Philadelphia Flyers: The John Tavares sweepstakes won’t come to Philly

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

As the Philadelphia Flyers try to improve through free agency, John Tavares is one player who could make the team a contender but may be out of reach.

The Philadelphia Flyers are about to enter a very interesting free agency period.

It’s become increasingly rare for an NHL offseason where the possibility of an elite player hitting the open market is a distinct reality. It just does not happen. Teams with star players don’t let them walk unless there is a major character flaw or a falling out of some kind. These are the types of players you sign to long-term contract extensions in order to protect the future of your club.

But every so often, there is the exception.

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This summer, that elite player is New York Islanders star center, John Tavares. The Islanders’ franchise pivot has been the focus of speculation since the beginning of the 2017 season when it was reported that Tavares (via Joey Alfieri of Pro Hockey Talk) would begin the season without signing a contract extension.

The situation was not all that hard to believe. After all, the Islanders have not won a playoff series since 1993 when they defeated the Florida Panthers 2-1 in overtime of game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders play their home games, has seen better days. They are getting a brand new arena, but not until at least 2021.

The Islanders are a team that seems to be stuck in the past. At one time, they were one of the greatest teams to ever take the ice, winning an absurd four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980-1983. But they’ve been largely irrelevant since the lockout in 2004. They’ve made brief playoff appearances in 2013, 2015, and 2016 but failed to make any kind of lengthy run.

The Islanders aren’t a bad organization, but they’ve been run like one under GM Garth Snow. They haven’t drafted well, and despite possessing one of the best two-way centers on the planet and a decent crop of young forwards, they continually fail to develop as a cohesive unit.

These are the kind of things that can drive a franchise player away. Players like Tavares rarely leave home for a number of reasons. For one, organizations don’t typically like to let their greatest assets walk out the door without getting something in return. It sets the franchise back years, possibly more unless the team has a player waiting in the wings to take up the mantle. The Islanders don’t.

Second, players usually want to give the organization that drafted them a chance to sign them for the rest of their career. It’s not only a chance to make a boatload of money, but also to set yourself up for life after hockey, not only financially, but for the player’s family as well.

There is a lot that comes with uprooting to a different city, and for professional athletes, family is a huge factor. For a player to be able to stay in the city where he was drafted and to ensure his family’s security long term, it’s a big deal.

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Now, the flip side to that is that there are the rare occasions where a player has either worn out his welcome with the organization, wants to test the market for financial reasons, or simply wants a chance to go to a contending team. After all, the goal is to win a Stanley Cup, right? For Tavares, he probably wants a slice of both the financial and championship pies.

Who could blame him? Tavares could not only potentially be the biggest free agent signing in the history of the modern era, but he could also take a contending team and turn them into a bona fide Stanley Cup favorite. And this brings me to the Flyers and their place in all of this.

Could the Flyers land Tavares?

As Jake Fahringer of Broad Street Hockey wrote this past week, the Flyers certainly have the cap space to make a huge deal with Tavares. The Flyers have just under $60 million in cap space, with the salary cap projected to hit around $80 million for next season. Tavares is going to command somewhere between $9-$11 million a year as a free agent. This is another reason why these players don’t hit the market all that often. All 32 teams will be calling Tavares’ agent Pat Brisson.

Ron Hextall will be inquiring about Tavares, that much is certain. The Flyers have the space to make a big free agent acquisition and still be OK for a couple of years salary wise. The 1-2-3 punch of Tavares, Sean Couturier, and Nolan Patrick down the middle would be downright unfair. It’s a move that would vault the Flyers immediately into contender status.

The question is whether Tavares would come to the City of Brotherly Love? It’s feasible to think that he would want to stay in the division, but do the Flyers have enough to offer him? They do possess a young roster that will be coming into its own in the next several years and will be bringing along its eventual franchise goaltender if all goes well.

The Flyers are a team that should be contending for a long time once the rebuild is finished. If Tavares is serious about signing with an organization that is committed to winning, it would appear that the Flyers are a team that could convince him to sign.

Where Tavares signs depends again on a number of factors, but the Flyers do have a roster that could be appealing enough for Tavares gives Philadelphia a hard look.

Why he won’t sign here

Before Ron Hextall’s pre-draft press conference yesterday, (via Duces31 of Broad Street Hockey)  I believed that the Philadelphia Flyers had a pretty good shot of landing Tavares. That is to say, they had as good a shot as any other team in the NHL. After hearing Hextall speak, I’m less certain about the organization’s chances.

The tweet above from Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic basically sums up Hextall’s stance entering free agency, in that the organization is looking to sign players to more of a short-term deal, rather than get into long-term, higher salary situations. This may put them on the outside looking in when it comes to Tavares.

Hextall is committed, you have to give him that. He’s going to see this rebuild through by doing it his way. Judging by his statements from the presser, it seems less likely that the Flyers will join in the fray by offering Tavares some kind of long-term expensive contract. It’s just not in Hextall’s plans.

Signing Tavares would also lock the team into paying three players $8 million dollars or more for the foreseeable future. Claude Giroux‘s contract, which pays him $8.275 million, expires in 2022 while Jakub Voracek‘s deal sees him being paid $8.25 million until 2024 according to CapFriendly.

The kind of contract Tavares is likely seeking would pay him more than both of those players and would probably exceed the length of both. Tavares is 27, so it’s not out of the question a team could give him an eight-year deal that expires as he turns 35.

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There are also plenty of teams ahead of the Flyers in terms of contender status. Teams like Winnipeg, Vegas, Tampa, and San Jose are closer to winning Stanley Cups than the Flyers and could offer more promise of a championship in the short term. Tavares hails from Mississauga, Ontario, which neighbors Toronto. The Maple Leafs could be an attractive destination if he wants to move closer to his roots.

It’s still not out of the realm of possibility that the Flyers could be in on Tavares until the end. Hextall will certainly do his due diligence and initiate a conversation. But beyond that, the reality is murky.

The countdown to July

One thing is clear: The Islanders are all in on trying to keep Tavares. On May 22nd, it was announced that the organization would be bringing in Lou Lamoriello (via Greg Wyshynski ESPN) to serve as their President of Hockey Operations.

This is essentially New York’s last-ditch effort to try and prevent their franchise cornerstone from leaving. Lamoriello has already relieved Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, so now his focus is on keeping Tavares.

Lamiorello’s pitching may, in fact, have worked, as Darren Dreger of TSN recently tweeted that the Islanders and Tavares have been having ongoing discussions related to an extension. This would make it appear that Tavares’ main priority would be to sign with his original club.

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Whether Tavares signs with New York before July 1 or elects to test the market, it would appear that this is a situation that will play out very carefully leading up to the start of free agency. One option that seems to be decreasing in probability would be Tavares signing a contract that brings him to Philadelphia.