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Finding a new home for John Tavares: Metropolitan Edition

Finding a new home for John Tavares: Metropolitan Edition

In part one of this weekly series, Sports and Other Things' Michael Keys explores the potential landing spots for John Tavares in the Metropolitan Division. Stay tuned next week for part two: why it does and doesn’t for the Atlantic teams to make a push for Tavares.

John Tavares’ contract with the New York Islanders is up this year and it’s time to start looking at where he might end up should he test free agency.

Tavares has played with the Islanders for nine years, collecting 618 points in 666 career games, all while carrying a cap-hit of $5.5 million.

Any exploration of where Tavares could sign has to start with what the salary cap will be for 2018-19. According to an article on SportsNet, the projected cap may rise to anywhere between $78-$82 million. So for this discussion, we'll settle in the middle and call it an even $80 million.

Then there is the question of what Tavares could get on the open market.

At 27-years-old he’s still very much in his prime and is one of the top performers in the league, albeit on a bad team.

Players of comparable skill to Tavares who have recently signed contracts as UFA’s in their age 26-27 season include:

  • Johnathan Toews – 10.5 million
  • Patrick Kane – 10.5 million
  • Evgeni Malkin – 9.5 million
  • Jamie Benn – 9.5 million.

With these players and the rise in the salary cap it is safe to assume Tavares could get $10.5 million from a team via free agency, but he would probably land closer to 10.

Here are the reasons why it makes sense and why it doesn’t for all the teams in the Metropolitan division to sign Tavares.

New York Islanders – Projected Cap Hit $47 million

Why it makes sense:

One of the biggest things to note about NHL free agency is that it's the opposite of the NBA -- superstars almost never leave the teams that draft them.

Last year the hype and speculation surrounding the possibility that Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos might sign somewhere else was massive.

Stamkos ultimately re-signed with the Lightning on a contract worth $8.5 million over eight years prior to free agency beginning in 2016.

Tavares has been the best player on the Islanders every year since they drafted him and without him the team would really struggle.

If Tavares wants to stay in Long Island, New York would do everything they could to keep him there. But the Islanders have failed year after year to build a team around Tavares.

Why it doesn’t:

If the goal is to win, then it really does not make sense for Tavares after management has failed to build a team around him even with high draft picks.

Matthew Barzal has looked like the most promising piece on the Islanders this season, but he's still just one player and that is still not enough.

They have struggled since drafting Tavares in 2009, missing the playoffs six of those nine years – including this year.

The team is one of the few in the Metro trending in the wrong direction and assuming he values winning, it is time for Tavares to leave Long Island.

New York Rangers – Projected Cap Hit $50 million

Why it makes sense:

The cap space would certainly be there for the Rangers to make a splash in free agency.

Most of the players they need to re-sign are RFA’s like Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skej.

If New York wants to keep all these players on their roster the cap could become a lot tighter, but a player like Tavares could help these younger guys develop.

The Rangers are a team that does not miss the playoffs very often – only failing to qualify once in the last ten years – and Tavares could instantly be the kind of difference maker that helps them get back in.

Why it doesn’t:

The Rangers sent a letter out to their fans via Twitter saying that they are going to be rebuilding so signing a player like Tavares this off season would be a bit confusing.

If the Rangers are serious about re-building, signing a player like Tavares wouldn’t make a lot of sense. But he could accelerate the re-build if that was something they wanted.

Carolina Hurricanes – Projected Cap Hit $49 million

Why it makes sense:

The Hurricanes have been a fringe team for a number of years now and one thing they have lacked since Eric Staal left in 2015-16 is a star talent.

Carolina is a young team and having a veteran presence like Tavares could help their players develop and propel their young core to a playoff berth.

They have done a great job drafting and they have one of the more promising defensive corps in the NHL.

Noah Hanifin is an RFA and Carolina is most likely going to lock him up long term, but even with signing him the salary is there for Tavares.

Tavares could be the player that the Hurricanes need to push them to the next level.

Why it doesn’t:

One issue with Carolina is their consistent struggle to get people to come out to games, Tavares could be a draw for fans and he could elevate the team.

But there has been uncertainty with the Islanders stadium situation and this has been cited as another reason why Tavares may not want to stay in New York.

If that’s the case, he may not want to sign with a team that has had questions about ownership and has been consistently linked to relocation rumors.

Washington Capitals – Projected Cap Hit - $63 million

Why it makes sense:

The Capitals have failed to make it out of the second round since 1997-98 where they lost in Stanley Cup final.

Tavares would give the Caps three great centers and him playing the middle with Alex Ovechkin on his wing to create a dynamic and dominant top line - or even him bolstering the second line - could be the missing ingredient they need to lift them over that second round hump.

