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Report: Leafs now frontrunners in Tavares sweepstakes?

Islanders insider Arthur Staple drops a bomb! Come on, GM Dubas!

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With just days to go until the official opening of the NHL’s free agency period all eyes are on New York Islanders superstar John Tavares. Will he or won’t he? Will he sign a new deal with the Islanders before July 1st or will he go to the open market and test free agency? It’s worth noting that Tavares, and all pending unrestricted free agents, have a five day “negotiation period” before July 1st in which they can freely meet with other NHL teams to discuss contract scenarios. It’s expected that, at the very least, Tavares will entertain those discussions before making his ultimate decision.

While we know that Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is pushing hard to get his superstar captain re-signed, there are rumours around the NHL that the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights are all biding their time before making Tavares an offer. And according to a report from Islanders insider Arthur Staple of The Athletic, the Leafs may have the inside track.

Staple cites a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger in which Dreger asserts that Tavares WILL meet with the Leafs to discuss a potential contract once the negotiation window opens.

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Tavares plans to get to that five-day window and listen to pitches. He may even visit another team or two — bet on the Leafs being a team he’d visit if Toronto makes a pitch. More likely that team representatives will go to CAA’s offices in Los Angeles to meet Tavares and his reps, as TSN’s Darren Dreger and others have reported.

Dreger’s TSN colleague Bob McKenzie also reported earlier this week that the Leafs are preparing a “package” for Tavares negotiations and expected to be the team most aggressive in pursuit of him during free agency.

For what it’s worth, the Leafs currently have over $20 million in cap space for the 2018-19 season, but rookie GM Kyle Dubas will have his work cut out for him with an extension for youngster William Nylander. He’ll also need to figure out what, if anything, he offers to pending unrestricted free agents James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Then there’s the extensions for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner to consider for next offseason. So, while the Leafs may technically have room for Tavares now… the team’s salary cap structure could look drastically different in 2019. Still