Tavares yet to embrace Isles’ future vision
Free agent to be still not committed to 2018-2019 return
General manager Garth Snow has a vision for John Tavares’ future with the New York Islanders.
“We want him to retire as an Islander,” Snow said emphatically while his players cleaned out their lockers Monday at Downtown’s Barclays Center following a disappointing campaign in which the Islanders missed out on the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
“Our goal is to have John Tavares hoist the Stanley Cup in an Islanders jersey and retire an Islander.”
Unfortunately for Snow, Isles co-owner Jon Ledecky and head coach Doug Weight, all of whom were on hand for a state-of-the-team press conference, Tavares has not yet embraced that vision.
The two-time Hart Trophy finalist and team captain will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, meaning any of the 30 other NHL franchises can bid for his services.
Tavares, who amassed 84 points this past season, two shy of his career best, holds all the cards in this ongoing wait-and-see game of “Will He Stay, or Will He Go.”
The 27-year-old center was selected first overall by the Isles in 2009, and has more than lived up to expectations, piling up 272 career goals and 621 points during his first nine seasons with the organization.
Though Snow is the man who drafted him nine summers ago, he still hasn’t been able to get the team’s best player and undisputed leader to sign on the dotted line for what figures to be an eight-year, $100 million-plus contract.
And Tavares hasn’t yet committed to a return to the only NHL franchise he has ever known.
“It’s a big decision and there’s a lot that goes into it and that’s a big reason why I’ve taken my time,” said Tavares, who led the Isles to their only playoff series win since 1993 during the team’s inaugural campaign in our fair borough back in 2015-16.
“For me personally, you realize that you don’t know how many opportunities you get to get to this point and possibly see what the landscape is,” he added. “I don’t necessarily know if that’s even what I want to do yet.”
Sounds like a lot of confusion for a cut and dried decision.
Tavares can’t sign more than a seven-year pact with any other organization, giving the Isles an extra year worth of leverage.
He also is doubtlessly chasing an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup, something that appears a distant dream for his current team, which has made the postseason just three times during his surefire Hall of Fame career.
Can Snow, Weight and Ledecky promise a brighter future here in Brooklyn, and ultimately Belmont, for the perennial all-star?
“Whether it’s Doug, myself, the players, ownership or trainers, we’re extremely disappointed and not happy where we are,” Snow admitted following a 35-37-10 campaign that began with great promise and steadily began to fizzle following the first two months of the season.
“We will be better. That process started yesterday.”
The “process” hasn’t exactly been confidence-inducing during Snow’s elongated tenure at the helm under former owner Charles Wang as well as Ledecky and fellow co-owner Scott Malkin.
Since taking over GM duties in 2006 shortly after his days as a goaltender ended, Snow has delivered four playoff appearances, and the one postseason series win over Florida, compliments of Tavares’ memorable Game 6 overtime winner.
Despite the less-than-stellar track record, Snow will likely be back for more next year as he and Weight received a show of confidence simply by being beside Ledecky on the podium during Monday’s presser.
“As an organization we will be evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations and then we will make decisions based on what is best for the future of our club,” Ledecky said.
“We believe it is essential to our success to have a thoughtful evaluation process, to look at the past and more importantly, assess the future of our team, on and off the ice,” he added.
Tavares is doubtlessly doing the same as he contemplates the next stage of his career.
The Ontario native, who would be a perfect fit with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, has received some help from Snow on the offensive side of the ice.
Jordan Eberle (50 points), super rookie and Calder Trophy favorite Mathew Barzal (85 points), Anders Lee (career-high 40 goals) and Josh Bailey (71 points) will all be back in the fold next year to complement Tavares’ uncanny puck skills.
But the Isles’ porous defense, which surrendered NHL highs of 3.57 goals per game and 35.6 shots against per contest, has to improve drastically for the franchise to even begin to dream about better days ahead.
“I sit here and listen to Jon say that the owners failed and that’s how I feel, I failed,” Weight ceded.
“It’s not easy. It’s very humbling, but you have to learn from it, you have to accept it and you have to get better,” he said.
Being humble is something Tavares has always been very good at. Being coy regarding his upcoming unrestricted free agent status is something he has also mastered of late.
“This is obviously where I hope to be. I’ve always stated that,” Tavares continued to insist Monday in front of his vacant locker.
“I’ve loved it here. The people have really embraced me. The team and the organization have been first class since I’ve gotten here, and obviously [have] some great talent and great things ahead. [There are] definitely a lot of positives. I’ll have to take some time and figure out what I want to do and go from there.”
And all Ledecky, Snow and Weight can do is wait until Tavares comes to a final decision.
In the meantime, the future of an entire franchise hangs in the balance as moving to Belmont or even carrying on here in Brooklyn and in Uniondale for the next three years simply won’t be the same without No. 91.
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