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The John Tavares sweepstakes dominate the Monday night headlines six days out from the opening of unrestricted free agency.

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McKenzie: Lamoriello will not take a back seat during Tavares negotiations (TSN1050)
Bob McKenzie joins Scott McArthur and Craig Button to discuss the Tavares sweepstakes.

On where Tavares’ headspace might be at:

These guys are wired differently. I think this is a lot of emotional upheaval and uncertainty even though it is a tremendous opportunity. Players play their whole career to get free, but when they get there, so many times, hockey players seem to want to maintain the status quo. They’ve got deep roots associated with the team and it’s very difficult to leave, even if that team is not a juggernaut — and no one would mistake last year’s Islanders for a juggernaut. But the fact that they’re still very much in the picture is a testament to two things:

1) What I just talked about with hockey players. When you’re drafted by a team as an 18-year-old, you identify with that team and you put deep roots into the community and team, even if the community in Tavares’ case shifts around from Uniondale to Brooklyn and now splitting time between Brooklyn and Uniondale and eventually ending up in Almonte, or wherever the new rink will be.

2) You’ve got this opportunity in front of you. You just don’t know if you want to leave or not. It becomes a bit of an ordeal and kind of a tumultuous thing. Stamkos started the ordeal and half way through it went, “I can’t take this. I am going back to Tampa.” I am not saying Tavares will do the same thing, but I think this is a really difficult process for players that are not wired to just want to pack up and move.

On handicapping the finalists:

Everyone wants to handicap the teams. If you’re handicapping the Leafs, you’re saying, “Well, in the grand scheme of things, with the cap hits being what they are, it’s going to be difficult to make a long term Tavares deal for double digit money to work with Matthews, Marner and Nylander, but not out of the question. But difficult.”

If you look at San Jose, you go, “That one looks perfect. You’re going to play with some really good players. You’ve got Logan Couture in his prime. You’ve got Pavelski. Jumbo is still hanging on and is expected to come back. You’ve got Brent Burns and a good coach with Pete DeBoer and the staff there. They’re a relatively contending team; certainly not a young team, but not far off.”

You can handicap it for all of these teams — whether it’s Boston, Tampa, Dallas, or whoever — and I am sure Tavares will be doing all of that.

We can play with the cap room, and who has the best cast, and what city [is best] and everything, but in the end, John Tavares is going to know in his heart and his mind which one is the right one for him.

On how viable it is that Tavares might take a one-year deal at max money followed by an eight-year extension halfway through the year:

It’s a case where anything could happen in one year. You could get injured and there is only so much of a contract that is insurable — even a longer term deal. You’ve got to be careful on what you think you’ve got in your back pocket.

I don’t even know… how does that work for the Leafs? I understand the concept of it. There is a lot of people who would say, “The league is going to step in,” and they’d have to have proof, obviously. What you’re effectively doing is signing a nine-year deal because you’ve got the one year and half way through the deal you can come back and say, “Let’s do an eight-year extension.” If you’re the Leafs, how do you do that? Presumably, it’s going to be a relatively big number. You can fudge it around a little bit. If you do the maximum — $15.9 million — for one year, that works out for you this year because the Leafs have some wiggle room this year, but they’re not going to have wiggle room after that. Then you can do an eight-year deal and play with the numbers and try to bring the AAV under 10, but it’s still going to be a huge number, whatever way you slice it. That eight-year deal for Tavares is not going to be $6 millon a year.

It’s still a pretty massive cap hit at a time when you’re going to have a pretty massive cap hit on Matthews and significant cap hits on Nylander and Marner, and even if you do a bridge deal with Nylander, presumably you’re going to have a… and I understand there are discretionary choices to be made. You could not keep this guy, or move that guy. But boy oh boy, that whole “nine year, one and eight” scenario… I don’t know if you can give him a seven year offer right now for the kind of money that he wants, so, I don’t know, you can get creative and I suspect that there is going to be every attempt to be creative by the Maple Leafs, but it still presents some enormous challenges.


On whether sponsorships might factor in with the Toronto option:

No question. Let’s presume for a moment that if the Leafs were to sign Tavares, he becomes the captain. If you’re the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs at a time when the Leafs are ascending as opposed to descending, that certainly puts you in position to take advantage of a lot of business opportunities. Having said that, that was almost what kind of chased — or what we believe — chased Stamkos right back to Tampa. The Leafs put on this huge dog and pony show with all of their corporate sponsors, and these presentations are being made to Steven Stamkos about how much money you can make in endorsements and in your profile and all of this. Immediately after that, he advises agents he wants to go home back to Tampa.

