As another Islanders season ends in a thud without a playoff berth, familiar questions about what the future holds for John Tavares, the captain and face of the franchise, are amplified by his looming free agency. And with two games remaining, it's crunch time for a new contract.
Thursday could serve as Tavares' final game at Barclays Center, but he's still in wait-and-see mode, peddling hope that won't be the case.
“People have been very supportive, our fan base has been tremendous ever since I got here,” he told reporters after practice Wednesday, responding to a question about fan treatment and a possible sendoff from the crowd. “People say certain things. I hope it all works out too and I’m back as well. That’s all I can really control right now.
"In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll have plenty of time to think about it and start looking at the future.”
John Tavares just did about a six-minute media scrum about his potential last home game with #Isles. This was right at the end when asked about what fans say to him when they see him: “I hope it all works out, too, and I’m back as well.” But JT says he doesn’t know how it will go— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) April 4, 2018
In other important #Isles news, John Tavares said he deleted the Twitter app from his phone before the season began.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) April 4, 2018
This, of course, is consistent with the message Tavares maintained the last two years. Recall, at the end of last season, he and Islanders brass spoke about getting "something done as soon as possible," eligible to sign an extension as early as July 1, 2017.
Summer turned to fall and the fall turned to winter without a deal in place. Meanwhile, Tavares delivered on the ice one of the best seasons of his career. At the All-Star Game in January, he was focused on this season and making the playoffs. Those ambitions started to fade by the trade deadline, when general manager Garth Snow stayed true to his word not to deal the superstar. A 4-10-3 record in March ensured the Islanders would miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year and the sixth time in Tavares' career.
So here we are. Tavares has stated his desire to sit down with Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky following the season to discuss the future of the franchise.
An arena is in place. On offense, five Islanders have 20 goals this season. It could reach seven by Saturday, an unthinkable stat for a team that misses the playoffs. But changes need to be made on defense (woof), goaltending, in the front office and, perhaps, on the bench.
Only Tavares knows how these questions affect his willingness to stick around and see it through.
“I don't want to signal it as the end,” he said. “I'm not approaching it that way.”
Whatever he decides, it's T-minus three months to give the Islanders and answer or move on.