John Tavares skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.

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Graziano: Still So Much Unknown About Future Of Tavares With Islanders

San Jose Or Las Vegas Could Be Compelling Destinations

Andy Graziano
May 16, 2018 - 3:54 pm
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John Tavares and agent, Pat Brisson — co-head of the Hockey Division of Creative Artists Agency — did not want to talk contract negotiations with the New York Islanders once the 2017-18 season began. So, they didn’t.

That season ended in Detroit on April 7 with Tavares scoring the winning goal in a 4-3 victory over the Red Wings. As a team the Islanders suffered their fourth straight year of declining wins and point totals, and missed the playoffs for the eighth time in general manager Garth Snow’s 12-year reign.

As we roll into mid-May, there have been no conversations of substance about the captain extending his expiring deal with the only team he has ever suited up for. And it looks as if none will be happening any time soon either. Tavares and Brisson seem content to sit back and wait for the team to complete its "full evaluation of hockey operations," as stated by co-owner Jon Ledecky at a confusing and disjointed locker clean-out day on April 9.

That evaluation now enters its 38th day. The only thing we’ve heard so far is the common sense link to former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello (his son, Chris, is assistant GM to Snow) possibly coming in to sort out the organization’s up and down past. With silence from the Islanders, Maple Leafs and Lamoriello on the matter, it’s been tough to nail down whether any serious conversations have actually taken place, but if they have begun, they would have heated up this weekend with members of the hockey media in Toronto latching onto the story.

What multiple sources have told WFAN is that internal discussions (disagreements?) are continuing about how this organization can move forward with the entry draft and free agency fast approaching, with Scott Malkin holding the strongest hand among all the players at the card table. It appears, though not confirmed, as if the reluctance to part with Snow and bring in an entirely new management team sits with him and not with public relations head, Jon Ledecky, who continues to be out in front of a frothing-at-the-mouth and frustrated fanbase. Those same sources said Dean Lombardi is neither the answer, nor an option, as the Islanders have not had any contact with him about any role within the organization.

If you do bring in Lamoriello, what do you do with Snow? Does he get relegated to a ‘status-only’ position within the organization? Does he get stripped of his GM title, retaining the one as team president, to work side by side with Lamoriello? It seems as if option B is the one New York is currently at odds with internally, and likely makes the least sense. Snow and Lamoriello are close friends and if recent history tells us anything, it’s that Lou, despite his Hall-of-Fame resume and credentials, still seems to be stuck on an aging methodology of building his roster. The Patrick Marleau and Matt Martin contracts tell us that, in addition to the still work-in-progress defense that played its part in Toronto losing their first-round series to the Boston Bruins in this year’s playoffs.

Snow has had good success taking on the problems of other teams in regards to the salary cap and using that to improve his roster (Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Jordan Eberle). But the misses are starting to pile up and hurt the bottom line. Free agency and contract extensions have not been kind to Snow and so far he has failed to ‘manufacture’ any sort of trade that benefits New York and translates into more wins on the ice. With the free agency market looking weak this year, trades might be the only thing that fixes the Islanders’ problems.

This is why a fresh face might be needed at both ends of the hockey operations spectrum — president and general manager positions. It looks as if New York is going to have to ‘pitch’ Tavares and Brisson on the plan going forward and give incentives to stay, just as any other team would. Even with New York leading off, it’s hard right now to see them being able to tell a more compelling story than San Jose or Vegas, which are two of my top destinations for him should he make it to July 1.

It’s impossible to go to Tavares right now and tell him that the only change so far has been to relieve a long-time assistant equipment manager of his position after 13 years without much reason or warning — a decision that looks to rest solely with Snow. I find it very hard to believe, this late in the process, that Brisson won’t advise his client to at least listen to other teams during the contact week that leads up to free agency, even if the Islanders manage to convince Lamoriello to come over.

So, that’s where we are today. Exactly where we were 38 days ago. Still waiting. Still wondering. What the Islanders do next is anyone’s guess. But maybe the pitchforks were pointed at the wrong guy, after all.

As Arthur Staple of the Athletic reported the other day, with Snow and Weight in Denmark scouting the 2018 IIHF hockey championship, we shouldn’t expect to hear anything, if we hear anything at all, until next week. It would be a shock to make that kind of announcement with the two not stateside, but hey, these are the Islanders after all. Masters of the confounding and unorthodox.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN