The past few weeks have been quite cold in the New York area. Several Nor’easters have pounded the region. There have been swirling winds and the snow banks continue to rise. Surely, winter is not wanting to say goodbye to the Tri-State area.
Despite the weather, one man is starting to sweat buckets – New York Islanders president and general manager Garth Snow. That’s because as the losses pile on, and as he stares into the abyss of another lost season, his prized possession, John Tavares, gets ever closer to becoming an unrestricted free agent.
At this point, you have likely seen the stories of where Tavares may go. Toronto, Montreal, Tampa Bay and San Jose have often been the destinations most talked about. But one name that appears on some lists, almost in a half-joking manner is the one closest for Tavares to go to – the New York Rangers.
Last fall, when the season began and Tavares started playing with no new contract, scenarios began to play out. And there was a laundry list of reasons you would hear about why the Rangers were a bad fit.
“He would never want to betray Islanders fans.”
“The Rangers cannot afford him.”
“He wants to avoid the bright lights of New York City”
However, with each passing day, the reasons why the Rangers are a poor match continue to dwindle, while the idea of them becoming a great match blossoms. With some savvy moves, Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton has positioned his club to have a brighter future than their rivals in the near and the long term.
The Best Rangers Center in a Generation
First and foremost, a big reason why Tavares to the Rangers makes sense is the fact that there is now a perfect opening to be their franchise center. Derek Stepan is now in Arizona. J.T. Miller, who started to spend time at the center position, is in Tampa Bay. And Kevin Hayes, even if he signs a new contract, will never be mistaken for a future first-line center.
Now to the good news. They do have Mika Zibanejad, who is exceptionally talented. However, he’s ideally suited to be on the second line. The team also has some new talent such as Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden, the last of which was just acquired in the trade that sent Miller and Ryan McDonagh to Tampa.
This all positions Tavares to be the cornerstone center the Rangers have lacked for years while also creating what could be some of the best depth at this position in the entire league once the highly regarded rookies break into the league.
Tavares is Affordable Now
With the departure of players like Stepan and Rick Nash, the idea that the Rangers cannot afford Tavares is no longer true. In fact, entering 2018-19, the Rangers will only have two players making more than $6 million. Let’s not mince words. Tavares is almost certainly going to be the highest paid player in the league when teams kick off the 2018-19 season. But with so many cheap contracts coming on to the Rangers books in the form of rookies and second-year players, and the eventual departure of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers are now in a position where they can actually take on a $10 million contract and not cripple themselves cap-wise.
This sounds like the Rangers’ strategy of old when they would throw money around without a care in the world. But the Rangers have never had a chance to sign a guy like Tavares since their attempt to sign Joe Sakic nearly two decades ago. When you have the rare opportunity of signing a player who could compete for Art Ross Trophies, you do whatever it takes.
Is There Really That Much Pressure in New York?
Let’s also address the idea that Tavares would not come to New York due to not wanting to upset Islander fans and his avoidance of the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. We need to have a few reality checks with these sentiments. First off, while Islanders fans are some of the most loyal you will ever meet, they also are one of the smaller fan bases as well. It is not like Tavares will face many angry Islanders fans during a four-game western road trip.
As to the bright lights, Madison Square Garden is obviously one of the most beloved arenas in all of professional sports. And with no disrespect to other markets, there are none bigger than the Big Apple. With that said, the Rangers are not the biggest game in town.
In fact, most Ranger players are able to live in relative obscurity with many of them even taking the subways to every game. Tavares going to the Rangers cannot be compared to Giancarlo Stanton going to the Yankees or Eli Manning going to the Jets. The lights will obviously be brighter with the Rangers, but if that is truly a concern, then we should likely cross off any Canadian market as a consideration for Tavares’ services as well.
Taveres Can Be the Millennial Mark Messier
Much of what you read on Tavares’ future is clouded in negativity, such as his avoidance of being in the public eye. But as a professional athlete, Tavares has an opportunity with the Rangers that can only be matched by perhaps the Maple Leafs – to be a savior for a franchise with a fan base starving for a championship. Not since the days of Mark Messier would the Rangers have such a gifted franchise center on the roster. And don’t look now, but the Rangers are entering year No. 24 since their last championship, which also would mark just one title in 78 years.
With more stability in net than Tavares has ever seen, a new emerging crop of young players, and a solid core of players like Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk, Tavares is in a unique position to become a hero and could very well have the teammates in place to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York, something he likely will never do on Long Island.