New York Islanders need all-in approach at Trade Deadline to convince John Tavares

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TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 18: New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) skates in the 1st period of the NHL game between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning on November 18, 2017 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Islanders will soon have a new arena on the grounds of the Belmont Park horse track to play in — but even a long-term stable home might not convince John Tavares to re-sign.

The 27-year-old Tavares is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. If that happens, plenty of teams will line up to sign him. He will command a max contract — much larger than the average salary of $5.5 million he has made since signing a six-year, $33 million contract extension with the Islanders in 2011.

New York Islanders need all-in approach at Trade Deadline to convince John Tavares

If the Islanders want to have any chance of signing the face of their franchise, owner Jon Ledecky and general manager Garth Snow need to be aggressive at the Trade Deadline.

Tavares told the media on Wednesday that a new arena will not convince him to re-sign. Instead, the Islanders top centre wants to win. During Tavares’ time in New York, the Islanders have made the playoffs three times. They only advanced past the first round once.

If the front office fails to make a splash before the Trade Deadline on February 26, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, who are in desperate need of a franchise centre, could be among the suitors for Tavares’ services.

Tavares certainly has not done anything to decrease his value on the open market.

He currently ranks third in the NHL with 42 points, behind only Nikita Kucherov (48) and Steven Stamkos (45) of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In addition, Tavares’ 19 goals rank fourth.

Team Strengths

He could decide to test the open market regardless of what the Isles do, but they have been one of the league’s surprises. Despite a 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice on Tuesday, the Islanders hold the second wild-card spot in the West with 39 points and an 18-13-3 record.

The Islanders are where they are because of an elite offence. They have scored the second-most goals in the NHL with 119 and own the seventh-best power play, having cashed in on 21.5 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage this season.

If Tavares does decide to commit long-term to the Islanders, he should have a more than capable supporting cast around him, a luxury he has not always had.

Supporting Cast

Tavares linemates, left-winger Anders Lee and right-winger Josh Bailey have turned into elite offensive players through the first 34 games of this season.

Only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Kucherov have scored more goals this season than Lee’s 21. The 27-year-old put the puck in the back of the net a career-high 34 times in 2016-17, but at his current pace, it should only be a matter of time before he eclipses that number.

Meanwhile, Bailey ranks just behind Tavares with 42 points this season and his 32 assists are tied for the second-most in the NHL with Stamkos and Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets. Bailey is currently on six-game point streak after recording a goal and an assist against Detroit. He averages 1.24 points per game, which is tied for third with Jakub Voracek. He also ranks fourth in the league with 18 power play points.

As good as the Islanders offence is, the team’s goaltending woes and issues on defence could make you second guess the Isles playoff chances.

Team Weakness #1: Goaltending

In goal, netminders Jaroslav Halák and Thomas Greiss have combined to allow 116 goals this season. The Islanders have allowed 119 goals, the second-most in the NHL. They are behind only the worst team in the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes (124).

Halák has been better than Greiss, but both have left a lot to be desired. It is to the point where the Isles could look at options on the trade market.

But there are not any guaranteed options on the goalie front. Snow could look at Chad Johnson or Robin Lehner from the Buffalo Sabres.

Michael Hutchinson from the Winnipeg Jets is an option. But with Steve Mason injured, Winnipeg may not want to trade him. Hutchinson has spent the season in the AHL but has three years of NHL experience. He also owns a .951 save percentage in the minors this season.

Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek from the disappointing Detroit Red Wings are also options. The latter is more likely to be traded than the former. However, if Detroit decides to rebuild, Howard could be expendable.

Team Weakness #2: Defense

The Islanders issues in their own zone extend beyond the goal crease.

They rank 17th in hits, 14th in blocks and a mediocre 23rd in takeaways. But Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield have been inconsistent. Nick Leddy is in the conversation for the Norris Trophy. But with Calvin de Haan, the group as a whole has struggled.

The Islanders have the league’s worst penalty kill (72.3 percent) and opponents average 32.3 shot attempts per game, the ninth-most in the league.

There is no doubt the Islanders could use a defenseman with puckhandling skills. Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes would be a perfect addition. Other options include Ian Cole from the Pittsburgh Penguins; Josh Gorges from the Buffalo Sabres; or Mike Green from the Detroit Red Wings.

Bottom Line

The Islanders need to make one or two trades, preferably for a defenseman to get them into the playoffs and then commit to finding a No. 1 goaltender in the off-season.

This would show Tavares the Islanders are committed to winning and hopefully convince him to lead the franchise into their second stint in Long Island.

 

TAMPA, FL – NOVEMBER 18: New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) skates in the 1st period of the NHL game between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning on November 18, 2017 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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