John Tavares may be the most sought-after free agent since the NHL moved to a salary cap model in 2005. Since entering the league in 2009 as the first pick, Tavares is ninth in points with 621 in 669 games; the eight players ahead of him have only played for the team that originally drafted them, which would make Tavares the most prolific scorer to change teams as a free agent since he entered the league.
Tavares is expected this week to listen to pitches from at least five teams at the offices of agent Pat Brisson in Los Angeles and has not ruled out returning to the New York Islanders. Whatever Tavares decides could effect the balance of power in the league.
Without well-placed moles and recording devices inside the CAA building, it’s impossible to know what Tavares will be offered and who exactly will be making a play for his services. But with a vivid imagination and fuel provided by a few slices of pizza, we can present a pretty accurate description of what the Tavares sweepstakes will look like.
Tavares sits on a throne. He’s wearing a toga, crown, and the Infinity Gauntlet, which is filled with Skittles. Brisson is at his side, wearing a cloak with his arms folded. The room is filled with NHL general managers waiting to be called upon by Brisson to beg for Tavares.
Brisson: Don Sweeney, step forward.
Sweeney, trembling, approaches the throne and kneels.
Tavares: Rise, my good sir. Tell me why I should join your Boston Bruins.
Sweeney: Well, before I do that, may I ask you a couple questions?
Sweeney: You are obviously immensely talented, a complete game-changer for any of us in the room lucky enough to call you part of our organizations.
Tavares: [being fed grapes by Brisson] Quit kissing my backside and ask your questions.
Sweeney: How do you feel about partying?
Tavares: Donald, I can tell you right now hockey is my life. I’m not looking for a party atmosphere or anything like it.
Sweeney: Great. And how do you feel about visiting museums?
Tavares: I’ve lived in New York during my entire playing career. I can tell you that I’ve been to The Met, The Guggenheim—The Museum Of Sex was so totally cool—and there’s also the Museum of The Moving Image in Queens that’s a fun couple hours. I don’t know much about Boston’s museums but I’d be excited to… hey, where you are you going?
Sweeney walks out of the room shaking his head. Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames leaves right behind him.
Brisson: [rubbing Tavares’s shoulders] That was weird. Very well. Step forward and be heard, Kyle Dubas.
Dubas: [pushing glasses up to his face] We in Toronto have a very interesting situation with our roster and salary cap. We boast one of the youngest, most talented cores in the league but we won’t have to pay them until after next season. That gives us a level of flexibility your current team can’t offer.
Tavares: The freedom to grow facial hair?
The room bursts into laughter. Lou Lamoriello stands up, pulls back his jacket and reveals a gun in his waistband. The laughter stops.
Dubas: [running his fingers through his beard] No. We can offer you a max deal—a one-year, $15.9 million contract. You can come to Toronto, play for us, see how you like the market and the team, then we can revisit the possibility of an eight-year deal next summer.
Tavares: How dare you? How dare you come to the office of my agent, who I hired to get me the best possible deal, a man who works for one of the most powerful agencies in the world, and insinuate that I care about being paid money for my job. I would do this job for free if possible.
Brisson tenses up.
Tavares: I am about winning, something you apparently know very little about.
Dubas: I just won the Calder Cup a week ago and the Leafs GM job the week before that from the guy who is running your current team. I’ve won more in the past two weeks than you’ve won in nine years with the Islanders. Now, I’d like to show you a 24-part presentation about how analytics can help you become a better player.
Tavares: Guards, seize him.
Dubas is dragged from the room by two CAA security guards.
Suddenly, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” blares from outside the office. It’s Garth Snow in a trench coat holding a jukebox over his head. Lou signals to two muscly Italian gentlemen in flashy suits, who go outside and remove Snow from the premises.
Brisson: [rubbing Tavares’s feet] Can we please get some serious offers here? John is getting bored and wants to try In-N-Out before he heads to the airport.
David Poile of the Nashville Predators and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning shove forward to the throne.
Poile: Nashville! We have everything you need!
Yzerman: No! Tampa! You have to come to Tampa!
Tavares: [now using a British accent for some reason] Sell me on your franchises.
Poile: We went to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and won the Presidents’ Trophy last year! We are set up to be great for years!
Yzerman: Oh yeah? So are we and we got to the conference finals last year and play in the world’s easiest division.
