Vancouver Canucks: The case for signing John Tavares

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: John Tavares
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: John Tavares /

New York Islanders John Tavares looks destined to hit the open market on July 1st, and it’s safe to guess that at least a dozen teams will pursue him. Here’s why the Vancouver Canucks should make a play for him.

The last time a generational NHL player hit free agency, he was oh-so-close to signing with the Vancouver Canucks, but management found a way to screw it all up.

That man, by the way, was Wayne Gretzky. He’s only the greatest player in NHL history, with four Stanley Cup championships, nine Hart Trophies, 10 scoring titles and a whopping 2,857 career points – which nobody will ever come close to.

“The Great One” finished up a short tenure with the St. Louis Blues and entered free agency in 1996. In early 2015, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox and Elliotte Friedman detailed the story about how the Canucks almost won the No. 99 sweepstakes.

In short, Canucks general manager and president Pat Quinn was prepared to sign Gretzky as a free agent, but Stan McCammon (CEO of Orca Bay), pressured The Great One into getting the deal signed immediately.

Quinn told Gretzky to sign the papers that evening, but the whole deal fell apart after that. Some impatience by Canucks management cost them a chance at having both Gretzky and Mark Messier together. Just the franchise’s luck, we suppose.

The good news is that the Canucks now have a chance to land another generational star 22 years later, and his name is John Tavares. The New York Islanders captain has yet to sign an extension with the team that drafted him first-overall nine years ago, and it’s starting to look like Tavares will hit free agency.

You may recall me making the case as to why the Canucks should stay away from Tavares, but there are two sides to every story. Here, we’ll dive into why signing Tavares may actually be a great idea for general manager Jim Benning and co.

Competition may be small

As I noted in that piece about the Canucks avoiding Tavares, he’s easily going to command over $10 million a season. According to, only the Carolina Hurricanes (approx. $19.095 million), Arizona Coyotes ($16.161), and Colorado Avalanche (approx. $10.739 million), have that cap space.  But the Canucks will get $14 million off the books, now that the Sedin twins are retired.

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Can you really see Tavares joining a low market team that keeps finishing at the bottom of the standings like the Coyotes or Hurricanes? Do you see the Avalanche making a play for Tavares when Nate MacKinnon, Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot are an elite centre trio? No need for Tavares there.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun did note that the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues will also have cap space and could be major players for Tavares.

Those two teams definitely offer Tavares a chance to win now, so they have to be considered major front-runners.

Cup contenders like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning don’t need Tavares, nor should they waste their little remaining cap space on him. If you’re winning without Tavares, why cost yourself $80-something million?

Chance to win now

With the Sedins retired, the Canucks will have so much cap space to work with. Don’t forget that Benning could also trade away Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev. Sven Baertschi could also be expendable, as Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province noted.

Vancouver can easily afford to sign Tavares, and signing the perennial All-Star gives them the chance to win now. Just envision this for a moment: Tavares on a line with Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin or Jonathan Dahlen.

You have Bo Horvat on the second line, and envision that top prospect Elias Pettersson shines as a winger. If Jake Virtanen is truly ready for a breakout season, then Horvat has a pair of excellent linemates. Big Bo can easily be a 60-point centre behind Tavares.

This is also a window of opportunity for the Canucks. Pacific Division rivals in the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings were both swept in the opening round of the playoffs, and their Cup windows have closed. Vancouver would immediately be a playoff contender with Tavares while the Ducks and Kings start to sink to the bottom of the standings.

Tavares is the kind of player that can single-handedly change a franchise. The Islanders were irrelevant until he came along and took them to the playoffs in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Tavares makes his linemates better, and he’s one of the most respected and admired leaders out there.

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So if the Canucks want to forget about the lengthy rebuild and get back into the playoffs right away, all they have to do is sign Tavares. With so much young talent on the roster already, Vancouver would immediately return as a playoff contender, with one of the NHL’s best centres of this era.