John Tavares (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
One player paying close attention to the contract negotiations of Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar could be New York Islanders star John Tavares. Tavares still has three years remaining on his deal, but a new contract could be discussed as early as July 1, 2017. The contracts Stamkos and Kopitar receive could set a benchmark for Tavares’ asking price.
With the start of NHL training camps fast approaching, the contract statuses of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar continue to dominate headlines. Both are unrestricted free agents next summer, and it is expected they'll receive lucrative long-term deals, either with their current clubs or via next summer's UFA market.
Whatever Stamkos and Kopitar receive will also significantly impact the UFA value of other top first-line NHL centers in the coming years. ESPN.com's Craig Custance believes New York Islanders captain John Tavares will be most affected by those new deals.
Tavares, 24, has three seasons left on his current deal until his eligibility for UFA status in 2018. His current annual salary cap hit is $5.5 million, though he'll earn $6-million annually over the remaining term.
Like Stamkos and Kopitar, contract extension talks for Tavares can begin one year from his UFA eligibility. Islanders management will likely waste little time getting negotiations rolling when that date (July 1, 2017) arrives. It won't surprise anyone if the Tavares camp cites Stamkos or Kopitar as comparables.
Tavares is certainly on pace to earning a big raise. Since his NHL debut in 2009-10, he was the Isles leading scorer in every season but one (the injury-shortened 2013-14 campaign). He's been a near point-per-game player since 2011-12, finished among the league's top-10 scorers in two of the past four seasons and is a two-time finalist for the Hart Trophy. Tavares is also far and away the Isles most valuable player.
For years, the Islanders have kept payroll as close to the league minimum as possible. Despite new ownership, that history could spark questions over their ability to re-sign Tavares. As with Stamkos, it could prompt some in the Toronto media to speculate over the possibility of the Tavares, a Mississauga native, “coming home” to join the Maple Leafs, especially if Stamkos re-signs with the Lightning.
For his part, Tavares isn't worrying about those negotiations. Considering the end of his current deal is three years away, it's not something keeping him awake at night. As his stock keeps rising, however, so too will the cost of re-signing him. If he wins the Hart or the Art Ross Trophy, or leads the improving Islanders to a Cup title, he could earn more than whatever Stamkos or Kopitar eventually receive.
SKINNER STAYING A HURRICANE?
Throughout this summer, there were questions concerning the long-term futures of Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward. Both are eligible next July for unrestricted free agency, ensuring they will remain fixtures in the upcoming season's trade rumor mill.
Staal and Ward, however, weren't the only Hurricanes stars cropping up in off-season trade chatter. The News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports forward Jeff Skinner was first mentioned as a trade candidate during the 2015 NHL Draft, when rumors appeared suggesting the 23-year-old was available. In late-June, Ken Campbell expected Skinner would be dealt this summer.
Perhaps Hurricanes GM Ron Francis was gauging Skinner's value in the trade market. If so, he evidently didn't like what he saw. As Alexander points out, it's now September and Skinner remains a Hurricane. While Skinner's youth and 30-goal ability certainly makes him attractive, his injury history (three concussions in six season) and his $5.75-million annual cap hit through 2018-19 dampened his trade value.
Skinner tells Alexander he wants to remain with the Hurricanes. Doing so, however, means shaking off his injury woes and returning to his 30-goal form. Still, even that might bolster his value in the trade market.
Francis is attempting to rebuild the Hurricanes into a playoff contender after several seasons adrift under his predecessor. If a suitable return can be found for Skinner, who lacks a no-trade clause, moving him cannot be ruled out, especially if the Hurricanes are once again out of playoff contention.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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