Like every story, there are at least two sides to the drama surrounding John Tavares and his future with the New York Islanders. Let's start with the dark side.
Beyond only certain corners of the New York metropolitan area, the real, hard truth is that it's difficult to find anyone who believes Tavares will sign another long-term contract with the Islanders.
If you were to run into any NHL power broker, influencer, or insider who is unaffiliated with the Islanders and bought them a few shots of Jameson, they might tell you any or all of the following:
1. Tavares would be crazy to sign an eight-year deal with a franchise that doesn't know where it will be playing in a few years, and he just is not going to do that.
2. He is not close to making a final decision, but is deeply disappointed that it's becoming more and more likely that he will not be an Islander for life. The lack of forward steps by the team and unlikely guarantee of an arena deal in time would be too much to ignore.
3. The captain's objectives are A. Being on a winner. B. Everything else. And the Islanders haven't come close to developing into a consistent contender since he joined the team eight years ago.
4. If a strong case can be made that he can win a Stanley Cup somewhere else, Tavares is more likely to sign his next below-market contract with a team like Tampa Bay than another one with the Islanders.
There are expected to be around ten teams with the desire and future cap-ability to give Tavares a massive contract, including…
Boston: Zdeno Chara is in the last year of his contract, and the Bs are re-loading.
Los Angeles: The Kings want to take another run at Cups, Tavares' agent Pat Brisson lives there, and Brisson pal Luc Robitaille runs the franchise.
Montreal: The Canadiens haven't exactly hidden their lust.
New York Rangers: As you can see, they're a bit thin at center.
St. Louis: The Blues are tired of not having the star playmaker to win playoff rounds.
San Jose: Watch out for the Sharks, who want to make Jumbo Joe a No. 2 center behind Tavares
Tampa Bay: Yes, the Lightning.
Vancouver: Desperate enough to offer a blank check.
Before July 1, 2018, the team that owns Tavares' rights can sign him to a contract of up to eight years. If he becomes a UFA, the maximum contract is seven years.
Will Tavares be Islanders property in June? When the trade deadline passes on Feb. 26?
As impossible as it may be for anyone in Islanders Country to imagine, no one can say for certain right now.
Especially after losing second-liners Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen for nothing, the Islanders know they can't let the same happen with their franchise player.
If there is little hope of re-signing Tavares, Garth Snow would have to consider a trade in the New Year. For a potentially massive return, Snow might even let a team discuss contract parameters with Brisson and Tavares.
In the playground of professional sports where we love to escape from the real world, this is serious stuff. Tavares is an exceptional player and person. Maybe no one is bigger than any franchise, but Tavares -- and all he has come to stand for -- is pretty darn close.
The dark side of this story is that Tavares has already given more to the Islanders than just about any of his NHL peers ever would have done for a troubled franchise. As much as it kills him, he cannot do it again.
But it's important to remember a few things.
Even before the Islanders won the lottery in 2009, some reports (mostly Ontario-based) insisted that Tavares wanted no part of the Islanders, that he wouldn't sign with Uniondale's team if drafted by them. Just 18 years old, Tavares took matters into his own hands and was very clear that he would be honored to be selected and signed by the Islanders.
And then again, when Tavares was still on his entry level contract, insiders claimed he would never sign long-term with the Islanders. After all, the team wasn't very good, there was ownership uncertainty, and the arena situation was not ideal.
Tavares didn't just sign his "bridge" contract. He signed at below market-value and gave up two years of unrestricted free agency. Looking back, it becomes more and more extraordinary.
Another thing to consider: of those potential NHL suitors listed above, does Tavares signing there bring him closer to winning and happiness? In some cases, after his contract goes on their books, he could end up being back where he was -- the centerpiece of endless rebuilding efforts. In others, his new team could be so maxed out after signing him that they would have to move good players.
But above all else, it's instructive to keep this in mind: Tavares doesn't think like everyone else. As he has already proven, he is uniquely dedicated. He has always wanted to make this work.
John Tavares, the Islanders, and other forces are not done trying.