NHL Free Agents 2018: Latest Buzz, Predictions on John Tavares, Rick Nash, More

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2018

After taking meetings with six teams, John Tavares has to decide where he will play in 2018-19.
After taking meetings with six teams, John Tavares has to decide where he will play in 2018-19.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

John Tavares has had meetings with six teams that are interested in signing him to a contract, and now it's about the New York Islanders' star center taking his available time and the making a decision on which team will be the best for him over the next seven or eight seasons.

The Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs have all made their pitches, trying to explain what their organizations are all about. 

Tavares understands what the Islanders are all about, and he listened to their pitch as well.

The Tavares camp has not been offering hints on which direction he is likely to go. However, if winning a title is one of the key factors involved, it probably comes down to Boston or Tampa Bay.

The Stars are just too inconsistent, the Sharks don't know which direction they are going in and the competition in the Pacific Division is too tough.

The Maple Leafs are making progress, but how much pressure would Tavares be under in his home town while playing for a team that lacks a legitimate presence on defense. 

The Islanders have helped themselves by adding Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz and doing a solid job in the draft, but if they do make the playoffs next year, they will go in as a No. 7 or 8 seedeven with Tavares.

The Bruins have excellent leadership with Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, along with a slew of impressive young talent. Unfortunately, the Bruins played their best hockey in February and March, and they were a bit shaky in beating the Leafs in seven games and underachieved in losing to the Lightning in five games.

Tampa Bay had the Washington Capitals on the ropes in the Eastern Conference Final but got blanked in Games 6 and 7. Tavares' presence might help them take the next step.

The belief here is that if the decision is to go with the team that gives Tavares the best chance to win, Tampa Bay will have a slight edge on Boston.

Prediction: As important as winning is to Tavares, he may have a hard time leaving New York. He has incredible support from Islanders fans, who have always appreciated his deft touch and spectacular ability. The presence of Lamoriello and Trotz gives the Islanders two legitimate winners in key positions that they did not have previously.

Tavares will sign with his old team, get paid $13 million-plus per year and receive a term of eight years.

          

Nash Has Decision to Make

The trade for Rick Nash did not work out as the Bruins had hoped when they acquired him at the deadline from the New York Rangers.

After a promising start, Nash suffered a concussion that allowed him to play just a few games for the Bruins in the regular season before coming back in the playoffs. He appeared to be just a beat or two behind in most games, and he failed to capitalize on a number of scoring opportunities.

Nash scored two goals in Game 1 of the second-round series against the Lightning, and that was Boston's only victory in the series. Overall, Nash had three goals and two assists in the postseason for the Bruins.

The Bruins are focused on Tavares, but if they fail to reel him in, their interest in bringing back Nash may grow.

According to TSN NHL insider Darren Dreger, at least five teams have shown interest in Nash.

The Athletic's Aaron Portzline, who covered Nash throughout the first part of his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets, tweeted the Blue Jackets are the team he is most interested in joining.

One other factor is the possibility of retirement, as previous concussions may point Nash in this direction. Joe Resnick, Nash's agent, said that his player is going to continue to contemplate this situation past the July 1 free-agency opening and won't sign with anybody immediately (h/t Dreger).

Prediction: Nash will give long thoughts to hanging up his skates, but he will come back and play again. Though he wants to win, and staying in Boston gives him that chance, there is a ton of pressure and focus while playing with the Bruins.

In the end, Nash will go back to where it started and sign a two- or three-year deal with the Blue Jackets for $4 million per year.

                  

Thornton to Stay with Sharks

The 2017-18 season was an injury-riddled campaign for "Jumbo" Joe Thornton. The soon-to-be 39-year-old Thornton only played in 47 games last season as a result of an MCL injury to his right leg.

Thornton is a future Hall of Famer who has put up 1,493 points in his career, including 397 goals. He is one of the game's best passers, and he would love to win a Stanley Cup before his career his over.

Longtime teammate Patrick Marleau left the Sharks last summer and signed with the Maple Leafs, but don't look for Thornton to go that same route.

Prediction: Look for Thornton to stay in San Jose, per this tweet from Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. While signing Tavares would improve San Jose's chances of winning the Cup, Thornton will stay where he is comfortable, whether the Sharks land Tavares or not.

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