On July 1st, current New York Islanders center John Tavares will officially become a free agent. Tavares may be the best players in this generation to hit free agency in his prime. The 2009 NHL Draft’s first overall pick has succeeded tremendously, and at age 27, he (should) just be entering his prime.
While teams like Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Boston made attempts to land him, it appears that Tavares has narrowed it down to three teams; the Toronto Maple Leafs, the San Jose Sharks, and staying with the New York Islanders. We will look at these three scenarios closer.
The Garth Snow era and his incompetence were finally shown the door after 12 seasons. He will now be replaced by Lou Lamoriello as GM, who built up the New Jersey Devils franchise that won 3 Stanley Cups in under a decade. Also, Barry Trotz, who coached the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history last season, is taking the job as coach for the Islanders. These management moves may be enough to entice Tavares to stay put in a place he knows. Lastly, the Islanders have just under $33 million in cap space, which is the most out of the 3. However, the Sharks and Leafs have more roster spots filled out, meaning they have to spend less on other needs. Outside of these relatively simple reasons, though, there is not much to offer that would sound intriguing in convincing Tavares to stay in Brooklyn. They are definitely the long shot out of the three.
The San Jose Sharks lost Patrick Marleau last offseason to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency. Reports have said that Thornton is willing to take another one-year deal to stay with San Jose, probably to finish up his NHL career. The Sharks have a projected $18.8 million in cap space with 4 roster spots left. If Thornton is willing to take a pay cut, and they can sign a couple more players for cheap, then San Jose could afford to land Tavares. Evander Kane, who was acquired in a trade this past season from Buffalo, is signed all the way through the 2024-25 season, so they don’t have to worry about locking him up long-term.
I just have to ask this question; how does Toronto realistically expect to be able to pay for Matthews, Marner, and Marleau in the near future, on top of John Tavares, and have enough depth throughout the lineup? Matthews and Marner will be RFAs after this upcoming season, and Matthews alone is expected to get an average of $11 million a season. The Leafs need to be careful that they do not fall into a similar trap that their fellow Canadian-franchise in Edmonton has faced with McDavid and Draisaitl. Those two players alone will cost the Oilers about 1/4 of their salary cap room this upcoming season. Long story short, a Tavares signing would not hurt the Leafs this season, but it could cost them depth needed to go on playoff runs that would result in a Stanley Cup.
On a side note, though, let’s pretend the Leafs do sign Tavares; imagine having two of the top first overall picks in the last decade, one of whom you did not even draft. It would be remarkable. Tavares and Matthews are both centers so those two alone would provide great center-depth.
I believe he is going to go to San Jose. The cap room and talent to win are there, and Tavares won’t have to take an immediate leadership role, assuming Thornton resigns for cheap.
Whatever happens, though, will be interesting to see.