Poile: Tennessee doesn’t have a state income tax!
Yzerman: Florida doesn’t have a state income tax!
Tavares: How much can you offer me? What sort of cap space do you have?
Poile: [tugging at collar] Now, when you say “space”… that could mean anything.
Yzerman: [sweating profusely] What is money but a social construct whose value is what we make of it in our minds?
Tavares makes the throat-slashing motion at Brisson.
Brisson: Thanks for coming in, gentlemen. Next!
Coyotes GM John Chayka pops up.
Chayka: Hi, I’m John Chayka and—
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli takes a shot.
Chiarelli: I’m Peter Chiarelli and if you give me a couple moments of your time—
Jason Botterill: I’m Jason Botterill and Buffalo may not be your first choice but—
Brisson: Who let these guys in here?
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin pushes forward.
Bergevin: Hey, just out of curiosity, do you speak French?
Bergevin: Damn it. But you’re a center, right?
Tavares: Yeah, why?
Bergevin: How do you feel about being traded in a few years for a third-line winger?
Bergevin: [glaring intensely]
Tavares: Oh, you’re serious. Why would anyone do that?
Bergevin: Here’s the thing about playing center. You have to want to—
Tavares signals with his finger for Brisson to come closer.
Tavares: Why isn’t Vegas here?
Brisson: I don’t know, my liege.
Tavares: They have cap room, a need for a center and were three wins away from the Stanley Cup last season. Why aren’t they here? They’d be perfect for me.
Brisson: Maybe George McPhee needs Dale Tallon to sign you first so he can trade you to Vegas for 20 cents on the dollar.
Tavares: Oh, Pat. You are my hand and jester all in one. [claps loudly twice] I have grown bored of these proceedings. Let’s wrap this up, for all this listening to how great I am has made me weary. Step forward and claim your prize—me.
The crowd gasps. Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks steps to the throne. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns place two treasure chests on the floor on either side of Wilson.
Wilson: My lord, I come with good tidings from Northern California and a very generous offer.
Thornton and Burns open the chests. They are filled with gold.
Wilson: Now, I can’t offer you a tax-friendly state like the Predators and Lightning can—
Dallas GM Jim Nill screams from the back of the room.
Nill: And the Stars!
Wilson: [sighs] And the Stars. I can’t offer you a chance to play in your home country or your home province. I can’t offer you a massive one-year deal. I can’t offer you a chance to play for a Cup finalist from a year ago. But I can offer you something everyone else in this room can’t.
Tavares: I’m listening.
Wilson: You know how you love the anonymity of playing for the Islanders? The ability to just focus on hockey and not worry about all the media pressure that can come with being a superstar or the face of the franchise?
Tavares: I do.
Wilson: Well, imagine that same scenario, only it’s for a team that’s been to the playoffs in 13 of the past 14 postseasons in a city where the weather is perfect almost all year-round and there’s even less media to deal with on a regular basis.
Tavares: OK, that all sounds great, and while I don’t care at all about money…
Brisson: [coughing] Bullshit.
Tavares: …can you even afford to pay me a fair salary?
Wilson: We have nearly $19 million in cap space with no pressing needs to re-sign anyone currently on the roster.
Thornton: Doug, I’m right here.
Wilson: We can make you the No. 1 center we haven’t had in a while.
Thornton: Seriously, I can hear you.
Wilson: We had an $8 million hole on the roster last year and still had 100 points, so imagine what we can do with a legitimate No. 1 center.
Thornton: I was hurt, dick. I still had 36 points in 47 games.
Wilson: And I think he turns 45 or 50 next season.
Thornton: I turn 39 in July. Am I invisible?
Wilson: So what do you say? Do you want to come be the star center on a team that already has a strong leadership core and take a run at some Cups?
Tavares looks it Brisson. Brisson nods.
Tavares: Doug, this is everything I’ve wanted for so long. Bring forth your contract and I will sign it.
Wilson ascends the stairs to the throne, contract in hand. A safe falls from the ceiling and crushes Wilson just as he was extending the contract to Tavares.
Tavares reaches down for the contract when he notices a note on the safe. He picks it up and reads it.
If you don’t want anything bad to happen, I’d make the safe decision.
Tavares looks up at Lou, who winks at him.
Tavares: Folks, I’m signing an eight-year contract with the Islanders. Everyone go home. Thanks for coming.