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John Tavares focused on Islanders, not contract

Islanders captain knows questions will come when he faces hometown Maple Leafs

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- New York Islanders captain John Tavares swears he treats it like any other game, but he knows when the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town, there will be questions about his future.

Tavares, who has one year remaining on his contract ($5.5 million average annual value), cannot begin contract talks with the Islanders until July 1. If he doesn't re-sign before the start of next season, he knows he will be bombarded with questions about his future on a daily basis.

Should Tavares decide not to stay with the Islanders, many believe his hometown Maple Leafs are a possible destination.

But Tavares, who was born in nearby Mississauga, Ontario and played his minor hockey in Oakville, said his uncertain future isn't affecting him.

"They're just questions," Tavares said Monday, hours before the Islanders play the Maple Leafs at Barclays Center (7 p.m. ET; SN, MSG+2, NHL.TV). "I come to the rink like today, we're preparing to play the Leafs and, like I said, they're a team that's ahead of us, we're trying to catch them. That's where I try to put my energy. Like I said, I think all the contract stuff, I just try to take care of it when it gets there."

Video: NYI@DET: Tavares buries Strome's dish for PPG

New York, which won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time in 23 years, enters the game Monday five points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference with three games in hand. Toronto is two points behind Philadelphia and one point behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division.

"At this point, I've got enough to worry about with our team and trying to make the playoffs," Tavares said. "I can understand and respect why the questions are being asked. It's something to talk about, it's something that's coming up in the future, but for myself, I just try to worry about playing."

Tavares leads the Islanders with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists).

Should Tavares not re-sign with the Islanders before the start of next season, he would find himself in the same situation Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was in last season. Stamkos, who also grew up in the Toronto area, played out the final season of his contract with the Lightning and signed an eight-year, $68 million contract to stay in Tampa Bay two days before he could have become an unrestricted free agent .

Will Tavares lean on Stamkos for advice?

"Not necessarily," Tavares said. "I was around him a little bit in the summer, and then obviously at the World Cup. I think the same thing for him; he just tried to worry about playing and just made sure not to like any tweets. I rarely go on my Twitter anymore anyways, so it is what it is. I just worry about playing and helping the Islanders as best I can."

Tavares said he doesn't get as nearly amped up to play the Maple Leafs as he once did.

"Maybe my first or second year," said Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. "First time getting to play in your hometown, getting your friends and family to watch you in the NHL is pretty cool. There was probably a lot more to it then. I had a bigger crew; I think the first game I had [in Toronto] over 30 people. Now it's not quite as large. You just try to approach it all the same. At this point in the year, it's a team we're trying to chase and catch down and these points are big."

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