How John Tavares' move to Toronto makes 2019 a critical offseason for the Caps

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

Both the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders rolled the dice with their free agents this season.

Both John Carlson and John Tavares entered the 2017-18 season on the final year of their contracts. Both were players their respective teams could not afford to lose for nothing.

Only one of them re-signed.

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While the Capitals managed to ink Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million contract, Tavares left Long Island to play for his hometown team of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And the Islanders got nothing.

Tavares was the face of the franchise and New York desperately did not want to lose him, but the closer he got to free agency, the more of a possibility his leaving became. Regardless of whatever he said about staying on the island or about his loyalty to the team, the fact that he did not put pen to paper meant that he was at the very least considering going to another team.

It's understandable why the Islanders would be hesitant to trade away the face of the franchise, but by waiting for free agency they ended up allowing him to leave for nothing which is much, much worse.

It's a lesson not lost on the league's general managers as evidenced by the mess already starting in Columbus with Artemi Panarin.

Panarin's current contract expires at the end of next season which makes him eligible to sign a new contract with his current team. The Blue Jackets offered him a new deal which he turned down and now Columbus is looking into trading away arguably its best player before the season even begins a full year away from free agency.


Because the Islanders showed the risk of riding out that final year. Columbus can't afford to lose Panarin for nothing and if he's not interested in re-signing, they feel they have to make a move.

While trying to extend a star player a year ahead of time is not uncommon, it may just become the way teams do business in the NHL in the wake of the Tavares signing.

With this in mind, we should look ahead to Washington's 2019 free agents to see if there is anyone they need to attempt to re-sign now. to avoid a similar situation.

Since there's no real urgency with restricted free agents given their limited rights, here's a look at the Caps' players who are set to become unrestricted free agents in 2019:

- Pheonix Copley
- Brett Connolly
- Nic Dowd
- Jayson Megna
- Aaron Ness
- Devante Smith-Pelly

Clearly, the team is in good shape. There is no player on this list that the team needs to rush to get signed. If you look just one more year into the future, however, it is a very different story.

2020 free agents:
- Nicklas Backstrom
- Braden Holtby

There may not be much officially on the line for the Caps in the summer of 2019 with Backstrom and Holtby both a year out from becoming free agents, but it still could prove to be a blockbuster summer with the legacy of Tavares looming large. Will Brian MacLellan feel compelled to lock up both big-name players a year early to avoid a similar situation in Washington??


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