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Tavares' teammates say his future with Islanders remains mystery

Barzal, Lee want 'our captain and our leader' to stay in New York

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

HERNING, Denmark -- John Tavares was pressed about his future recently by New York Islanders teammate Mathew Barzal. Barzal didn't get very far.

Tavares can re-sign any time before becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1, and despite saying multiple times he wants to stay with the Islanders, the 27-year-old has given no indication he will actually do so. Barzal, a finalist for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL rookie of the year, said Thursday he's close with the center and New York captain but doesn't have any insight.

"I had dinner with him a couple weeks ago and was just joking a little bit about him and what he wanted to do," Barzal said at the 2018 IIHF World Championship, where the 20-year-old center is playing for Canada. "He didn't give me anything. He's a pretty quiet dude when it comes to that stuff."

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Barzal said Tavares should not be rushed into a decision.

"I just want what's best for him," said Barzal, who had 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists) this season, one more than Tavares (37 goals, 47 assists). "He's such a good guy and he's been through a lot with the Islanders, had some tough seasons there. I don't think there's any reason why he shouldn't be allowed to take his time.

"[We] actually got really close. His leadership and how hard he works really helped me as a young guy, seeing that work ethic and instilling it in me, honestly."

Tavares led the Islanders in scoring in seven of his nine NHL seasons and was second twice. The Islanders have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times in those nine seasons and did not this season or last.

"I don't think by any means anyone's lost faith in what's happened," said New York forward Anders Lee, who is playing for the United States. "It's just one of those things where he's in a position where he can do this, and I don't think anyone can really fault him for it. It creates a little bit of anxiety and nervousness from our side of things, because he is such a great player and a pivotal part of our franchise. It'll be interesting."

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The No. 1 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, Tavares has 621 points (272 goals, 349 assists), fifth in Islanders history and first among those who didn't play on their four consecutive Stanley Cup championship teams from 1980-83.

"He's been taking his time on this and looking at every angle, as he should," said Lee, who had 62 points (40 goals, 22 assists) in 82 games this season. "It's clear and obvious where all his teammates stand. We want him back. He's our captain and our leader. We all look up to him. It's a big decision for him and I think it's best he does it internally with him and his family and go forward from there."

Barzal said if Tavares stays with the Islanders, their future would be very bright.

"If he came back, we'd have a pretty good foundation," Barzal said. "We know what we need to get better at next year and we can take that next step. I really hope he stays, but if not, no hard feelings from me. It's a business at the end of the day and he has to do what's best for him."

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