come after the season. I just try to approach them all the same since my first one. Just try to go out and play hard and it should be a lot of fun knowing we’re playing the Rangers.
“I’m sure he’ll take it all in but you hope that’s not the scenario,” Islanders coach Doug Weight added.
Tavares has made some concessions to the overwhelming outside interest in his eventual decision.
For one, he deleted the Twitter app from his cellphone.
“I just try to be myself,” Tavares said. “I try to approach it the way I feel best. I just try to give everything I have to this group for as long as it goes. Obviously, the season will end on Saturday. I want to go about it the right way and be the best captain I can be. When the time is right, it will all come to fruition and it will all be over at the same time. It’s gotten to this point now. I can’t say how it’s going to go going forward.”
Being himself, the 27-year-old Tavares spoke in his usual even-keel monotone, with no hint of emotion or nostalgia.
And if the season-long scrutiny over his future has affected him, it certainly is not showing in his play. Tavares has 36 goals and 47 assists for 83 points and could play in all the games for the fifth time in his nine seasons with the Islanders. He can still surpass his career highs of 38 goals and 86 points set in 2014-15 and his 50 assists in 2011-12.
Notes & Quotes: Center Casey Cizikas (upper body), who has missed the last five games, returned to practice but Weight said he is not likely to play in the last two games . . . Defenseman Ryan Pulock and right wing Jordan Eberle will join rookie center Mathew Barzal on the Team Canada roster for the World Championships in Denmark, May 4-20.