As of this afternoon, John Tavares has announced his intention to sign a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Where does this leave the New York Islanders?
Firstly, before analyzing the future of the organization, it is necessary to look back on the past season and reflect on how this moment came to be. While all the details of the inner workings of this past year have undoubtedly not been revealed yet, from what is known now it is hard to come to any conclusion except for that Tavares handled this decision very unprofessionally. Throughout the course of the year, he continuously stated that he wanted to re-sign with the Islanders, and that he hoped it would work out as such. He even went as far to request that the Islanders do not trade him, a wish that the organization complied with. In doing so, he held the organization hostage.
Tavares has every right to chase his childhood dream to play for the Leafs. However, he had no right to handle the situation in the manner it appears he did. A good example for how this situation should have been handled can be taken from the contract situations of Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. Both are world class defensemen, and both can become UFA’s next summer. Doughty has already agreed in principal for a contract extension that will presumably be signed today. Karlsson apparently has no desire to resign with an Ottawa Senators team that is in disarray, and is being shopped. If Tavares actually had a desire only to re-sign, as he made it seem, he should have done so a year ago today. If not, as has been shown to be the case, he should have allowed the Islanders to explore trade options for him over the past year.
While this situation appears to have been handled unprofessionally by Tavares, fault for today’s events also lies on the previous front office staff. Garth Snow gambled everything on Tavares re-signing by heeding his request to not be traded. In doing so, he lost everything for the organization. The minute July 1st, 2017 came and went without Tavares’ signature on a new contract, Snow should have planned to avoid this scenario. He did not, and now the Islanders are left with nothing.
Although the doom and gloom of today is undeniable, and it will be hard to argue that the Islanders have not been set back at least 5 years, once the smoke settles and the sorrows and angers of today dissipate, the task of rebuilding the Islanders will not be an impossible task. Firstly, the organization is led by Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz. They are proven winners, and if anyone can get the organization back on track it will be them. Secondly, there is still a plethora of young talent both on the team and in the organization. Finally, the team as presently constructed is only a few pieces away from being an above average NHL team, notably a goalie, some defensive depth, some bottom-6 depth, and now a top-6 center. It’s possible that the Islanders could avoid a full-scale rebuild, which no one associated with the organization wants, and instead simply re-tool on the fly, in a manner of the same vein to that of the New York Yankees of the past few years. The young talent to execute this strategy over the next few years is in place. It’s up to Lamoriello and Trotz to deliver.