It may be a couple days past Valentine’s day, but there doesn’t appear to be much love between the New York Islanders and John Tavares.
Larry Brooks of The New York Post suggested that a growing rift between the two parties could cause Tavares to leave Brooklyn when his contract expires in 2018. The 25-year-old currently makes $5.5 million, which is an extremely team-friendly contract. In two years, he will definitely be due a raise.
After clearing salary space from the Dion Phaneuf trade last week and the Phil Kessel trade last summer, Brooks speculated that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be in the running to sign Tavares in two years. By that time, Toronto should be ready to compete and Tavares is from Mississauga, Ontario–so the fit seems logical.
Still, a lot can change in two years. It is way too early to suggest Tavares will be doing anything but playing in Brooklyn after 2018.
The Islanders have been pretty inconsistent this season, but they have caught fire again lately. New York has won four of its last five and positioned themselves back into third place in the Metropolitan division. If they get hot this spring and make a deep run, the “Tavares is unhappy” narrative probably disappears. That might happen even with one playoff series victory, which would be the first for the franchise since 1993.
That is an awfully long time to wait to advance to the second round of the postseason, and this current group of Islanders, with Tavares as captain, has lost in the first round two of the last three seasons.
Yet fans have to realize that the Islanders’ roster is in the best shape its been in for quite some time. Unless the team experiences an unexpected collapse, the Islanders will advance to the postseason for the third time in four seasons. New York has not done that in nearly a decade.
Playoff appearances aren’t the ultimate prize, but it is a stepping stone–especially for a young team. The average age of the Islanders this season is 27.2, and New York only has four skaters over the age of 30.
In some ways, the Islanders became a playoff contender faster than anyone believed they could. There have been rumors all season about what general manager Garth Snow should do with right winger Kyle Okposo. Most contending teams don’t have trade rumors circling around their leading scorer, but the Islanders do because there is a belief in Brooklyn that this team will be better in two or three years.
For the long-term benefit of the franchise, it might be better to trade Okposo for assets rather than see him leave this summer. Such a move would be a huge disappointment for this year’s club, but it would speak volumes to the confidence Snow has in this group moving forward.
Brooks wrote that the tension between Tavares and the Islanders is over the franchise’s rocky move from Long Island to Brooklyn.
Maybe it will change upon this summer’s transfer of ownership, but the franchise thus far has attempted to straddle the two locales, in essence refusing to acknowledge the reality of where the team plays and to whom it belongs.
In doing so, in refusing to build a practice facility in the borough but instead recommitting to skating on the Island, ownership has placed an undue burden/inconvenience on the players. The Nets finally were able to build a practice facility in Brooklyn. Wouldn’t you think the hockey team could?
It is a few months into Year 1 of the commute and the Islanders — including Tavares, who, we’ve been told by numerous individuals, has worried about this on behalf of his teammates ever since the move to Barclays became a fait accompli — already are tired of it. Imagine grinding through year after year of it.
The problem with that train of thought is it was reported in early January that the Islanders moved game-day practices back to Long Island after the players requested it. And when the news came out, Tavares himself said it wasn’t that big of a deal.
“There’s the ups and downs of the season,” Tavares told ESPN. “Just because you go to Brooklyn twice on the train in the morning (in the preseason) and stay in a hotel and it feels great now, in January it may not feel that way. We’re just trying different things. I don’t think it’s anything to read too much into.”
Brooks is right in the sense that the Islanders have an identity crisis. The franchise is unsuccessfully claiming to be a team for both Long Island and Brooklyn. But the issue is over the fact players have to commute on the Long Island rail for games. If practicing and playing games in two different places was a problem, the players wouldn’t have requested to do so.
This doesn’t mean Tavares won’t re-sign with the team in two years.
Besides, all of this (practice location, team identity, etc.) could change under new ownership. Jon Ledecky and Scott D. Malkin will become the team’s majority owners in October, and they will have two full seasons to prove to Tavares it is worth staying in Brooklyn long term.
Assuming he even needs convincing. If the Islanders continue to improve and finally solve their April blues and win a postseason series, Tavares could just stay on his own.