Tavares’ future remains a mystery as teams await decision

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(UPDATE: Tavares has signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

The clock has struck midnight and John Tavares has entered unrestricted free agency. While we don’t know where he’ll sign, one thing we know is that because he did not re-sign with the New York Islanders before July 1, he can only ink a maximum seven-year contract.

That’s probably not good news for Islanders fans.

As the hockey world waited for some sort of news, it was nothing but quiet on all fronts. There was nary a peep from the Tavares camp and nothing leaking from any of the teams — Islanders, Stars, Bruins, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Lightning — reported to be in the hunt. Deep into Saturday afternoon, all six teams had yet to be notified that they were out of the sweepstakes.

It was reported this week that the Islanders had an eight-year, $88 million offer on the table, but after meeting with representatives from those interested teams at his agent’s offices in Los Angeles, you can imagine the average annual value for whatever Tavares’ contract will look like likely begins at $12 million.

Whoever ends up getting the contract with his signature remains a mystery after a 2017-18 NHL season where Tavares repeatedly stated he wanted to stay with the Islanders.

“This is where I hope to be. I’ve always stated that,” Tavares said in April. “But obviously I have some time to think about my situation and go from there. I’ve loved it here and people have really embraced me, the team and organization have been first class since I’ve gotten here. Obviously, some great talent and some great things ahead. Definitely a lot of positives and I’ll have to take some time and figure out what I want to do and go from there.”

The Islanders have done their best this off-season to try and steer the franchise in a different direction after two down seasons. First, general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight were relieved of their duties and replaced by Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz. Then the team added eight more games at their old rink, Nassau Coliseum, to the 2018-19 NHL schedule, bringing their total to 20 for the season as they await a new arena project to be built near Belmont Park.

As the free agent market opens, Tavares remains the biggest name available. What will be interesting to watch is once he makes a decision, how much does that open doors for other moves, especially ones involving the teams that lose out in the race for the Islanders captain.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.