Islanders Fans Must Be Prepared for the Unthinkable

They must fathom the unfathomable

A distraught man ponders his future (no, not me). Image courtesy of SB Nation.

Folks, I really didn’t want to write this article.

I’d been delaying it for weeks, because I don’t want to think about this.

I don’t even know, for sure, if it’s the right solution. And they probably wouldn’t ever do it.

But the Islanders must, must, must be willing to deal John Tavares for the right price.

The right price? Yes, the vague sounding “right price.” And they should be listening to offers from other teams as we speak. Every day that has passed since July 1, the beginning of the 2017–18 NHL calendar year, makes it a little less likely that he re-signs in New York. At this point, if they aren’t listening to offers for Tavares (and I don’t doubt that, if the offers aren’t officially there, there has certainly been some discussion from other teams), they are neglecting their duty and willfully harming the future of this team.

Don’t get me wrong folks. I still think he ends up putting pen to paper here. I think (hope) he’s trying to get the team to budge, to convince him to stay. To show him that the situations both on and off the ice are set to improve. They’ve got a ways to go, though.

Why He Might Leave: On-Ice

As an Islanders fan, it’s pretty depressing to have to run this through my mind again, but here we go.

The Islanders must have went into the 2016–17 season knowing full well that Tavares was eligible to sign an extension following its conclusion. To say that they weren’t aware of this would be absurd.

So to miss the playoffs, with this in the back of your mind, is downright mind-boggling. Sunken by a dreadful stretch to begin the season, their best efforts in the second half proved unfruitful, as they missed the playoffs by a single point. A team that was supposed to become a contender after years of total reconstruction instead has one playoff series win to show for it, and missed the postseason the year before his walk year. That can’t leave a great taste in his mouth.

And this offseason, GM Garth Snow managed to swap Ryan Strome out for Jordan Eberle one-for-one, an undeniably solid upgrade (not often you can acquire a first-liner for the price of a fringe second-liner). But then he went and traded Travis Hamonic for a package of picks only. The deal wasn’t a bad one — a price of a first-round pick and two second-round picks is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a possibly-declining Hamonic. Restocking the arsenal to use in other acquisitions.

But in light of this:

The Hamonic deal becomes a bit more questionable.

Now, a trade could always materialize during the season, but what does Tavares see when his GM thinks only one upgrade (followed by something of a downgrade, when their replacement for Hamonic is most likely an unproven or worse player) is enough to go to battle with? Does this team not want to contend?

Tavares wants Cups, not just making the playoffs as the last seed and hoping for the best. Thinking they’re righting the wrong of not making the playoffs by barely doing so is pretty much peak Islanders, and that even still might not happen, as the rest of the Metropolitan Division continues to improve or remain the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals.

Why He Might Leave: Off-Ice

To keep an insanely long and incredibly bizarre story a little bit short: the Islanders were desperate to renovate or move out of Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, since at least the 1990s. All previous owners had hoped to find a solution to the Islanders’ arena issues and gave up fairly quickly, until the arrival of Charles Wang. Wang had started the largely successful Computer Associates with a colleague and based himself on Long Island, and saw an opportunity to help the only truly local team.

A few years after purchasing the Islanders, he introduced the Lighthouse Project, a massive undertaking that would’ve renovated the Coliseum and turned the surrounding area into an entire neighborhood, but a massive undertaking that he was willing to bankroll. He couldn’t get the zoning approval needed for the project even after downsizing, and its pending approval became a tool of political bickering and posturing before Wang dropped it in 2010.

A year later, he and Nassau County presented the county residents a referendum to decide whether or not a new taxpayer-funded arena would be built next to the existing Coliseum, and the citizens voted against it.

Things looked bleak for the franchise before Wang came out of nowhere to agree to move the team to Brooklyn and the new Barclays Center. A 25-year lease agreement was signed, and the Islanders’ position in the area was solidified… or so we thought.

In the wake of complaints from fans and the arena alike, investigations found that the lease agreement signed by the two parties included out-clauses that could be triggered by either side within the first five years.

Wang has since relinquished any majority share of the team to Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, and the new owners have since been exploring other options to call home in the area — more specifically, Willets Point (next to Citi Field) and in the area surrounding the Belmont Racetrack, which is looking like the more realistic option. In fact, New York State recently opened a request for proposals (RFP) for Belmont Park. The Islanders are expected to submit a request that would involve a new building for themselves, but a bid is far from a sure thing.

Pretty amazing how they’ve ended up in this situation time and time again. I mean really, I don’t think anyone could’ve scripted this long-running debacle any better. Years of searching for a home is finally rewarded, only to have it ripped out from under them. And if you’re Tavares, do you really want to sign a contract for eight years with a team that could be moving to a new location entirely in the next few years? He’ll be signing away the rest of his 20’s and the early part of his 30’s on whatever contract he signs next, and may be looking to settle down wherever that may be (I’m sure his deal would come with complete no-move protection at least in the early part of it). He can’t feel comfortable about the situation that continues to unfold in front of him.

What Could He Fetch in a Trade That Would Be the “Right Price?”

Well, it’s hard to say. One would have to imagine the ask starts at some combination of three or four high-level assets: roster players, top prospects, and first-round picks. For example, let’s say, oh I don’t know, the Maple Leafs wanted to acquire him — they probably wouldn’t want to anymore, given the cap crunch they will endure over the next few years, but let’s pretend they do.

My ask from the Leafs would be something like: William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and a first-round pick for Tavares. If it sounds unrealistic, it’s because it is. I can’t imagine a team would give up that much for what may only be a year of Tavares, but I also can’t picture giving up Tavares for less than that.

And yet, losing him for something would be better than losing him for nothing in the end. If he indicates he’s going to test free agency, the Islanders must look to unload him. They’ll have to negotiate something that makes sense — there’s no way they come out of the deal looking good, but they can’t afford to lose him for nothing.

It sucks, and will set the franchise back into a rebuild, but at least they may get assets in the process. Unfortunately, as the days to the trade deadline dwindle, his trade value will, too.

Why He Might Stay

Hope. Blind faith. Powerful loyalty. Because honestly, all the actual evidence points against it. There is no really convincing argument that Tavares should stay an Islander. They haven’t proven they’re going to help him win a Stanley Cup, and they can’t even guarantee that the location he signs his contract in will be the location where his contract ends.

Yet, numerous reporters still believe the Islanders are Tavares’ first choice. Elliotte Friedman said as much in his final 30 Thoughts of the season, even if he went on to speculate about Tavares’ desire and/or fit in Tampa. It defies comprehension but also brings me some great, if muted, joy. I won’t be truly happy with the situation until (unless) he signs an extension to stay on.

But I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to walk. I would blame the Islanders if they failed to properly address it, however.

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Islanders Fans Must Be Prepared for the Unthinkable