It’s not a question of should the Devils pursue Tavares— that is definite yes. The real question really is: Will Tavares actually make it to Free Agency on July 1, and consider signing with the Devils? The first question is hard to answer. While there’s only 8 days left until Tavares would become an unrestricted free agent that is still plenty of time for him and Islanders to come to an agreement. But let’s assume he does; that leaves the question of would Tavares want to sign with the Devils?
The Devils are an incredibly young team on the rise, as shown by this past season’s great success, led by Hart Trophy recipient Taylor Hall and the first overall pick in 2017, Nico Hischier. There would be a lot of offensive talent for Tavares to play with in New Jersey, and he wouldn’t have to move far. That can also be a negative though, would Tavares consider jumping ship from the Islanders to play with a division rival? I won’t pretend to know that answer but it’s easy to see some of the potential pros and cons Tavares may think in this scenario.
Let’s consider where Tavares may fit on the Devils and what he could bring to the team. Tavares is an elite talent, and the fact that he even may make it to free agency is crazy. While he’s not the fastest, he’s still about an average skater. Although the Devils’ system emphasizes speed, there can be exceptions for a player who has elite hockey IQ, vision, and passing abilities – like Tavares. He has a pretty good shot with nearly 40 goals though Tavares is probably a better playmaker than a sniper as displayed on the visual below.
Credit for the data to Corey Sznajder. Credit CJ Turtoro for the Viz
If Tavares were to sign with the Devils, where would he fit into the team? At the moment he may be better than Nico, who had some incredible chemistry with Taylor Hall this past season. It would be difficult to break that pair up, even for a talent like Tavares. So let’s see where JT might slot elsewhere.
This lineup takes into account that no other additional moves on the forward group will be made, which may be unrealistic as landing Tavares might certainly make a player like Zacha more expendable to get help on defense. I personally think Zacha is better suited at center anyway, but playing on the wing with Tavares wouldn’t necessarily be bad. That lineup has a good mix of skill and speed on nearly every line, which in today’s NHL is key – being able to roll four lines comfortably.
Tavares’ contract will be massive, and deservedly so for a player like him hitting the open market, but it’s something the Devils can actually handle. Going into next season they currently have around $25 million in cap space with 17 players signed, and no real “big” names needing to extend this off-season. Nico and Hall will be due large raises in the next few years, but Greene will be coming off the books come 2020 and Zajac the year after, which will eventually give the Devils some breathing room. The point is the Devils have money to burn right now and Tavares would be worth every penny, there shouldn’t be any concern surrounding that.
This is would be an unbelievable opportunity for the Devils to truly bolster their forward depth without giving up anything aside from cap space. Fingers crossed that Tavares, A) makes it to free agency and B) chooses to sign with the Devils. It would turn the Devils from up-and-comers to nearly legitimate contenders over night.