Report: Leafs identified as Tavares’ “preferred destination” in free agency

Another NHL insider links this offseason’s biggest UFA to Toronto.

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Notwithstanding all the drama surrounding the Ottawa Senators and captain Erik Karlsson, the 2018 NHL offseason should officially be known as “The Tavares Offseason,” as in, New York Islanders captain and pending unrestricted free agent John Tavares. It’s no secret that Tavares will generate league-wide interest should he elect to forgo an extension with the Islanders and test the free agent market on July 1st. Any NHL team with the ability to fit Tavares in under the NHL’s projected $81 million salary cap is expected to pitch him on signing a deal, the real question is… where does JT want to play?

Early reports have Tavares linked out west to the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, while it’s also believed that the Montreal Canadiens are aggressively pursuing him, as well. But… what about Tavares’ hometown Toronto Maple Leafs?

Islanders insider Arthur Staple of The Athletic identifies the Leafs as a legitimate option for Tavares, insisting that Toronto is a “preferred destination” for the superstar centre.

Who does Tavares want to call him? It’s long been believed that the Kings and the Leafs would be his preferred destinations if he could choose. Los Angeles has to try and sign Drew Doughty after next season and has the least cap space going into 2018-19, so that seems like a stretch.

Interesting… now there’s just the matter of $10 or $12 million under the salary cap.

The Leafs may be the wild card — they could afford Tavares at $11 million per now, but Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner need new deals after this coming season and Toronto only has 15 players signed for next year with roughly $25 million in cap space on a presumed $78 million salary cap. If they can make a pitch, the thinking is Tavares will listen to his hometown team.

Wow… could you imagine? With Tavares in the fold, the Leafs could run a 1-2-3 punch of Tavares, Matthews and Kadri down the middle. Not bad… not bad at all.

Of course, it’s likely that a Tavares signing means one of Matthews, Marner or William Nylander gets pushed out in Toronto. Between their contracts, a Tavares contract and veteran Patrick Marleau and his $6 million annual deal, something’s got to give.

So… does a Tavares signing in Toronto seem likely? No, probably not. Does it seem impossible? No, definitely not. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and where there’s a $10 million… well there’s DEFINITELY a way.