The hottest free agent of the 2018 offseason could very well be New York Islanders captain John Tavares, but that can only happen if he does not re-sign with the Islanders prior to the first day of the National Hockey League's free agency period beginning on July 1st.
The speculation around Tavares has been rampant since even prior to the 2017-2018 season when many pundits believed that the Islanders would seek to trade Tavares if a deal was not signed before the start of the regular season, but that time came and went and he remained on the roster. Early in the season there was some speculation that Tavares could be dealt at the deadline but that was quickly quelled by general manager Garth Snow who made it clear they would not be trading their prized asset.
Now the season is over and Tavares is without a contract, and while Islanders' fans hope and pray that their management will come through and get the superstar center signed to a new deal, rival fan bases are salivating at the possibility of acquiring a player like Tavares as a free-agent. There has always been a sense that the former is more likely than the latter, but over the past few weeks there has been a shift in tone when it comes to Tavares.
At the end of March TSN's Gord Miller went on the record stating that his feelings have shifted on where Tavares will end up this summer.
"I think there's a way better chance that Karlsson stays in Ottawa than Tavares stays with the Islanders... I think Tavares leaves the Islanders," said Miller on TSN 690 in Montreal. "I wasn't sure about that before but I just get the sense, by the way he's answering questions and the way this has dragged on, I think he's gonna leave the Islanders."
Needless to say with those kind of comments coming from respected analysts in the media, the questions for Tavares have not been very far behind and on Monday he spoke to the media about his future. It may merely be me reading too much into his words but, I definitely get the sense that Tavares will weigh all of his options rather than sign prior to July 1st as an Islander.
"I've loved it here. The people have really embraced me, the team, the organization. It's been first-class since I've gotten here. There's obviously some great talent and some great things ahead. Definitely a lot of positives. I'll obviously have to take some time and figure out what I want to do and go from there."
You'll almost certainly notice, as I did, that Tavares is speaking about his time with the Islanders in the past tense here. Whether or not this is a hint into Tavares' decision making process, or which way he may be leaning, is a matter of pure speculation. We hyper-scrutinize every word these athletes say, so again it may be just me reading too much into things.
Tavares also spoke with a finality when describing the end of the season, that also has raised a few eyebrows around the league. He also left the door open to the possibility that this decision could take several months, a time frame that would carry him into free agency.
"I've got to take some time to see how things go over the next few days and few weeks and collect my thoughts and move on from there," Tavares said as per NHL.com. "I think I've earned the right to take my time. I don't know if it will be a week, two weeks, a month, two months, I don't really know. A lot of those scenarios and hypotheticals are things that I haven't thought about or looked towards. I'm just still kind of realizing it's over and kind of sinking in that the season's done. That's still kind of what's fresh on my mind."
Tavares also correctly noted that there will be very few opportunities in his career where he can enter the free-agent market as arguably it's top asset, perhaps the only one when you consider that he will certainly get an 8 or 7 year contract this summer.
"You don't know how many opportunities you get to get to this point and possibly see what the landscape is. I don't even necessarily know if that's really what I want to do yet. I've always stated how much I love it here. It's emotional either way. Great organization, great place to play. Obviously, I want it to work out here."
I would definitely be concerned if I were rooting for Tavares to remain an Islanders.