New Jersey Devils: Will John Tavares join the Devils?

John Tavares. The ultimate fish of 2018 unrestricted free agency. Tavares is in line to receive one of the largest contracts in the NHL. Can the New Jersey Devils reel him in?

First, let’s examine John Tavares’ production.  Tavares has averaged 20 minutes of ice time per game over the course of his career. He’s been one of the top players in the NHL since he first entered the league in 2009.

Tavares has scored at least 24 goals and registered at least 47 points in every season since joining the NHL. He has exceeded the 30 goal mark 4 times (and was on pace for 48 goals during the 2012-2013 lockout season).

A model of consistency, Tavares has surpassed 28 goals every season except for the 2013-2014 season (which was cut short due to an Olympic injury) and his rookie year. Tavares has blown past the 66 point barrier in seven of his nine seasons. He’s shattered the 80 point ceiling twice.

Tavares is a five-time all-star and a two-time Hart Trophy finalist. Being in the heart of his prime at 27, there is no question that Tavares commands a monstrous contract. What exactly would that contract look like? Can the Devils’ afford it? Most importantly, would Tavares be willing to come on board?

What would his contract look like?

As dictated by the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), 7 years is the maximum length for which a team can sign a UFA (unrestricted free agent) from another team. Tavares would obviously sign for the maximum length, so if the Devils managed to corral him, the length would be 7 years.

Aside from Connor McDavid, who is just 21 and in a league of his own, the NHL’s highest paid players have cap hits of $9 million to $10.5 million dollars. The list includes players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, P.K. Subban, and Jamie Benn.

Tavares is coming off one of the greatest bargain contracts in the NHL, as he was paid $5.5 million per season over the past 6 years. He is in line for a significant pay-raise. Tavares is a top-10 talent and would rightfully demand to be paid like a top-10 talent, which would put him at about $10 million per year.

Can the Devils afford it?

The Devils only significant upcoming UFAs are Michael Grabner, Patrick Maroon, Brian Gibbons, and John Moore. If it takes $10 million to lock up those players or find replacements for them, the Devils would be on the hook for $64 million in salary.

Allocating $5 million to resign RFAs (Restricted Free Agents) Miles Wood, Stefan Noesen, and Blake Coleman, the Devils would have $69 million on the books.

Assuming the salary cap rises to about $80 million, which is projected to happen (per Sports Illustrated) that would leave the Devils with a complete roster and $11 million in cap space, which is enough to sign Tavares.

Will Tavares leave the Islanders?

The question would then be: will Tavares ditch the Islanders to join the Devils? While Tavares is the only one who knows the answer, we can gauge the odds of him leaving.

The first thing to understand is that Tavares, like the vast majority of NHL players, will not publicly state his unhappiness, or say anything except that he wants to stay. Thus, I would take his insistence that he hasn’t thought about leaving the Islanders and his declaration that he has no plans to leave with a grain of salt.

What is more revealing is that he recently said about the Islanders losing “Obviously, this isn’t a whole lot of fun right now.” Also encouraging for the Devils is that the Islanders are set to miss the playoffs for the 2nd straight year and sixth time in Tavares’ nine seasons. When a team has a player like Tavares on such a bargain contract, missing the playoffs nearly every year is inexcusable. Tavares has clearly taken note.

Hopping over to New Jersey would open up opportunities Tavares never had with the Islanders. Outside of all-star games and the Olympics, Tavares has never had a linemate as dynamic as Taylor Hall. A line featuring Tavares, Hall, and gritty sniper Kyle Palmieri would be among the most dangerous in the league. It would surely be an upgrade over linemates Josh Bailey and Anders Lee, who have shared the ice with Tavares most often each of the past two seasons (per Dobber Hockey).

If winning is a priority for Tavares, the Devils, set to make the playoffs and on the up-and-up, can offer that. The Devils can also offer elite linemates and a competent GM and coach. If Tavares wants to stay local, New Jersey is just a short drive from Long Island. And of course, the Devils can give him the contract he would be seeking.

Tavares’ loyalty to the Islanders is the only roadblock. If Tavares is willing to leave the Islanders for better and brighter opportunities, the Devils will be waiting.

All statistics courtesy of Hockey Reference and all salary information courtesy of CapFriendly, unless otherwise noted.