Tavares is a pretty low-key guy. That’s not to say he doesn’t like to make money and doesn’t like to have a corporate presence and all of those things. But I don’t think that’s anywhere near a priority for him. He’s getting paid no matter what at the end of this process. I don’t know exactly what his value is going to be, but it’s going to be a lot — 70, 80, 90 million bucks when it’s all said and done. I don’t think he worries too, too much about endorsements or business or corporate stuff. He’s a down to earth guy who prepares really hard, as we all know. Salt of the earth, absolutely process-driven individual. As I say, I think it will come down to sitting down, thinking about where you want to live, thinking about who you’re going to play with, who the coach is, the money and the term, and then you just kind of ask yourself — your heart and your head, what is it telling you? I think Toronto could at least be a consideration, but I don’t know, just because it’s hometown that it gives them a leg up by any stretch. We’ll see where it goes from here.

On Lou Lamoriello’s efforts to keep Tavares on Long Island:

Almost every day, from what we understand, he’s been in contact with either John Tavares, Pat Brisson, or both. Everything that Lou is doing, the Tavares camp has been advised of it all along the way. It’s a testament to Lou’s perseverance and professionalism and understanding human nature that, if he loses John Tavares, it’s not going to be because he dropped the ball anywhere along the line. It’s going to be because John Tavares found another opportunity that intrigued him a little more than staying with a team that didn’t look like it was trending in the right direction last year and maybe has some fears about that. I would assume that Lou will interject himself back into the process at the first moment he is permitted to interject himself.

… The mere fact that Lou is out there in Los Angeles suggests very strongly that he is not taking a backseat to anybody and he is going to re-interject himself whenever and however he can at whatever chance he gets.

31 Thoughts Podcast: Elliotte Friedman on the Tavares sweepstakes (Sportsnet)
Friedman says that he’s still got the Islanders as the best odds to keep Tavares.

I think if you leave the Islanders out of that field, you’re making a big mistake. I do think the Islanders are still very much in this.

It doesn’t help the Islanders right away, but they’re one of the real winners of the draft. They took two guys who fell to them. I don’t think any of us thought – never mind both – one of those two guys would be available.

If you were Tavares – first thing is he’s smart, second thing is someone is going to explain this to him – if you were going to sign an eight year deal at $12 million a year, you’re going to need good players on their entry-level contracts. I would wonder if he would look at that and say, “We didn’t get a player who can come now, but in two years, when I’m two years into this big contract, I am going to have these two guys coming in on their ELCs who can make a difference.”

They have to sort out [the goaltending]. I have heard that, by Grubauer going to Colorado, number one, I wonder if the Islanders make a pitch for Varlamov or Bernier. There are teams out there that need goalies. If I am Colorado, who wants a motivated Varlamov on the last year of his contract?

I think, with this weekend and getting those two players, I can’t imagine that hurt the Islanders. I think the other thing is, the Islanders getting more games at the Coliseum, is an underrated aspect to all of this. When the schedule came out, I heard Lamoriello really pushed for it. I can’t imagine that hurts.

I think if we were handicapping this field, I still think I personally would put the Islanders at the top.

Leafs qualify all of their RFAs: William Nylander, Justin Holl, Miro Aaltonen, Frederik Gauthier, Andreas Johnsson, Martin Marincin (
By qualifying Miro Aaltonen, the Leafs retain his rights until he becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency at age 27. That means if Aaltonen chose to return to the NHL next summer — when he’ll be 26 — the organization would have control over the asset.

Dreger: Maple Leafs will get as creative as possible with pitch to Tavares (TSN1050)
Michael Landsberg and Darren Dreger kick around the idea of signing Tavares to a short term deal worth the league max and then extending him soon after for an additional seven years.

The rumour around the draft is that they are going to have a Leafs sweater, #91, with a captain C on it.

31 Thoughts: All eyes on John Tavares during UFA interview period (Sportsnet)
Elliotte Friedman says he expected Kyle Dubas to be creative with the club’s pitch to John Tavares, perhaps using a commissioning a video simulation of what the celebrations in the city might look like if the Leafs won the Cup, a la Theo Epstein in Chicago when he lured Jon Lester to the Cubs. Brendan Shanahan, Mike Babcock and Dubas pitched to Tavares earlier this evening.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 Draft Profiles (MLHS)

Leafs Draft Notebook: Analyzing the Trends & Themes (MLHS)
Anthony Petrielli breaks down the themes of the Leafs’ 2018 draft — among them, he points out that it appears the team is valuing the ability to graduate players to the Marlies sooner than later so that they can begin to work them through their development process.

How Tavares can learn from Stamkos’ ‘stressful’ FA experience (The Athletic)
There are many around the league that expect Tavares to do what Stamkos did — listen to the other pitches, then re-sign with the team he grew up with, writes Joe Smith. The Islanders have reportedly made Tavares an offer of eight years, $88 million ($11 million AAV).

Leafs have plenty to offer John Tavares, and money’s only part of it (The Star)
Writes Damien Cox: “Again, the general consensus seems to be Tavares will stay put. He seems to have a loyalty to that organization that supersedes what the organization has done for him. But if he wants all that the Leafs have to offer, this is his chance. If he wants to play in the world’s biggest market not far from his hometown on a strong Original Six team that could soon be reaching for a Cup, this is his chance.”