New York Islanders star John Tavares could be one of the biggest trade targets at the upcoming deadline, as well as the most coveted free agent in NHL history - or at least in the past 20 years.
The Islanders captain is set to become a free agent on Canada Day, and he's yet to sign a contract extension. That should scare the fans in Brooklyn and on Long Island quite a bit, considering the team is also starting to fall out of the playoff picture after an excellent first half.
It's very possible Tavares changes teams in the coming months - be it at the trade deadline or in the free agent market. If he moves on from the Islanders, just where will 'Johnny T' go? Here are five bold predictions as to how the Tavares saga will play out.
There haven't been any indications as to what the Islanders may have offered Tavares. Under the current CBA, they can not exceed an eight-year offer. But given how much he means to the franchise, you can't be surprised if they offer him somewhere between $10-12.5 million a season.
GM Garth Snow will make one last major offer to Tavares before the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Tavares will reject it, and the Islanders will be forced to move him at the trade deadline.
There is no way the Islanders can afford to lose Tavares for nothing at the trade deadline; the risks are too great to keep him on. When all is said and done, the Islander will reluctantly shop and eventually trade their franchise star.
The St. Louis Blues are one of the few suitors that make sense. They're a Cup contender that can afford Tavares, and they have young resources to trade while going all-in for the playoffs.
St. Louis will truly go for it, landing Tavares while trading away their 2018 first and second-round picks, plus top prospects Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Schmaltz. They boost their Cup hopes, and the Islanders get four young assets. Everybody wins.
Tavares and the Blues will fall short in their quest for the Stanley Cup championship. Nonetheless, GM Doug Armstrong tries to hammer out a long-term extension with Tavares - but nothing gets done.
The Blues will then look to trade the rights of John Tavares at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas. There will be no shortage of interested suitors, but look for a team with cap space like the Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils or New York Rangers to give up a third-round pick (perhaps more), as they negotiate a contract for Tavares.
Long story short, Tavares' reign with the Islanders will be very brief.
You can rule out teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks as suitors for Tavares. They do not have the salary cap space, and have no hope of landing him on a long-term contract.
You can also take out cellar dwellers like the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and budget-conscious Ottawa Senators. By process of elimination, that leaves around 12-20 teams who can make big offers to Tavares.
But how many will offer him the maximum seven-year term, worth at least $10 million a season? Let's go with at least a dozen. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Blue Jackets, Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes will be among those who offer a major deal.
At the end of the day, the Canadiens (after firing GM Marc Bergevin and finding a suitable replacement), will be too attractive for Tavares to pass up. Like it or not, Tavares is a perfect fit for the Habs in many different ways.
According to CapFriendly, the Habs have just over $7.5 million in cap space. But Tomas Plekanec's woeful $6 million cap hit will be off the books, giving them the cap space needed to sign Tavares. They can always move out Max Pacioretty and/or Alex Galchenyuk, too.
The Habs are also having a bad year, but they offer Tavares a chance to win. He's the No. 1 centre they've needed for years. He, Shea Weber and Carey Price would form a dynamic trio. Three Olympic gold medalists on one team? Sign me up.
And who wouldn't want to play for Montreal? Tavares was great in a non-traditional hockey market who got minimal attention and spotlights. Going to Montreal would make him the hero the city needs and deserves. It all makes too much sense. A seven-year, $77 million deal brings Johnny T to Montreal.
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