What is the Deal With John Tavares?

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It’s a make-or-break season for the Islanders and Tavares

We are less than a month away from the start of the 2017–18 NHL season. The free agency — this offseason and expansion draft as well — is long gone and barring a couple of inexplicable cases (Jaromir Jagr, anyone?), all of the rosters are set for the new campaign. While there are some storylines already lined out to be developed during the upcoming season, primarily based on what happened from last October to the Stanley Cup Final in June, others will develop unexpectedly. In the middle ground, and as long as New York and John Tavares want to, we will have food for banter.

So, first of all, let me introduce you to John Tavares by going back in time to the summer of 2009. By that time, the New York Islanders had finished dead-last in the NHL. They managed to acquire a measly 61 points and won only the 32 percent of their games (26 of 82, namely). The second worst team, Tampa Bay, reached 66 points and they were followed by Colorado with 69. Although the draft lottery had been in place since 2006, the 2009 top-three picks maintained the order set by the prior season standings. The Islanders were awarded the first selection, which they used to pick John Tavares.

And they struck gold.

Looking at draftees from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, John Tavares leads everyone in games played (587), goals (235) and assists (302). There were not a lot of surprises and pretty much every team made good selections in the first round. There were also gems such as Ryan O’Reilly (#33, Colorado) and Marcus Johansson (#24, Washington)  selected outside of the lottery.

Eight seasons after this event, Tavares has played all but 35 regular season games for the only team he has ever known. His first season was remarkable as he finished it with 54 points for a league’s 76th-best mark. Only Steven Stamkos and Matt Duchene scored more points during the 2009–10 season at under 20 years of age. After that, he’s been an All-Star on four occasions and he has been voted the third-best player — per Hart Trophy votes — of the NHL two times in 2013 and 2015.

If we’re discussing elite players, Tavares must enter the conversation at some point. Here is a look at his Skater Rating Evolution from 2009 to 2017.

 

 

Barring the span from 2009 to 2011 in which he performed at a 3rd-line level (most probably due to lack of weighting data from before his rookie season), Tavares has been one of the most valued and impressive hockey players to glide the ice during the past years. On pure counting statistics, from 2010 to 2017, Tavares is the league’s 5th-best in points with 483. The only players Tavares is behind are Claude Giroux, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Kane. When calculating the PTS20 (that is, Points per 20 minutes played) for the same span, Tavares appears on the 15th-best spot out of 1739 registered players with 0.94 PTS20. The next Islander? Josh Bailey with 0.59 as the 154th-best.

Looks like Tavares has definitely given some value and production to New York after all. The Islanders, by their side, compensated that level of performance at the end of John’s Entry-Level contract by signing him to a 6-year deal until the end of the 2017–18 season valued on $33 million with an AAV of $5.5 mill. Sadly for them, the time for this contract to end has finally come.

In the market that the NHL has developed during the past few years, Tavares is a bargain. The money he’s earning is way under what we could expect him to make and the jump in salary he’ll see starting next year is going to be substantial. But that is not something that should concern a franchise with enough resources to bring his star player back.

Indeed, it was reported a few days ago that the Islanders had made an 8-year $84 million offer to Tavares to keep him in Brooklyn, although it didn’t seem to be real after all. That would have put Tavares on a level with coveted players such as Carey Price, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. So if it is not about the money, what could be possibly making John Tavares not re-sign with New York? Well, it seems like it is all about the team’s location and its development in terms of players and accomplishments.

As things stand now, neither the Islanders nor Tavares are in much of a hurry to reach a deal. New York wants to clarify their situation and Tavares wants the situation to be clear before making a decision. The Islanders may move to Belmont Park — it may not be soon — and New York’s roster doesn’t look like much improved from last season. Tavares is the one with all the leverage here. Whatever happens will ultimately be down to his thoughts about the organization and the path it will opt to take in the near future.

The offers will be there for him to take and virtually any team with the needed cap space will offer him the aforementioned numbers, if not bigger ones. It has been long rumored that Toronto is on the hunt (John was born 30 minutes from there). Is that a possibility if Tavares reaches free agency next summer? New York may be able to find a solution to his location woes during the next few months. They also may be already out of contention by then, although they missed the playoffs by just one point last season. If that’s the case, it may lead the Islanders to deal Tavares before or at the trade deadline.

New York is going to have a hard time during the upcoming year. If everything goes according to plan and without bumps in the road, there is no motive to think John Tavares will bolt and leave the Islanders in the dust. But if the Islanders can’t find the proper rhythm, issues will begin to appear. And if Tavares doesn’t feel like the Islanders are a winning team with contention aspirations, then we may find ourselves watching him move the puck far from the Big Apple. Only time will tell, and judging by the point we’re at, it is possible that we will have to sit for a while to know this story’s final chapter.

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