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Johnny's next spot

John Tavares is poised to become the NHL's highest-paid player next summer. Will it be with the Islanders or somewhere else? Here are all the potential places the prized center could land.

By Greg Wyshynski
New York Islanders Why it could work Tavares bleeds orange and blue. He has consistently said that he wants to lead this franchise back to Stanley Cup glory, and the pieces -- Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Josh Ho-Sang -- finally appear to be in place to assist him in that mission. Off the ice, playing for the Islanders means having the benefit of a huge media market while allowing the low-key Tavares to maintain a level of privacy. His home is in New York. Why it could not work The Islanders are expected to play at Barclays Center in Brooklyn through 2019. Team owners are seeking approval to build a new arena at Belmont Park racetrack; if approved, the Islanders would need a stop-gap home until 2021. All signs point to New York getting that approval to build at Belmont, but Islanders fans know better than anyone to have a healthy skepticism about these matters. The arena issue is the No. 1 concern when it comes to Tavares' future with the Islanders. If things go sideways, both he and the franchise could be on the move.
Tampa Bay Lightning Why it could work Lightning star Steven Stamkos is a close friend of Tavares', and there was talk in 2016 that they might team up with the Islanders. What about in Tampa? "The only thing I can say is that I relate to being in that position, going through a year without a contract," Stamkos said. It's the kind of low-key market Tavares would love -- with year-round golf! Cap space is a concern, but the Lightning can create wiggle room if they jettison Ryan Callahan's $5.8 million hit and trade Tyler Johnson. Why it could not work Haven't the Lightning been down this road before? Back in the day, it was Brad Richards, Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle on a top-heavy cap. Assuming Tavares gets at least $9 million per season, the Lightning would have $25.375 million sunk into three players: Tavares, Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman. That's before Nikita Kucherov breaks the bank in 2019. Adding Tavares is tantalizing, but making sure there's enough money to address depth issues, especially on defense, is more important.
Toronto Maple Leafs Why it could work Hey, did you hear that John Tavares was born in Ontario and as such is required by law of the Toronto media to return to his place of origin to lead the Leafs to glory? Toronto has a Scrooge McDuck Money Bin of finances from which to pay Tavares, so no worries there -- especially since it could sign Tavares long-term and then fit the Connor McDavid-level payday due Auston Matthews in 2019 around that contract. There has also been speculation that Tavares would take a high-yield, short-term contract to win in Toronto, like he's Marian Hossa circa 2009. Why it could not work Tavares would be arriving in Toronto right around the time the franchise shifts from the "belly rubs for the new puppy" stage to the "searing criticism unless they challenge for a Stanley Cup" stage in the media. This isn't a spotlight he wants or desires. And though any team would be improved by the presence of John Tavares, perhaps the Leafs would prefer to spend that money on an elite defenseman? Say, Drew Doughty is available in 2019 ... and he's from Ontario!
Montreal Canadiens Why it could work Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Canadiens are very desperate. Their top defenseman is 32 years old. Their franchise goalie is 30. They have a gaping hole at center that Tavares would fill with ease. The Habs would have no qualms about dumping salaries to make room for Tavares should he decide to sign there. If he did, it would be a transformative move for the Canadiens, who have been chasing a No. 1 center since ... well, the less said about the Scott Gomez trade, the better. Why it could not work Montreal is another high-scrutiny market that just doesn't suit Tavares and his personality. Plus, if he signs for market value, the Canadiens could have more than $29 million of cap space committed to three players for at least the next seven years -- and two of them, as mentioned, are over 30. If Tavares wants to win, why relocate to this sloppily built tension convention?
Detroit Red Wings Why it could work The Wings haven't had a Steve Yzerman-like player since, well, Yzerman retired. Tavares would instantly become the face of the Winged Wheel. Despite some recent managerial missteps, Detroit remains a gold-standard organization from ownership down. Tavares would have a friend and former linemate in Frans Nielsen. If uncertainty about an arena deal forces Tavares out of New York ... well, there's no such concern in Detroit, where shiny, new Little Caesars Arena just opened. Why it could not work It would be a downgrade for Tavares, as far as Stanley Cup potential. Yes, the Red Wings have some significant young pieces -- Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha -- in place, but they have a ways to go before they reach contender status, if they ever do. Plus, the Wings are in GM Ken Holland's personal salary-cap hell, with just under $13 million available and those aforementioned young pieces due new contracts next summer.
San Jose Sharks Why it could work The Sharks are a darkhorse worth watching in the Tavares race. With a talented roster with an open window in which to win, they fit almost perfectly what he's looking for from a market standpoint. If Joe Thornton decides not to return next season, Tavares could slip into his lineup and salary slots. In other words, Tavares would be a No. 1 center -- and would get paid like one -- as the Sharks transition from the team of Thornton and Patrick Marleau to the team of Tavares. Why it could not work This would be a very costly core for the Sharks. If Tavares gets $11-12 million against the cap, then San Jose would have to account for that plus what is owed to defensemen Brent Burns ($8 million) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($7 million). Plus, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, who make $6 million each, will need new contracts in 2019. From a market and lineup perspective, Tavares is an ideal fit in San Jose. Monetarily? Not so much. But for a top-line talent, one assumes the Sharks would make it work.
New York Rangers Why it could work The Rangers have enough cap space to sign two John Tavareses next summer. With Mika Zibanejad coming into his own and blue-chip prospect Filip Chytil on the way, New York would be stacked at center, which is currently a position of need. The Rangers have enough veterans to "win now" and enough young players for the future to remain bright. Tavares would remain in New York, where he has lived for a decade. And we're pretty sure the Rangers will have an arena for him to play in. Why it could not work It's difficult to comprehend how a player so dedicated to one New York-area team could then sign with the rival Rangers -- but the less said about the Scott Gomez signing, the better. Tavares would be placing himself under a microscope he has done his best to avoid for years. There's no hiding when you're center stage at Madison Square Garden. OK, maybe he could hide in the smoke generated by Islanders fans burning his jersey in effigy the moment he's introduced as a Ranger, but that depends on which direction the wind is blowing off the Hudson River.
Vancouver Canucks Why it could work The Canucks have the space and the desire to max out Tavares. Henrik Sedin is 37 years old. Not coincidentally, so is Daniel Sedin. They're both unrestricted free agents after this season, which should mean the end of an era. Meanwhile, a slew of talented young players -- Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser among them -- are starting to make an impact. Although the media coverage in Vancouver can be intense, it's a lovely place to call home. And if he misses the Islanders, Tavares can wax nostalgic with Trevor Linden and Travis Green. Why it could not work The Canucks don't quite have the horses for Tavares to sign there and be confident that they're on their way to a Stanley Cup ... which is what happens when a franchise wastes a couple of seasons by stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that it's time to rebuild. Plus, we're not all that convinced that an Ontario boy who played junior hockey in Oshawa and NHL hockey in New York wants to spend the next seven years traveling from the farthest reaches of the Western Conference. Illustrations by Brian Konnick