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NHL Free Agency 2018: John Tavares is the missing piece to the Golden Knights’ championship puzzle

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Vegas might not need a superstar. But it’s John Tavares. If you have the room, you get him.

Florida Panthers v New York Islanders Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Vegas Golden Knights are ahead of schedule.

The Golden Knights’ rise from little expansion team that could, to championship contender, has expedited Vegas owner Bill Foley’s original plan of “Playoffs in 3, Cup in 6.”

The Golden Knights have positioned themselves to be a dominant Western Conference powerhouse. One reason, per the expansion draft, was choosing players with expiring contracts. That, in turn, led to the purpose of landing a big fish in free agency.

Say, someone like John Tavares.

Tavares is the crown jewel of this free agency class. That soon-to-be hefty payday could come from the incumbent New York Islanders, now with Barry Trotz as their head coach, or from any of the five teams that will get a meeting with him in Los Angeles in the coming days. Vegas isn’t listed as one of those five teams, but there are rumblings they will be one of the two or three that will get a phone interview with Tavares, with hopes of an in-person pitch.

The Golden Knights have money to burn. They’re about to enter the realms of free agency. What better way to start their first summer bonanza than by luring the top free agent on the market?

Season in review

  • 84 points (37 goals, 47 assists), second most on the Islanders behind Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal (85); The 84 points were the most for Tavares since 2014-15 (86 points).
  • Became an All-Star for the fifth time.
  • Played 82 games for the fourth time in his career.
  • New York finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division, missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

Strengths

The best offensive players in the NHL have an all-around game that strike fear into the hearts of men who dare skate against them. Connor McDavid is on his own pedestal, followed by the likes of Taylor Hall, Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby, etc.

Putting Tavares in the underrated category seems asinine, but he’s not mentioned in the same breath. He hasn’t won a Hart Trophy, he hasn’t led the League in points and he hasn’t led his team to a Stanley Cup. Tavares, however, has a skill set and statistical pedigree that puts him in that conversation.

Tavares has 621 points in 669 career NHL games. That’s just under a point per game (0.93). That’s good. Tavares has been a prolific goal scorer since being the first overall pick back in 2009 (272 goals).

His passing, though. Lord have mercy.

That’s against future Selke finalist Sean Couturier. That’s a great individual effort to maintain possession and find Josh Bailey for the winning goal. That was one of Tavares’ 47 assists this season.

There was also this one.

That’s not even human.

Tavares is the perfect playmaker. It’s almost baffling Tavares can have the season he had, play with guys like 40-goal scorer Anders Lee, a Calder winner in Barzal, and another playmaker in Bailey, yet the Islanders still finished seventh in the Metro.

Weaknesses

It’s hard to find much to dislike about a five-time All-Star.

Tavares isn’t the most explosive skater, which teams could live with if he’s putting up those numbers. Speed beats traps in the neutral zone. Vegas could’ve used that in the Stanley Cup Final. Is Tavares explosive enough to beat those traps? Does that even matter?

He hardly finds himself in slumps, but when he does, Tavares can be quiet. It’s almost as if he’s invisible on the ice. But when you average 0.93 points per game in your career, that doesn’t happen often. If Tavares gets more chances in the playoffs, which he would in Vegas, then that becomes heightened.

Fit with the Golden Knights

Let’s get the tricky stuff out of the way — Tavares is a top-line talent. The Golden Knights already have that covered in William Karlsson once his restricted free agency circus comes to an end.

Would Tavares settle for being the best second-line center in hockey? A second line of Alex Tuch, Tavares and Erik Haula sounds fun. Is that something Tavares would want to do? Would Gerard Gallant go crazy and move the Karlsson line to No. 2 and put the Tavares line at the top?

Signing Tavares means Vegas strikes away hope of re-signing David Perron and James Neal, but Tavares’ production offsets what those two did last season (44 goals). Tavares’ willingness to be a distributor fits extremely well with Vegas’ up-and-down style of hockey. He’s also the perfect linemate for a guy like Tuch and his development as a star in Vegas.

Now, the tricky part: Are the Golden Knights going to get a meeting with Tavares? The plot thickens. But Vegas has a spot at the table. Let’s see if they go all-in.