There will no doubt be a lot of suitors for John Tavares if he reaches unrestricted free agency on July 1, but the best match for the New York Islanders center is just a few miles away in New Jersey. Not only can the Devils offer him a significant amount of money that other teams won’t be able to (without handicapping their ability to add other pieces over the coming years), but they can also offer him a chance to play alongside the odds-on favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.
Imagine what New Jersey’s top-6 would look like with the addition of the 27-year-old pivot added to their lineup. Adding Tavares alongside Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, and Marcus Johansson would give the Devils the piece they need to continue to build upon what they started this past season. Is Kevin Durant available to fill in that last spot? Word is that Mr. Durant likes to join super-teams. In all seriousness, though maybe Pavel Zacha, Joey Anderson, or Jesper Bratt, or Michael McLeod, or someone not in the organization fills that other top-6 spot.
Moving On Up
Perhaps no. 91 never makes it to July 1, but if he does – GM Ray Shero should and likely will be blowing up Tavares’ phone when the courting period begins. An added bonus for Tavares is that he wouldn’t have to move too far (18 miles between Brooklyn and Newark). He can still go to all of his favorite spots on off days, he can still head to NYC for a night out and be home in bed at a decent time (if he wanted to).
Besides all of the offensive talent that he would be surrounded by, it would also be the first time as a pro that he would have a legitimate goaltender playing behind him; games with Team Canada not included. Cory Schneider is better than any goalie that he has ever played with on the Islanders. For the Devils, if they were able to land Tavares’ services how much do you think it would convince Hall and Hischier to sign long-term deals to stay in New Jersey? After the next two seasons, both will be looking for new deals, Hall as a UFA and Hischier as an RFA.
Not Your Brother’s Devils
Hall-Tavares-Palmieri, Bratt-Hischier-Johansson, Coleman-Zajac-Zacha, Wood-Boyle-Anderson? No need to re-sign veteran wingers Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, Drew Stafford, or Jimmy Hayes. Save that money for Tavares and to tinker with the blueline. Time to make way for the youth of the team, and let them battle for roster spots. Tavares can assume that no. 1 center role and Hischier could easily slide down a spot giving him more beneficial matchups throughout the season. Let’s also not forget that both Hall and Hischier had fantastic seasons while they both simultaneously dealt with wrist injuries for the majority of the season. Imagine what they could do with a player of Tavares’ ilk wearing red and black?
The Devils showed last season that they could play with anyone in the league. And that was with an ailing Hall, an ailing Hischier, Johansson only playing in 32 games (regular season + playoffs) and Schneider not winning a game between December 27 and Game 3 of the first round. Imagine what they could do when healthy, and another weapon to deploy?
Latest issue: John Tavares (who else?) is ‘Johnny On The Spot’ in @TheHockeyNews #NHL Free Agency Preview. Plus: UFA Power Rankings, 10 biggest hockey jerks of all-time, the highest game ever played (hint: Himalayas) & lots more. pic.twitter.com/jVE7MNkrq6
— Sam McCaig (@SamMcCaig22) May 23, 2018
All of that can be decided at training camp in September, but first and foremost on the docket should be trying to convince Tavares to change addresses within the Metropolitan Division. As of now, the Devils have just under $20 million dollars in cap space to work with and only four restricted free agents to re-sign (if they chose to). The Metro will be stacked again this upcoming season, the Caps will be coming off their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1998, while the Pittsburgh Penguins were there the past two seasons; so sure maybe Tavares chooses to move away from the deepest division in the league. Would he really want to be in the fishbowl that is known as Toronto? We can already hear the obsessive media debating whether he or Auston Matthews should be the no. 1 center. Imagine the excitement at Prudential Center for the home opener if they roll out Tavares and Hall on a top line?
If the Islanders don’t think they will be able to re-sign Tavares maybe Uncle Lou would consider trading his rights to New Jersey for a piece or two — think player and draft pick. And if they aren’t able to acquire Tavares, they still have all of that cap space to pursue another free agent (James van Riemsdyk, John Carlson) or the assets to consummate a deal with another team (Jeff Skinner, Nino Niederreiter).
However things play out, it will be an interesting summer in New Jersey as they try to duplicate and surpass what they accomplished in 2017-18.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.