What If John Tavares Stayed On Long Island?

July 1st, 2018, a day New York Islanders fans remember as the day John Tavares tainted his legacy by leaving. With a decision to leave the Island, the faithful were left to put all hope into a young Mat Barzal. A struggling unproven goaltender in Robin Lehner was now a starter, and a coach fresh off a Stanley Cup victory implemented a new scheme. If John Tavares stayed, the whole outlook of the Islanders would be drastically different than the team we see today.

First off, we have to talk about the emergency signings the Islanders made in early July 2018. After Tavares’ $11 Million cap hit he would’ve had left with him, the Islanders had money to spend. General manager Lou Lamoriello signed veterans Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula, and Tom Kuhnhackl. Along with these signings, the Islanders traded goalie Eamon McAdam to the Maple Leafs in order to get Matt Martin. Finally, the diamond in the rough of these nuclear signings was the Islanders MVP of the 2018-2019 season, Vezina candidate Robin Lehner. The majority of these players were signed to fill the cap space left behind by Tavares. With Tavares staying, the majority of these signings would not be present on today’s Islanders. Lehner however, would still have been signed, due to former goalie Jaroslav Halak still opting to leave regardless of Tavares in the 2018 off-season.

2018-2019 Season

Lines

Anders Lee – John Tavares – Josh Bailey

Anthony Beauvillier – Mathew Barzal – Jordan Eberle

Andrew Ladd – Brock Nelson – Michael Dal Colle

Cal Clutterbuck – Casey Cizikas – Ross Johnston

Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock

Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk

Scott Mayfield – Thomas Hickey (Replaced by Devon Toews mid-season)

Robin Lehner, Thomas Greiss

This Islanders team looks much more offensively dominant than the one Isles fans saw during the actual 2018-19 season. Adding Tavares to the lineup would surely add a few wins, but ultimately resulting in the same standings position as reality. Due to the lack of offensive scoring and the outbreak of Brock Nelson who only puts up 31 points. Nelson will be held back from breaking out due to the replacement of real linemates Beauvillier and Bailey. Nelson is now paired with Andrew Ladd and Michael Dal Colle.

In the Playoffs, the Islanders would still sweep the Penguins, with the shutdown ability of the Pelech and Pulock line fully taking advantage of Barry Trotz‘s defensive scheme. The Islanders, backed by Robin Lehner would still shut down the Penguins in the defensive zone and force more offense with the addition of Tavares to the series.

This is where the main difference comes into play. In the second round, in reality, the Islanders got swept by the Carolina Hurricanes. In the alternate timeline, the Tavares led the Islanders to win the series in six games. The main reason the Islanders lost the series, in reality, was due to the lack of scoring and the injury to Johnny Boychuk. In this reality, with the defense not being as pressured due to the offensive possession time increasing, Boychuk doesn’t get injured. With Tavares leading the way, the Islanders offense breaks the brick wall that was Petr Mrazek in the Carolina net and move on to face the Boston Bruins.

The Islanders would be a good team with John Tavares present, but with the presence of a superstar on the team, the Islanders invest over 10% of their cap hit in him, leaving the offensive depth dry. The Bruins would take advantage of the Islanders’ offensive depth and squeeze out the Islanders’ flaws. The Islanders’ lack of depth meant the Bruins taking the series in six games. With weapons all over their roster, the Bruins would shut the door backed by Tuukka Rask, dueling with Robin Lehner but just beating him.

2019 Off-Season

In the 2019 offseason, the Islanders had to resign Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, and Anders Lee. In reality, the trio combines for $18.5 Million. With Brock Nelson’s breakout not existing in this timeline, he signs for $3.5 Million. As a third-line center, he would not make the $5.5 million he is actually paid. Jordan Eberle still excels in the playoffs, still playing alongside Mat Barzal. The pair dominates as the second focus on opposing teams’ defense. Eberle signs for $4.5 million instead of $5.5 million due to the second line role rather than a 1st line role.

With the $3 Million dollar space created with the alternate contacts of Eberle and Nelson, the Islanders place a percentage of that into Anders Lee. Lee would dominate again with Tavares and Bailey on his line. Lee would put up another 40 goal season instead of a 28 goal season in reality without Tavares. With 78 points in the alternate timeline, Lee proves he is worth the money. The Islanders would sign Lee to an extension worth $8.5 Million instead of the $7 Million Lee got in reality.

With the Islanders winning more games and having more offensive possessions, goaltender Robin Lehner faces less pressure. Making more easy saves and allowing fewer goals, he becomes the Vezina winner of the season. With the trophy added to his shelf along with the cap room made from the Eberle and Nelson savings, Lou gives in to Lehner’s wants and signs him to a 3 year, $15 Million deal.

The Islanders entered the 2019 NHL draft with thoughts of drafting a goal scorer, with the presence of Tavares, the Islanders look towards more depth and grit than a shooter, instead of drafting Simon Holmstrom with the 23rd pick, the Islanders select Raphael Lavoie with the 29th pick. With Tavares as their superstar, the Islanders are not in the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes, and he still signs with the Rangers. The Islanders do not end up signing Derrick Brassard as well.

2019-2020 Season

Lines

Anders Lee – John Tavares – Josh Bailey

Anthony Beauvillier – Mathew Barzal – Jordan Eberle

Joshua Ho-Sang – Brock Nelson – Kiefer Bellows

Cal Clutterbuck – Casey Cizikas – Ross Johnston

Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews – Scott Mayfield

Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk

Robin Lehner, Thomas Greiss

Lou Lamoriello finally gives in and tries to improve the lack of 3rd line talent with young prospects. He opts to give Josh Ho-Sang a full-time job on the wing of Brock Nelson. Along with the absence of Derrick Brassard, the Islanders also shine a light on 2016 first-round pick Keiffer Bellows. Before the pause, the Islanders dominated the regular season, with the 3rd line producing the offense it couldn’t in reality. At the trade deadline, with Nelson solidified as the number three-center, the Jean-Gabriel Pageau deal never happens. With Adam Pelech not being injured due to the offensive possession time the Islanders have, the Andy Greene deal doesn’t happen as well. The Islanders finished with a record of 43-19-6 for 92 points, winning the Metro division.

In the return to play bubble, the Islanders waste no time winning games. With the Islanders having a bye for winning the division and playing in the round-robin for seeding, they place second in the tournament. The Islanders would face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. The Islanders make ease of beating the also defensive schemed team, with John Tavares scoring four goals in five games. The team cracks the goaltending tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Jonas Korpisalo while Robin Lehner stands pat. In the second round, the Islanders would still face Philadelphia. In reality, the lack of scoring lead to Philly coming back and forcing a Game 7 between the two teams, with the presence of Tavares’ goal-scoring, the Isles take the series in five.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Lightning, fresh off a beatdown of the Boston Bruins. A hard-fought series in reality with the Islanders losing in 6 games, in this alternate timeline, with the offensive depth and the same defensive scheme, the Islanders breakdown the Tampa Bay Lightning. Points for the Islanders offense come from all lines. Josh Ho-Sang produces 4 points in 7 games surging on the powerplay. The Islanders would go on to defeat the Dallas Stars and win the 2020 Stanley Cup, with goalie Robin Lehner winning the Conn Smythe.

In conclusion, if John Tavares stayed on Long Island, it is more likely that the Islanders would have had more success.

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