John Tavares should not, and almost certainly will not, be dealt by the Islanders prior to the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26.
The question of whether Tavares should be traded - instead of the Islanders potentially losing him in July as an unrestricted free agent for nothing in return - continues to be raised in league circles and by columnists.
To be clear, the view here is that Tavares should not be traded. The return is unlikely to match the damage done by giving up on trying to re-sign him.
There should be no mistaking this: losing Tavares in his prime would be equivalent to an NHL franchise allowing a Sidney Crosby to walk away. Did you see Tavares in the third period and overtime of the win over the Devils on Sunday? It's astonishing how much better Tavares is than everyone else on the ice. Even the majestic Taylor Hall, whose hands sometimes fail to connect with his blazing speed, is not nearly as valuable a player as Tavares.
Tavares makes everyone around him better. (Do we need to go over all of the linemates from his Islanders career, some not even from too long ago, who aren't even in the NHL today?) When this franchise needs a lift, which is weekly, Tavares never disappears. He is front-and-center in almost every crucial play. He is like the original JT, John Tonelli, but as a superstar center.
When you consider how he has acted, performed, and delivered since he was first drafted by this troubled franchise, you could not possibly ask for any more from Tavares.
But will the Islanders begin asking for offers for Tavares? There is only one scenario for that, and there's a small percent chance of this doomsday scenario playing out. It goes like this...
At some point in the next six weeks, Tavares instructs agent Pat Brisson to inform the Islanders that, while he is still interested in offers to remain with the team, he has decided unequivocally to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
If that happens, no one would blame the Islanders if they entertained trade proposals. Because if they were to wait until after the season was over, and then shopped the exclusive rights to negotiate with him, they wouldn't get much more than a second round pick.
The case for dealing him before the deadline is that the Islanders would receive some value for him. I haven't heard anything as of today that would lead me to believe this will happen, but let's see what develops over the next month. Again, there's a very small chance of this, but it cannot be completely ruled out.
I've reached out to a few player personnel people around the NHL, and asked what they thought trading Tavares before the deadline could fetch in return. They all warned to keep in mind that, as great as Tavares is, his acquisition in February would be as a rental. And since every team trying to acquire him would almost certainly be in a playoff spot, they would not be looking to weaken their current roster by, say, including a current top center or defenseman in their offers.
The best proposal sent to me was a second-line wing, a top prospect, and two first round picks. (For the record, I declined).
Considering all the prospects and picks the Islanders have had over the last two decades, is it really worth it?
That's the question the Islanders hopefully never have to ask themselves in the coming weeks. As they have since last July, Islanders ownership continues to express confidence in re-signing Tavares. The Islanders' current slump does not appear to have dimmed their faith.
Finally, as for rumors that the Islanders and Tavares have already come to an agreement and management is just waiting for the perfect time to announce a deal, I would say this must not be true because that would be just about the dumbest thing ever.
Second, of course, to losing or trading John Tavares.