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John Tavares signs with Toronto Maple Leafs

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San Jose missed out on the superstar.

Mar 30, 2018; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) passes the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs center Mitchell Marner (16) during the second period at Barclays Center.
They’re going to be on the same line next year, but at least we’re in the West!
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of rampant speculation, John Tavares has chosen to sign a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The news is a crushing blow to the Sharks, who were one of the two favorites to land the 27-year-old Islanders superstar.

The Sharks contingent of owner Hasso Plattner (!), Doug Wilson, Joe Will, Pete DeBoer, and Doug Wilson Jr. met with Tavares and agent Pat Brisson Tuesday in Los Angeles for over two hours. Following the meeting, Arthur Staple of the Athletic reported that San Jose and Toronto were Tavares’ first and second choice in the event that the forward chose to leave Long Island.

Encouraged by the meeting, San Jose proceeded to offer a seven-year, $84 million contract to Tavares and reportedly upped it to seven years, $91 million on Saturday morning (via David Pagnotta of TheFourthPeriod). However, even that was not enough, as Tavares proceeded to take significantly less to play for his hometown Maple Leafs and lead a team with a core of Auston Matthews, Morgan Reilly, and Mitchell Marner.

The news comes as a great surprise to Islanders fans, as Tavares had repeatedly stated his intentions and desire to stay with the only NHL franchise he had ever known. However, after bumbling through years of incompetence with the team, it is difficult to blame Tavares for choosing to leave; according to Staple, assurances about the future of the franchise from the newly-hired duo of Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz did not do enough to assuage the doubts in Tavares’ mind.

Upon hearing the news, Wilson issued the following statement:

“I want to thank John Tavares and Pat Brisson for their interest in the San Jose Sharks and professionalism throughout this negotiation process. While we are naturally disappointed in the final decision, it’s extremely heartening to know that the top players in this league consistently view San Jose as a place they want to play. This is echoed by our own world-class players, such as Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones, who have continually chosen to bypass a chance at unrestricted free agency in recent years because they want to play in San Jose.

”This success can be directly attributed to owner Hasso Plattner, whose passionate support and financial commitment to bring a winner to San Jose is second to none in all of professional sports.

”Looking forward, we remain in an excellent position to add to our group should the right situation present itself and as I stated a few weeks ago, we’re very excited about our team as it stands heading into next season.”

Although the Sharks have missed out on Steven Stamkos and John Tavares despite being among the top two options for both, it is acutely clear that the franchise is aiming to acquire a young superstar who could re-energize the team and catapult them to a second Cup Final. Wilson has done everything in his power to land the two most recent premier free agents on the market, and that in itself should be encouraging to Sharks fans.

San Jose now turns to other options to bolster the club going forward. The Sharks were frontrunners for Erik Karlsson at the deadline, and it is not difficult to imagine them getting back into it; certainly, the near-20 million in cap space would enable them to take on Bobby Ryan’s salary as well (a major sticking point for many other teams). Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly is due a $7.5 million bonus tonight, meaning San Jose may be able to swing a quick and relatively cheap trade for the 27-year-old (in terms of assets). William Nylander is a restricted free agent as well, and Toronto’s upcoming cap crunch means Wilson could exact revenge on Toronto through attempting to acquire the 22-year-old rising star. Max Pacioretty and James Neal have also been rumored options for San Jose.

One thing is clear: Doug Wilson is far from done. The team is already in great shape for next year, and the belief around the front office is that they only need one more piece to get them over the hump. The Sharks set themselves up with acres of cap space in this off-season to acquire a star that could help the club for years to come, and John Tavares is far from the only one they could get. Today’s news, while disappointing, is certainly not the end of the world.

And remember: While today might be a gut-punch to every Sharks fan, at least we’re not the Habs.