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PPP Roundtable: John Tavares Free Agent Circus Edition

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Where we kvetch about this week-long drama.

2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition - Passing Challenge Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

John Tavares, eh. There he sits in LA, like the princess in a fairy tale, listening to marriage proposals and trying not to yawn in boredom. The Leafs, the Islanders, the Bruins, the Sharks, they’re all circling. Now he could send them off on quests to prove their worth. Make them go get some prized jewel or holy grail, but then, technically, that’s his job — the questing for grails.

Or if the NHL wanted to be clever, Arvind suggested they stream the meetings on Twitch and charge for them. I think they should make it a big event like the Eurovision Song Contest, where the audience is all the UFAs and each team has to come up and perform a song to show what their team really is.

Imagine Ottawa’s?

You’ll note one team not on that list, and that’s Montréal. It’s such a sad story. They asked, they said they had a pitch, and JT said no.

Upper Deck NHL Rookie Debut
Those were the days, my friend, we’d thought they’d never end.
Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images

We believe he handed the phone to P.K. and just let him say no for him. It might be true. Could be true. It’s true if you believe.

But once we’re done cracking jokes about this, we have some thoughts, so here they are:

Katya: It is a circus. Reporters staked outside the CAA offices getting photos of GMs coming and going, announcing the time the meetings start and end on Twitter. It’s at once silly and also, for Tavares, likely less horrible than traipsing around to arenas he’s seen before.

It’s tough for Leafs fans, who have been through this circus already — points up at Stamkos. But I never believed Stamkos was going to leave Tampa. No one could ever give me one good reason why he should. But there are good reasons for Tavares to both stay and go, so this is fraught with uncertainty.

Oh, by the way, anyone calculating odds on what Tavares does, as if there’s some real probability model you can employ to weight the value of Mat Barzal vs Mitch Marner or moving vs the home town or winning vs comfort or the weather in California vs Boston, should just go take a nap.

Also, same goes to anyone who can’t do the simple arithmetic to see that signing JT or any other expensive guy will not require someone important, or anyone at all, be traded to make cap space. We could post this calculation every day and there’d still be BUT THOSE CONTRACTS THO!!! responses to the idea the Leafs add anyone at all at any cap hit.

The circus is making me cranky. It’s soap opera, not sports. It’s speculation, sometimes intrusive, into the personal decisions of someone I’m happy to say I know nothing about. Maybe a full week of this isn’t really of value to anyone except those who want to make the sport a soap opera. Next week’s episode will be the start of the summer-long Nylander saga, I guess.

Anyway. Will Tavares sign in Toronto? Likely not. But it’s not a hopeless case like Stamkos was. And that’s why all of this is nerve racking.

Brigstew: I would love Tavares to sign with Toronto but I don't think it'll happen. I don't even know if Toronto would be his preferred option if he was of the mind that he doesn't want to re-sign with the Isles. However, my guess is that he re-signs with New York. Here’s my thought process...

Islanders — for whatever reason in hockey, one of the biggest factors that players consider when they are UFA is loyalty to the team they were with, and ESPECIALLY if they were also drafted by said team. The Isles are also the only team that can sign him to an 8 year contract, which in theory means more guaranteed money for him. There were reports and assumptions about how frustrated about the team’s lack of direction, but since then the franchise has: finalized their next home, cleaned house in coaching and management with top shelf names, and absolutely killed their last draft. They do seem like they’re heading in the right direction.

The big question mark for Tavares is apparently: they’ve promised you magic beans for years but none of them grew into anything, and now a different set of management is promising you more magic beans. Do you trust the new management when it’s still the same team? Does he bet on their crop of prospects turning into something that can make the Isles a contender within 8 years? Or that Lou can pull a few rabbits out of his hat for defensemen and goaltending? Carter Hutton ain’t fixing that.

Maple Leafs — Toronto has two or three big but theoretical reasons to choose them that might appeal to Tavares. First, that it’s his “home town” team and there’s all that glory to be had if he’s the guy to win the first Stanley Cup since ‘67. Second, that unlike the Islanders they are both young AND already good enough to be on the cusp of contending for a Cup for the next several years, even without Tavares. With Tavares? Giddy up. Third, as one of the wealthiest and most popular hockey teams in the world, whatever guaranteed money he can’t get in a 7 year contract he can get from sponsorships here.

Problems? They don’t have the big loyalty factor, it’s not clear how much being his “home team” matters to him at all, and though they are a talented team that seems on the cusp of being a perennial contender, he probably asks how the team can afford to sustain contender status with him for a while. Specifically, the team defense. They might have security in net for now, but if a shitty defense group is what was holding back the Isles to date, the Leafs don’t really offer much security in that area either. If they sign Tavares, can they afford to bring back Gardiner? If not, the Leafs are banking on a bunch of magic beans (Liljegren, Dermott, Sandin, etc) to turn into top 4 defenders just as much as the Isles are.

Sharks — they arguably have a more immediate window to compete now, especially if they sign Tavares. Pavelski, Couture, Hertl, and Kane makes a good forward group along with a decent defense group (compared to Toronto or the Islanders at least) in front of a good goalie. They also have the benefit of playing in a pretty trash division and maybe even conference compared to Toronto. They also have the warm weather during the hockey season factor, and Tavares apparently loves it in California... hence why all these meetings are happening there and not in Toronto or New York. If Tavares values privacy more than being famous, San Jose would be more appealing than Toronto.

Problems? They lack depth at forward, and their realistic window to compete might not be that long. Burns and Pavelski are both 33, Vlasic is 31, and if they re-sign Thornton he’s 38. San Jose also doesn’t have the emotional ties of being the “home team” from his childhood or of being the team that drafted him. I’m also not sure if he could make as much in San Jose between his actual contract and any sponsorship deals, but I doubt it.

Kings/Lightning — both of them might be contenders for Tavares on the competitiveness of their team alone, except for the big problem of how the hell they could afford him after the Kings just signed Kovalchuk and the Lightning just signed Miller and reportedly want to re-sign McDonagh too. Would they sign Tavares and let Kucherov walk? Would that even be enough?

Bruins — SEATTLE. KRAKEN. BLOG.

I dunno, I might have been more hopeful that Tavares might move on to a new team if we did not just see OEL re-sign with Arizona. Considering how much of a mess that team STILL is, for OEL to stick around there I just find it difficult to believe that any star player will ever really choose to sign elsewhere anymore. They'll stick around as long as the team still wants them, so unless Lou catches wind of Tavares’ dark secret that he has a platinum library card I’m not holding my breath that he signs anywhere by with the Isles.

Arvind: Basically, I’m just doing my best to not have any expectations. There are valid reasons for Tavares to stay with the Islanders, but winning is not among them. Basically every other team he’s considering would be a better bet if he wants to get a Cup. However, the Islanders can offer him a lot of money, a non-zero chance of winning a Cup over the course of the contract, and the comfort and routine he’s known for the last nine years. So far, incumbent teams are batting like .950 in these situations, so it’d be foolish to predict anything other than Tavares going back.

As for the Leafs... this represents such an obvious path to improvement, so it’s incredibly attractive. The fact is, the Leafs don’t have many trade chips, and the rest of the free agent class is awful. The only way we’re adding high end talent this offseason is through Tavares, or hoping a team is desperate enough to unload a bad one-year deal and gives us a good player alongside it. The latter seems unlikely. If we can’t do either, it’s hard to see where improvement comes from. Betting entirely on internal improvement seems flawed, but at the same time, it’s hardly an actionable plan to win a lopsided trade with another GM. So who knows.