The John Tavares sweepstakes stole the show of the NHL’s 2018 off-season. For being such a quiet and reserved guy, it is still befuddling how much attention Tavares drew to himself while deciding where he would spend his prime years. Immediately following the Washington Capitals‘ first franchise Stanley Cup win against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Tavares chatter almost overtook Rasmus Dahlin going first overall.
Revisiting The John Tavares Sweepstakes
The then 27-year-old and his representative’s set up shop in Los Angeles. Holding time slots to hear from select teams willing to pay highly for his elite abilities. The rumblings of up to nine teams looking for his services floated around. Eventually, the teams allowed to present their franchises were narrowed to just six.
Those six were the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and his drafted team, the New York Islanders. Let’s look at how each team has faired following the John Tavares Sweepstakes and how signing (or not signing) him would have changed their history.
The Boston Bruins
The Bruins were coming off of a 112 point campaign that saw them lose to Tampa Bay in the second round of the playoffs. Following their 2011 Stanley Cup, the Bruins lost in the 2013 cup final and missed the playoffs in two straight seasons. They were looking to extend the window with their current core of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and build around then up-and-coming players Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.
That offseason they had roughly $12 million in cap space and had a few RFA’s to deal with. If they had agreed to the same seven-year, $11 million Tavares eventually got, Boston would likely have to move on from young guys like Matt Grzelcyk and Nick Ritchie.
The biggest issue would come the next off-season as McAvoy would be coming off his entry-level deal. He already took a bridge deal to fit in with the current core, trying to fit him in after a Tavares signing would take more creativity from GM Don Sweeney. Listen, Boston would immediately have one of the league’s best 1-2 punches down the middle with Bergeron and Tavares and he would bring another offensive touch the organization has lacked. On top of that, the Bruins did make the cup finals in 2019. An achievement that they may or may not reach with Tavares on their roster.
As deep as he would have made their lineup and increased their offensive threat, the chemistry matchup and playing “the Bruin way” would have really limited Tavares’ production. In the end, things likely worked out best for both sides not putting pen to paper.
San Jose Sharks
Coming off of a loss in the cup final two years prior, the Sharks were looking to move and shake up their lineup big time. Their core of Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski were all in the middle to back end of their primes; but had also only missed the playoffs twice in the last 14 years.
Tavares would’ve added an elite goal-scoring ability to a team that finished 12th in goals for the 2017-18 season and consistently dried up come playoff time. However, the signing would have greatly altered the Sharks franchise not just because of who they would acquire but also who they wouldn’t sign.
If San Jose had signed Tavares for $11 million, they would have been limited how much they could have signed the likes of Tomas Hertl, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane for. Both Hertl and Kane have almost lived up to contract expectations but Vlasic has really started to fall off ever since he signed his deal. With JT on the books, the Sharks would maybe still sign all three but could get them at a lower ticket.
The Erik Karlsson Effect
The biggest improvement for San Jose signing Tavares would be the non-acquisition of Erik Karlsson. The Sharks traded for him on September 13, only two months after the John Tavares Sweepstakes was over. They have looked out of sorts since. At one time, Karlsson was a top three player in the NHL and capable of dragging a weak Ottawa Senators team to the Conference finals.
Since then, a lot of injuries and the wear-and-tear of being the sole offensive provider for his team have really hindered Karlsson and held back his ability to keep up with the pace of today’s game. Besides the large number of assets given up, his eight-year, $11.5 million deal has looked terrible since before the ink could dry.
The Sharks are one of the few teams involved in the sweepstakes that would have benefited the best from signing Tavares. However, they are the only team though who would benefit from the signing because of the resulting inability to make other self-destructing moves that have–and will–hold back the franchise for years.
The Stars had a pitch focused around an electric offensive attack that boasted stars Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Russian sniper Alexander Radulov. Tavares would have made this lineup even more lethal and playoff-worthy. Something the franchise hadn’t achieved in eight of the last 10 seasons from ’08-’09 to ’17-’18.
The off-ice advantages to joining the Stars outweighed the on-ice at the time as there is no state income tax in Texas. Dallas is also the epitome of warm weather, something Tavares would likely enjoy coming from his New York team and Ontario upbringing.
By not signing Tavares, the Stars were free to give Seguin an eight-year, $9.85 million extension only months later. This is something that would have been difficult if they had committed $11 million to JT. Dallas likely would not have signed Pavelski the next off-season as both he and Tavares possess similar offensive skill sets.
The Stars would have really benefitted from adding Tavares, but the money would be (and has been) better utilized elsewhere in the lineup. Dallas did make the cup final last season without Tavares so they seem to be doing alright. But, they could have used another offensive threat in that series to keep up with Tampa Bay.
This one is a toss-up. But again, Dallas seems to be doing okay without Tavares.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It was hard to believe then and it is hard to believe now, that Tampa was interested in bringing in Tavares. Obviously, they would have benefitted from the talent addition but GM Steve Yzerman would have to pull out the shoehorn to fit him in an already very deep lineup.
The Lightning had retained their franchise centre man the season before when they signed Steven Stamkos to his eight-year, $8.5 million deal. Tampa had been in three of the previous four conference finals and constantly looked one piece away from winning the darn thing.
Ask any member of the Lightning organization or fan and they are likely to remain happy the franchise passed on Tavares. Not only because they finally broke through and won the Cup last year, but because they didn’t have to subtract from the core to fit in a large deal to get there. At the end of the day, the Lightning have one superstar born in Ontario that has won them a cup and they’re happy to leave it at that.
New York Islanders
John Tavares gave the Islanders nine years of elite talent that was not matched by the rest of his teammates. Simply put, Tavares brought his A-game to New York and they couldn’t supply him with a supporting cast to succeed.
With how the Islanders and their fans treated Tavares upon his return, the separation from one another was for the best. The Islanders were able to usher in the next piece of talent in Mathew Barzal and use Tavares as a common enemy for the team to work against.
Both sides took almost everything they needed from one another and it lasted as long as it could. If Tavares had signed an extension in New York, it would have ended like a bad marriage. Instead, he can just be the ugly ex that went back to his childhood sweetheart.
Toronto Maple Leafs
After failing for years to bring home a Toronto-born star, the Maple Leafs finally got their guy. Tavares represented a changing of the guard in Toronto. It was finally safe for stars to come to the Maple Leafs and be successful. He has fit in well alongside the young stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and has taken the leadership role he was brought in for. Tavares has chipped in offensively and given the Maple Leafs one of the league’s best 1-2 punches down the middle.
He has four more years at $11 million which will more than likely contribute to the Maple Leafs having to eventually squeeze their roster to make everyone fit in. But if the Maple Leafs can finally reach the promised land and bring a championship back home with Tavares at the front, it will all be worth it. Even if they don’t get a cup in his tenure, the image of a Toronto star choosing to come home and play there is a success they have rarely seen.
In the End
Looking back, Toronto “winning” the John Tavares Sweepstakes was an inevitable outcome. The other teams all had enticing reasons for him to leave New York and set up shop elsewhere, but no one else could give him the opportunity to fulfil a life long fantasy.
Not everyday you can live a childhood dream pic.twitter.com/YUTKdfMALl
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018