UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Forget all that talk and speculation that John Tavares would flee Long Island as soon as he got a chance at free agency.
Not only is he staying put, but the soon-to-be 21-year-old centre won’t even test the market.
Tavares and the New York Islanders agreed to terms on a six-year, US$33 million contract that will keep the 2009 No. 1 overall pick under contract through the 2017-18 season. The new deal won’t kick in until Tavares’ three-year, entry-level contract expires after the upcoming season.
Sorry Maple Leafs fans. Tavares isn’t coming home to Ontario any time soon. Talks began this summer and the deal was hammered out on Wednesday, two days before the start of training camp.
“This was more about me being happy about being an Islander and wanting to be here for a long time,” Tavares said Thursday, while decked out in a blue and orange Islanders shirt that matched one worn by general manager Garth Snow. “We started talking, and once we were that close we felt like there was no reason to let it hang over our heads.
“We wanted to get it done before training camp.”
The Islanders operate on a low budget, and have to concern themselves more with reaching the floor of the salary cap rather than the upper levels. New York has done a good job in signing young core players the club hopes will get them back to the playoffs and beyond.
Tavares and fellow forwards Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo are all signed for at least three more seasons.
The Islanders have finished last in the Atlantic Division four straight years, have missed the playoffs in five of six seasons, and haven’t won a post-season series since 1993. Their last-place overall finish in the 2008-09 season enabled them to pick Tavares No. 1 overall in the draft.
“The Stanley Cup is what we want,” Tavares said. “That’s what pushes us. That’s what we’re driven for. Obviously, sooner rather than later would be great. For us, this season it’s one day at a time. Being a young team, we have a little bit more experience now. I think it’s time for us to take that next step.”
Tavares said he wasn’t concerned about the uncertainty of an organization that is desperate for a new arena to replace the outdated Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders hoped a summertime vote for public funding to build a replacement arena would pass, but it fell short — leaving the team’s future on Long Island in serious doubt.
For now, he is enjoying his time. The team’s lease at Nassau Coliseum still runs for a few more seasons.
“I know (owner Charles Wang) is committed to keeping the team here and doing everything possible,” Tavares said. “That speaks volumes to me. They’ve made a big commitment to me since I was drafted and now with this new contract. That’s not really in my control, but I never really had a thought about whether we’d be leaving here. I believe we’re going to be here and that’s how I approach it.”
Tavares’ new contract will carry an annual salary cap charge of US$5.5 million.
He has led New York in points in each of his two seasons. He topped his rookie numbers last season, recording 29 goals and 67 points in 79 games. Overall, Tavares has 53 goals and 121 points in 161 NHL games.
“It has been our goal to make sure we put the best team on the ice every night, and today we take another important step in ensuring this will continue,” Snow said. “We are building a young core of players and are excited to see them commit to not only this organization, but to the Long Island community, as well.
“John is a big part of our young core. He’s a player who strives to be the best he can. From my perspective, I have no reservations in making a commitment like this with John and to any player that brings to the table what John brings both on and off the ice.”