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Tavares calm, composed without extension from Islanders

Captain doesn't believe it will be distraction this season, simply wants to play hockey

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- New York Islanders captain John Tavares hit the links at Sebonack Golf Club on Wednesday looking the same calm and composed individual he's always been.

But Tavares is in the midst of arguably the biggest year of his life. Not only did he get engaged this summer, he's in the final season of a salary cap-friendly, six-year, $33 million contract with the Islanders. Without an extension, Tavares could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018.

Tavares continues to maintain he wants to remain with the Islanders, who selected him with the No. 1 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft. He's been eligible to re-sign since July 1, but no agreement has been reached with training camp set to start next week.

Naturally, some Islanders fans are on the ledge. They feel if Tavares, who was in the Hamptons for the Islanders Captains' Getaway, wanted to remain with New York, he would have signed already.

It's not that simple.

"Things are a lot more complicated than they think," Tavares told NHL.com. "I think everyone's situation is different, everyone's circumstances are different, but you look at some of the situations with guys in similar situations that I'm in, it doesn't always happen the first day or that first month. It takes time. It's a big decision in your life and you want to make sure you're thorough and you understand everything going forward, so I think anybody making any decision like this in life would approach it the same way.

"There are a lot of things that are of importance as well, like the start of the season. For management, obviously they're doing what they need to do to, whether it's the draft or free agency and then heading into training camp, making sure we're ready to start from Day One. To me, that's the most important thing."

Video: John Tavares' future with the Islanders

The Islanders, who moved to Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015 after playing at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, for 43 years, are expected within the next three weeks to propose building an arena at Belmont Park. Tavares praised the efforts of co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, but it's becoming obvious Tavares wants to know what the Islanders' long-term plan will be before committing what would likely be another eight years of his career.

"I think you look at everything," said Tavares, who has 537 points (235 goals, 302 assists) in 587 NHL games. "It's nice to know where you're playing and having a good situation. I know how committed ownership is to making this a premier place to play. I think anyone on the team, any of the players or anyone within the organization is obviously waiting to see what's going to happen, and we're looking forward to whatever does happen. I just know how committed ownership is, so that's a good thing to have."

Would he be OK with playing at Barclays Center long-term?

"I'll take everything into consideration," Tavares said. "When the time is right, it'll all work out. It's hard for me to just sit here and say what ifs, because I don't like to look at it that way. You obviously have an idea of the future and things you want to understand and have an idea, but at the same time, I really try to live in the present."

At present, Tavares is without an extension. He will play the final season of a six-year contract with an average annual value of $5.5 million and is fully aware until he signs one, the questions about his future will be asked on a daily basis.

"That's the media's job, I respect that," the 26-year-old said. "But at the same time, there's my focus that I need to have going into the season. I'm just going to focus on being the best player I can be, be the best captain I can be, and obviously we want to get back to the playoffs and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

"I think any team is excited to start the season, starting fresh, but I think certainly the way we finished and the last few years that we've had, there's something we need to accomplish and we believe we have a special group and certainly want to bounce back after last year."

 

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The Islanders were at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings the first half of last season, costing coach Jack Capuano his job on Jan. 17. New York went 24-12-4 under Doug Weight and finished one point from a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. Some might believe Tavares' contract storyline could have a negative impact this season, but the Islanders captain doesn't seem concerned.

"I think it becomes a distraction if you let it become a distraction," Tavares said. "I don't try to listen too much to what's been written or said. I think you make your own judgments, you handle everything in your own way and you go out there and play the game that you've been playing since you were 3 years old. I think I've been here long enough, a lot of the guys know me and know who I am. I'm not going to try to change any of that."

Tavares will likely have a new linemate on his right side this season after the Islanders acquired wing Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers for forward Ryan Strome on June 22. Tavares has some history with Eberle, a five-time 20-goal scorer, playing for Canada.

Video: The guys chat about the New York Islanders

"He's a very proven player, very consistent with a tremendous skillset," Tavares said of Eberle. "I think he'll really help us on the power play, which really struggled last year, and that's something that we've always kind of been able to hang our hat on a little bit, even in some of those disappointing seasons. I obviously know him pretty well from two World Championships we played and then the one World Juniors. I can't remember how much we played together; I know at the World Juniors, we only played on the power play together. But he's obviously a tremendous hockey player. I've come to know him as a person over the years, and he's certainly a lot of fun. I think he'll fit in our locker room really well."

If Eberle and Tavares can mesh, perhaps the Islanders can get back into the playoffs. Perhaps Tavares can provide a moment similar to the one in 2016, when his double-overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers gave New York its only playoff series win since 1993. Islanders fans certainly hope there will be more special moments from Tavares in the years to come.

"I just control what I can control," Tavares said. "I'm not trying to change anything or who I am or how I approach the season or approach my training. I just want to be the best player I can be for the Islanders and let that be separate from the season and just let it run its course, keep the communication lines open, keep everything internal and respect everybody, which I think everyone already has for one another.

"We have so many great relationships with ownership, management and the staff here. I'm just really looking forward to the season. I want to be a hockey player. That's who I am. I've always been a guy that likes to take my time with anything that I do. I'll just let the process continue as it has been. It's been very positive."

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