Now that it's officially the offseason, it's time to get everyone's final thoughts on the John Tavares sweepstakes. If he has no contract on July 1, where does he go?
If Tavares decides to stay with the Islanders, I see that as being the worst decision of his life. That team is so far away from Cup contention with or without him that it would be a waste of 8 years for him to stay. The only reason for him to stay at all is if he wants to stay loyal and doesn't want to move around. While they are still one of the more likely destinations, it makes the least amount of hockey sense to me.
While they seemingly have their 1-2-3 set down the middle in Johansen, Bonino and Turris, pursuing a truly elite centerman in Tavares makes sense. They could then trade Johansen to a team like the Islanders for a lot of future assets. It's an unlikely situation, but Poile can never be counted out.
This one would require some fancy cap maneuvering, but it makes a ton of sense from a hockey standpoint. While Eric Staal had a great year last year, the chances of him replicating that aren't very good. Koivu is also getting older, so this allows for them to have a legitimate #1 center to build around guys like Zucker, Niederreiter, Coyle, Granlund, etc. The Wild are a team seemingly stuck in decency, but adding Tavares makes them a legitimate threat in the West. However, the cap situation seems like one that the Wild won't be able to overcome in order to sign Tavares.
We all know about the search for Montreal's next first line center, and bringing in Tavares makes them legit playoff threats in the East. But many question whether or not Tavares would like all the media attention that comes in Montreal, and there are also better options for him to win now. But a core of Tavares, Weber and Price is a really good starting point for a Cup contender. The supporting cast is a different question, which is why Montreal doesn't make a ton of sense for him IMO.
While they are starting a rebuilding process, top line centers are going to be very difficult to come by. Zibanejad seems more like an ideal 2C than anything else, but Lias Andersson has oodles of potential to become a top six center for them. They have the money and it's a somewhat familiar area for Tavares to play in, plus it gives Lundqvist a much better shot at the Cup. Although it makes a lot of sense at first glance, the biggest issue becomes the fact that even with Tavares, the Rangers are still a year or two away from being playoff threats again, so he'll most likely look elsewhere.
Even though they already have Horvat in the lineup and Pettersson on the upswing, Tavares is a player who can fit into the lineup and make the youngsters feel much more comfortable. It can push Horvat into a 2C role and allow Pettersson to play the wing as he adjusts to the NHL. They have the financial flexibility to pull it off as well. But the issue is the same thing as the Rangers. Even with Tavares, the team is still a year or two away from being a playoff threat, meaning that there are better options for him.
This one has been beaten into the ground so many times. While the Leafs can technically fit him under the cap in the long term, it's going to come at the expense of at least one young forward or them filling in the rest of the defense, which is the much more pressing need. Yes, a Tavares and Matthews 1-2 punch is very intriguing and it's Tavares' hometown, but the long term cap problems it makes may be better served elsewhere. And before someone suggests it, a one-year deal for Tavares in Toronto isn't the most realistic outcome to happen. While I will say it makes a lot of sense for all parties involved, it's highly unlikely.
They need a #1 center desperately, and they've completely changed ownerships, coaches and the GM. If they're seriously ready to win, adding Tavares is a great fit. He should finally propel them into the playoffs, and they have lots of great wingers that can help support. The defense is on the rise and looks to be fantastic for years to come. If Darling can play like the #1 goalie that the Canes brought him in to be, it's a great fit for Tavares. But unfortunately for them, there are better win now options and the Darling decision doesn't look good out of the gate.
Moving PLD down to 2C and making Tavares the 1C makes this team an instant Cup threat. Biggest issue is going to be the salary obstacle, where they'd have to move out a lot of money in order to make it work. While it's possible and makes a ton of hockey sense, odds are that the Jackets can't move out the necessary money to bring him into the fold.
The 5 Best Options
Hischier and Tavares is a fantastic 1-2 down the middle, and they already have MVP candidate Taylor Hall at the ready, That's 3 first overall picks in the top six forwards (and yes, it's a helluva lot better than Edmonton's was), which can prove to be absolutely lethal. They have tons of money at their disposal to make it happen, and they'd be instantly thrown up into the upper tier of the Eastern Conference with this move.
They already have Mackinnon, but adding Tavares into the lineup is the Western version of Crosby-Malkin. The Avs have a ton of cap space to do it, a ton of futures to help the team in the long run, and a lot of depth in all areas of the game. If they can add another defenseman, they are legit threats in the West with JT.
The team would instantly be ready to win the Cup if they can make it happen, which is a big if. They'd need to buy out or trade Paul Martin, as well as lock up guys like Hertl and Tierny for cheap. This would mean the end of the road for Thornton in San Jose, but it makes their Cup window much longer. If they can make the cap gymnastics work, than it's the best destination for Tavares. Only issue is whether or not the Sharks can make the room to bring in an elite center.
Another team in dire need of an elite center. Tavares and Schenn is a great 1-2 punch, and the defense is excellent. The wing support in Tarasenko, Schwartz, etc. is amazing, and they have help on the way in the form of Kyrou, Thompson, Kostin and Thomas. Goaltending is an issue for them, but if Allen can be a sustainable long term #1, the Blues instantly are thrown into the mix with Nashville and Winnipeg at the top of the Central.
Great market? Check. Need for an elite center? Check. Cap space? Check. Able to win now? Check. Vegas is the ideal destination for a high profile free agent such as Tavares. It allows Karlsson to be a more comfortable 2C where he can thrive more as well as take some pressure off of him to repeat the incredible season he just had. The defense is solid and Fleury was amazing for the Golden Knights, so adding Tavares makes them the favorite to repeat in the Western Conference.
My rankings of the Tavares Destinations
1. Golden Knights
While I have no idea what to "expect", Tavares going to the Golden Knights makes all the sense in the world on paper. What are everybody else's thoughts?