Tavares leaves NHL suitors on pins and needles

FILE - In this April 3, 2018 file photo, San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars in San Jose, Calif. Couture has agreed to a $64 million, eight-year contract extension with the Sharks. A person familiar with the deal says the sides reached agreement on the deal Saturday, June 30. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

By STEPHEN WHYNO and JOHN WAWROW

AP Hockey Writers

On the eve of free agency, John Tavares is leaving the NHL guessing about his destination.

Roughly 18 hours until the market opens, the elite center had not chosen between six suitors, with the San Jose Sharks, hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and incumbent New York Islanders considered the most likely options. Tavares could only get an eight-year deal by re-signing with the Islanders, but would have to do so before midnight when that advantage expires.

If the Tavares sweepstakes drag on into today, it would seem to favor San Jose and Toronto, either of which could sign the 27-year-old to a seven-year deal worth $70 million or more. He met this week with the Sharks, Maple Leafs, Islanders, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, and his decision could drastically affect the plans of those teams and others.

As hockey waited for the Tavares watch to end, several teams made moves Saturday ahead of the frenzy.

The Sharks agreed to terms on a $64 million, eight-year extension with forward Logan Couture, according to a person familiar with the deal who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

New Jersey also shored up its goaltending situation by re-signing Eddie Lack to a $650,000, one-year deal. The Devils also have Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, who split time last season and in the playoffs.

A person with direct knowledge of discussions said the Buffalo Sabres are expected to sign goalie Carter Hutton, who had been the St. Louis Blues’ backup to Jake Allen.

Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk, who tied Tavares with 36 goals last season, has been drawing significant interest and, at 29, could easily command a seven-year contract at a substantial raise over his previous $4.25 million salary.

The Winnipeg Jets are doing their best to try to bring back center Paul Stastny after he was so instrumental in their playoff run. They cleared about $5.5 million in cap space by trading goaltender Steve Mason and Finnish forward Joel Armia to Montreal on Saturday but may still need more room to bring back the 32-year-old.

Teams looking for a center who don’t land Tavares will look to Stastny and Toronto’s Tyler Bozak and could look into a trade for Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly, who is signed for the next five years and owed a $7.5 million bonus today.

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