Brooklyn Boro

Isles must endure courtship of Tavares

Free-agent-to-be captain listening to offers from other NHL teams

June 26, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Team captain John Tavares will be a winner either way in free agency, but the New York Islanders are hopeful that their franchise player will remain in Brooklyn and on Long Island for the foreseeable future. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II
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John Tavares has officially received his Hall Pass.

Now, the New York Islanders must wait and see what he does with it.

Beginning Wednesday morning, Tavares and his representatives at CAA Hockey in Los Angeles were expected to begin fielding offers from at least five other NHL teams for the Brooklyn-based hockey club’s team captain and undisputed face of the franchise.

Tavares, who is coming off a solid 84-point campaign for the only NHL team he has suited up for since being selected first overall by the Islanders in 2009, is likely to hear the best pitches from the San Jose Sharks, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins.

Those meetings are expected to take place in person, while several other teams, including the defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights, will reach out to Tavares’ agent Pat Brisson via telephone.

This long-anticipated courting period in advance of July 1, when the 27-year-old Tavares will officially become an unrestricted free agent, will be a nerve-inducing one for new team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.

The 75-year-old Hall of Fame team organizational architect was brought here last month to restore the foundering franchise and, of course, to convince Tavares that there are better days ahead in Brooklyn and on Long Island.

Within three weeks of stepping into his new command, Lamoriello ousted former GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight, lured Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz Downtown and picked up a couple of potential steals in the first round of the NHL Draft.

Now, he and team co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky have to wait and see if the makeover was enough to lure Tavares back for an expected eight-year, $100-million-plus offer to remain an Islander for the second half of what has thus far been a brilliant but bittersweet career.

Though Tavares has racked up 272 goals and 621 points during his nine-year tenure with the franchise, he has reached the postseason just three times during that stretch and won one postseason series, a thrilling six-game triumph against Florida in which he scored the series-clinching overtime winner here at Barclays Center in 2016.

Going to a perennial playoff contender in San Jose, an up-and-coming juggernaut in Toronto, the team he rooted for growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, or Vegas, where the Knights went from expansion franchise to Stanley Cup runner-ups in their inaugural campaign, may be more appealing to Tavares than continuing to shoulder the load here in New York.

Then again, those teams can only offer him seven-year deals and Tavares has intimated throughout this process that he wishes to remain an Islander.

Lamoriello has been in talks with Tavares since taking the helm on May 22. He insisted during last weekend’s NHL Draft in Dallas that he and the team’s undisputed on-ice leader were working toward an agreement.

But that didn’t stop Tavares from at least listening to, and perhaps seriously considering, these other offers.

“I have no disappointment. No discouragement,” Lamoriello said from Dallas, one day after the Isles selected right wing Oliver Wahlstrom 10th overall in the first round of the draft and followed it up with taking much-needed defenseman Noah Dobson with the 12th pick.

“[Tavares has] earned every right to make whatever choice he has,” Lamoriello added. “The most important thing is that we hope in the end that he’s an Islander.”

Those hopes are tantamount to the Isles’ continued development under Lamoriello, who is on a mission to return the franchise to its former glory, citing the 1980s dynasty team that was the last to reel off four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Making Tavares a believer in his vision for the future here in Brooklyn and on Long Island, where the Isles will play half of their games during the next three seasons while awaiting the completion of their Belmont arena, was Lamoriello’s job since assuming his new post.

If the two-time Hart Trophy finalist winds up taking his talents to San Jose or Toronto, Lamoriello will have to swallow his first major fail since taking over this unsteady ship.

To be fair, however, ownership and Lamoriello have put their best foot forward over the past month to help Tavares believe in the future here.

“There’s been a commitment from ownership,” Lamoriello said. “They want us to be the best team in the NHL, and they gave me the authority to do that. The first decision was to get a coach, and in my opinion, we got one of the best ones in the NHL. Now we have to convince our player that this the best decision for him.”

And now, the puck is on Tavares’ stick.

“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,” he said just moments after peeling off his Islander jersey, perhaps for the last time, after scoring the overtime winner in a regular season-ending 4-3 win in Detroit on April 7.

“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.”

What Tavares ultimately decides to do will go a long way toward deciding the path Lamoriello takes to returning this franchise to relevance and serious contention for its first Stanley Cup title since 1983.

On a day that Brooklyn voters went to the polls to choose their candidates for congressman, the Islanders and their fan base officially began to wait, with baited breath, for the decision that has been looming over their collective heads for several years.

Will he stay, or will he go?

Only John Tavares knows.

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