NEW YORK -- Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin had the chance to play the first seven seasons of his NHL career with New York Islanders center John Tavares.
Martn said he'd love to have Tavares as a teammate again someday, but his main concern is that his friend is happy with whatever decision he makes, whenever that may be.
Tavares is entering the final season of the six-year contract he signed with the Islanders in 2011 and has been able to sign an extension since July 1. The No. 1 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2018.
Martin compared the situation to what Steven Stamkos experienced with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2015-16 season. Stamkos signed an eight-year, $68 million contract to remain with the Lightning on June 29, 2016, two days before he could test the free agent market.
"I think Johnny's a pretty loyal guy," Martin said at the NHL Store Powered by Reebok on Monday. "It's a tough decision. Obviously his next contract is probably going to be where he essentially plays for the rest of his [NHL] career. It's something he's got to think over and consider. A great player in Stamkos went through the same thing last year and it went right to the wire and he decided to stay home.
"I don't think that he didn't sign July 1 is any indication he's not signing with the Islanders. I think it's a process that he's got to think over and do what's best for him and his family. As a friend of mine, would it be great to have him? Absolutely. But I want him to do whatever will make him happy and wherever he feels where he can win and be successful is what you hope for. At the end of the day that's all that matters to me."
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Martin signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2016 and had nine points (five goals, four assists) and 123 penalty minutes in 82 games last season. Toronto reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013 and lost to the Washington Capitals in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round.
Led by center Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, the Maple Leafs appear to be a team on the rise. They signed forward Patrick Marleau and defenseman Ron Hainsey as unrestricted free agents this offseason.
"Last year was great," Martin said. "Obviously the young guys are ready to play, and in a lot of ways playing like veterans. They never really saw a real big hiccup. But this year is only going to get tougher. The year [the Islanders] made the playoffs [against] Pittsburgh (in 2013), people knew we were a good team and we fell short the next year. Every year it doesn't get easier, it gets harder.
"I think bringing in a guy like Marleau, who's got a ton of experience, is only going to help us. But we were able to stay healthy last year, we didn't have a ton of injuries. I'd imagine there's going to be some adversity this year and we're going to have to climb some hurdles. But adding some veteran pieces, Marleau, Hainsey, these guys have been there. Hainsey just won a Cup and helped keep that dressing room calm for guys that haven't been through injuries, through tough situations. I would expect us to continue to grow, and I think as a team we believe we can win."