New York Rangers: John Tavares will not be a Ranger next season

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Ryan McDonagh
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Ryan McDonagh /

Rangers fans would love nothing more than for John Tavares to join the team. However, their wishes will not come true.

John Tavares is set to become a free agent after the 2017-18 NHL season, and the New York Rangers are set to have plenty of cap flexibility. Rick Nash’s contract will be off the books, freeing up $7.8M alone.

Considering the Rangers recently shipped their top center, Derek Stepan, to the Arizona Coyotes, New York also has a vacancy in the position Tavares plays.

The timing and context may seem too good to be true, and that’s because it is. John Tavares will not be joining the New York Rangers.

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Tavares is likely to stick with the Islanders

While the New York Islanders do not currently boast a roster that should entice a free agent to join (or stay with) their team, nor do they even know where they are playing next season, odds are Tavares will stay with the Islanders.

Players know that their legacies only strengthen when they stay with one team for the course of their careers. Though there are some exceptions, NHL players are loyal. Steven Stamkos tested the market when he was an unrestricted free agent, but came back to the Lightning in the long-run, for example.

For a player of John Tavares’ caliber to leave, the Islanders would have to turn into a bigger mess than they are today. Considering they added Jordan Eberle to play on Tavares’ wing, New York is more likely to please Tavares this season than disappoint him. The arena situation must be worked out, but the NHL won’t let the Islanders end up playing in an abandoned rink in front of 2,000 people.

Once the Islanders figure out their arena situation and prove to Tavares they mean business, it will be enough.

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What if Tavares does leave?

Of course there’s no guarantee Tavares will stay. Perhaps the Islanders do move to an abandoned rink. Maybe Garth Snow’s squad falls apart, and suddenly Tavares realizes the team doesn’t have the makings of a contender. Anything is possible.

Are the Rangers favorites to land the highly coveted free agent prize then?

The prediction here is no. First of all, Tavares leaving the Islanders will cause enough of an uproar on his own. Tavares likely does not want to become an enemy of a franchise he’s giving plenty of chances to win him over, so he won’t likely bolt to their most heated rivals.

Additionally, if Tavares knows he is leaving before the Trade Deadline, the Islanders will not trade him to the Rangers.

Should Tavares hit free agency, look for a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning or San Jose Sharks to win him over. Either of those cases will result in Tavares playing in win-now situations, without having to upset the organization he grew up in. The Lightning work as an especially strong candidate thanks to his connection with Steven Stamkos.

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Finally, the Rangers seem intent on avoiding big money, long-term contracts. While John Tavares may be an exception to that rule, they will not be able to offer as much as the Islanders or Lightning (lack of income tax) and we once again return to the notion that Tavares has no reason to upset the franchise he grew up with.

It would be wonderful to see Tavares end up with the New York Rangers, but it’s unlikely at best.