Finding the cap space for him would be challenging, but talents like Tavares also don't become available often.

Why it doesn’t:

As mentioned, cap space is tight for the Capitals and they have a lot of their players locked up long term with big price tags.

John Carlson is having a career year in his contract season, so if Washington wants to re-sign him they will most likely have to overpay.

If they choose not to sign Carlson to a contract they will have to search somewhere outside of their system to fill that gap.

The Capitals have always been right up to the cap and they may not be able to find enough money for him even if he does end up becoming available. 

Pittsburgh Penguins – Projected Cap Hit $70 million

Why it makes sense:

The Penguins are one of the best teams in the NHL and they really don’t need to sign Tavares -- he is simply too talented to be a third line center.

But if they could make it work they could create one of the greatest teams in history and for that reason alone it's a fun fantasy to think about.

Why it doesn’t:

Pittsburgh doesn’t really have the cap space to sign Tavares and most of their money is locked up long term.

It’s possible that they could make some trades if signing him was a priority but the reality is that after winning back-to-back Stanley cups and clinching another playoff berth this year, it’s clear Pittsburgh can win without him.

Philadelphia Flyers – Projected Cap Hit $59 million

Why it makes sense:

The Flyers have been attempting to re-build and compete at the same time for years. After moving up 13 spots to number two at last year’s draft and selecting Nolan Patrick, the future looks bright in Philly.

Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read, and Brandon Manning are all UFA’s -- losing these contracts alone clears over $9 million of cap space.

They have the room to sign Tavares and he could slide into the second line with Jake Voracek or center the top-line with Claude Giroux.

Tavares is a game-changing talent and Flyers GM Ron Hextall should make a serious push for the Islanders captain - it could be what they need to elevate themselves from a fringe playoff team to Cup contenders.

Why it doesn’t:

The future does look bright in Philly, but the eventual reality teams face when they have young players who are playing well is that you have to pay them accordingly.

Robert Hagg is an RFA this year, but in all likelihood a $3 million price tag would be on the higher end for what the 23-year-old might sign for.

It’s more the 2019-20 season when Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim will all be RFA’s. Provorov alone could command upwards of $5 million after leading all Flyers defensemen in minutes this year.

Adding Tavares would dramatically complicate the Flyers cap space heading into having to make those contract decisions, and although in a vacuum the talent he brings is worth those cap headaches, the importance of cap flexibility can't be ignored when trying to decide if it's the right decision for the organization. 

Columbus Blue Jackets – Projected Cap Hit $61 million

Why it makes sense:

Columbus has become a staple in the playoffs and any team with a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky is going to be in contention year after year.

The team has also shown that they aren't afraid to make moves -- last offseason alone they traded their third leading scoring Brandon Saad to Chicago for Artemi Panarin -- and they have the space to add the marquee center through free agency.

The Panarin movie worked out. He has been the best player for the Blue Jackets this year and if Tavares could center his line the two could be instantly dynamic.

The Jackets can create the requisite cap room to make a push to sign Tavares and adding the marquee center through free agency would separate them from the rest of their Metro division competition.

Why it doesn’t:

The cap is a little bit tight for the Blue Jackets who may look to re-sign Jack Johnson this offseason.

They also have to look at the future of Panarin - who will be a free agent in 2019 - and Zach Werenski who will be an RFA that year.

The space may be tight, and some moves would have to be made, but Columbus could get it done.

New Jersey Devils – Projected Cap Hit $54 million

Why it makes sense:

When the Devils won the lottery and selected Nico Hischer with the first overall pick in last year’s draft they accelerated their re-build.

They have the space to sign Tavares and if Taylor Hall was to play on his wing they would have a dominant top line.

It would also allow them to put Hischer on the second line where he could play a more sheltered role.

Signing Tavares would send a message to Devils fans that they are really going to make a push for not just the playoffs, but the Cup.

Why it doesn’t:

It really would make sense for both parties to sign on this one, they have Hall locked up for at least two years after this.

Hischer would need to be signed around that same time, but -- for better and for worse -- it's impossible to know where the cap will be by that time.

Signing Tavares now eliminates some of that uncertainty and could make most sense.


Overall if Tavares wants to stay in the tough Metropolitan division the three teams that would make the most sense are Philadelphia, Columbus, and New Jersey.

All three have the cap and with Tavares on their roster they all have the potential to become serious Cup contenders.

Subscribe at the bottom of the page and check back in next week for part two: why it does and doesn’t for the Atlantic teams to make a push for Tavares.

 

All cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.

Photograph courtesy: nhl.com

 

The Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup dreams begin and end in net.

The Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup dreams begin and end in net.