The future of the New York Islanders has been fixated on one single player for the better part of year now: John Tavares.
Tavares, the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, has cemented himself as one of the premiere forwards in the league throughout the years he has spent with the New York franchise. Outside of a lockout shortened season in which he put up 47 points in 48 games, Tavares hasn't posted fewer than the 54 points he posted in his rookie year. Tavares has led the team to their first playoff series victory in 22 years and has been the team's most important player since they acquired him.
Tavares played the entirety of the 2017-18 NHL season knowing that his future was in limbo. On July 1, the center's contract is set to expire, leaving Tavares with a number of choices in the upcoming offseason. Tavares will eventually have to decide if he wants to stay in New York with the team he has spent his entire career with thus far, or move on to a team that may pay him more or he feels gives him a better chance to win a championship.
One of the most important snags that prevented the Islanders from re-signing Tavares was their arena situation. Currently, the Islanders play in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, shared with the Brooklyn Nets. After calling the Nassau Veteran Memorial Coliseum home since 1972, the team moved to Brooklyn in 2015, but have faced scrutiny from players and fans about the quality of the ice and troubles with viewing the game in an arena clearly designed for basketball and much less to accommodate hockey games. If the Islanders couldn't find a secure place to play in New York, the franchise would face questions about relocation, something Tavares could see as a distraction and not something he would want cast over the team if he were to commit long-term. Last December, the Islanders managed to secure their future in New York after they won a bid to build a new arena in Belmont Park in Elmont. That takes cares of that question mark.
The Islanders, who have failed to make the playoffs for the last two seasons, including this season, are doing everything that they can to ensure that Tavares stays with the team long term. Recently, they brought in the savvy Lou Lamoriello into the organization as the president of hockey operations. Lamoriello was previously the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the last three seasons, and previously won three Stanley Cups with the Islanders' division rival, the New Jersey Devils, for which he was the general manager for 28 years.
The Lamoriello hiring shows a desire for the Islanders to change the culture of the organization. He is very well respected throughout the league, and by bringing him into the fold, the Islanders are showing their drive to be a competitive team in the near future. Lamoriello is expected to have a strong footprint on the team and will more than likely have a hand in choosing personnel, even if the team's present general manager, Garth Snow, sticks around. Lamoriello recently met with Tavares himself, who appears to be pleased with his hiring, and could be a good sign in keeping him around.
If the Islanders want to compete next season and as soon as possible, Tavares must stick around for those plans to become a reality. This past season, the team's offense could hang around with any other team in the league, as they finished with the second most goals in their own division with 264, led by Tavares' 37. However, defense and goaltending was a different story, where the team surrendered nearly 300 goals and are left with the dire need to repair the back end of the team.
If Tavares decides to stay, the Islanders can focus on those needs instead of having to replace the additional production and leadership Tavares brings to the table.