As the NHL’s annual free agent frenzy quickly approaches, the big fish on the list of available free agents might be headed to shark infested waters.
The big catch on this year’s list is John Tavares and there is no shortage of suitors lining up to have him, as the centerpiece in their lineup. During the NHL draft weekend, it began to leak out that Tavares had narrowed his list to five teams, that he would take meetings with and would listen to presentations from, as he decides whether or not to bolt from the Islanders.
According to NHL insiders the short list this week included, Dallas, San Jose, Toronto, Boston and possibly Tampa Bay. Keeping in mind, Tavares has still not ruled out a return to the Islanders.
Below, we will break down the competition for Tavares services and possible next destination, as the star of the free agent class mulls over his options.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have a strong nucleus and approximately just under $12 million in cap space. The selling points for Beantown are a quick style of pace and a group of up and coming players with Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy. Tavares would be a perfect complement for a group of veterans that already includes Brad Marchand, star centre Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The obstacle for the Bruins would be the challenge of retaining some of their own free agents and making all the pieces gel for strong team chemistry.
Dallas Stars: Working for the Stars pitch is an electric offensive attack that boasts Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Russian sniper Alexander Radulov. Adding Tavares to this combination would make them lethal. Other advantages to the Stars presentation are no state income tax in Texas and warm weather, if he is tired of long winters in the Northeast. Working against the Stars, is a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in eight of the last 10 seasons. On the business side, the team boasts $19.8 million in cap space, but currently only has 14 players under contract. General Manager Jim Nill will need to get out the calculators to make a possible $12 million a year salary work for Tavares and have any flexibility left for other free agent signings.
Tampa Bay Lightning: In this non-traditional hockey market, a level of success, along with a roster that is fully loaded, are huge selling points for the Lightning. Some of their advantages are similar to the Dallas market, with no state income tax and the weather being enticing. The Lightning squad has advanced to the Conference Finals three of the last four years. For a contingent led by Steve Yzerman, adding Tavares could be the missing piece to put the Lightning over the top. The challenge will be the economics side of fitting Tavares contract into their budget with only a tad over $5million left after resigning J.T. Miller earlier this week.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Could a homecoming be in the works for Tavares? Considering he was born in Mississauga, Ontario and would have endless marketing and sponsorship opportunities available to him, the table would be set for him to be the toast of the Toronto market. Adding Tavares to an already offensive powered lineup would give the Leafs two elite talents down the middle. Toronto would boast a similar approach that has been a successful formula for the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. On the flip side, the pressure of playing in a Canadian market might be over the top, for the normally quiet and reserved Tavares. Does he want to be scrutinized at every turn 24-7? Recent postseason history has not been kind to the Leafs, as they have not won a playoff series dating back to 2004. Also, the Leafs have concerns on the blue-line and his addition does nothing to address that.
San Jose Sharks: For the Sharks, their GM Doug Wilson has been proactive in freeing up to $19 million in cap space to get into the Tavares lottery. They boast a veteran lineup which includes Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brett Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and goalie Martin Jones. The above list makes for a solid roster and an addition of Tavares could make them the odds on favourite in the Western Conference. The team could offer something many other teams can’t “stability.” Their on ice performance has been impressive, only missing the playoffs once in the past 14 seasons. In the front office, the team boasts a strong organizational structure in place. Working against them is a small window to be on top, as the Sharks have a roster boasting stars 30 and over.
Also, does signing Tavares officially close the door on one of the team leaders Joe Thornton? Leaving lots to be considered for Tavares to ponder when making his choice.
Lastly, I know there is some sentiment amongst hockey insiders and media members that Tavares is simply testing the waters. That when it is all said and done, the Islanders is where his true loyalty lies and Lou Lamoriello has done enough to convince his star player to stay with the Islanders.
When it all shakes out in the coming days, I’m going to go against the grain and predict Tavares will choose to switch to the west coast from the east coast.
I believe if he is truly looking for a Stanley Cup, joining the Sharks, with a well-balanced lineup would be a perfect fit. He would be able to avoid being under the media microscope daily in a Canadian market and lastly I believe to a degree, Tavares has become tired of the dysfunction within the Islanders franchise over previous seasons.
Stay tuned, as the “Tavares Watch” continues.