John Tavares. (Photo: Getty Images)

One monumental task has been scratched off the New York Islanders' checklist after it was announced on Wednesday morning that they will build a brand-new arena in Belmont Park in Nassau County

 

Another monumental task awaits in the signing of star captain John Tavares to an extension. His contract expires at the end of this season, though this week might have just been a huge step in the right direction to securing the 27-year-old long term. 

 

Leading up to the 2017-18 season, Tavares' expiring contract quickly became a huge storyline around the NHL. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick is one of the best forwards in hockey and already an Islanders franchise great. 

 

While Tavares chose not to speak of the status of negotiations over the summer, it was speculated that he was keeping an eye on two major aspects: The team's ability to secure a long-term, hockey-first home and their commitment to putting together a legitimate championship contender. 

 

They got that arena on Wednesday in Elmont, NY, a $1 billion investment funded by Islanders ownership, Sterling Project Development and Oak View Group. 

 

For the first time in franchise history, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman alluded to, this will be the first time that this franchise will be playing at a top-of-the-line venue that will hold around 16,500 patrons for hockey games. 

And it means the world to Tavares. 

"This is where the team belongs, where it started. The New York Islanders are called the Islanders for a reason," Tavares said on Wednesday at Belmont Park. "Ownership is extremely committed to making it a special place to be, making it a very unique experience. What I mean by that is having the true identity of the Islanders come out, not only with us playing there but being built around our fan base and highlighting what it means to be an Islander player and an Islander fan. It's obviously really special."

It provides a stable home for the franchise and an easier commute for Tavares, who settled down on Long Island while the team called Nassau Coliseum home. A commute to Elmont, which is just seven miles down the road from the Coliseum, is a much easier commute than taking the train or driving into Brooklyn like he has for the last two seasons. 

"For my situation, it's really exciting news," he said. "I'm not going to say it's going to change or ultimately make my decision, but everything that's involved in my daily life plays into it and going to the rink, playing games is a big part of that."

That's where being a contender comes in.

It's abundantly clear that the Islanders have one of the best offenses and first lines in the NHL. Tavares ranks fourth in the league in goals with 19 which is two behind linemate Anders Lee, who is in third with 21 tallies. His right winger Josh Bailey is tied for second in the league with 32 assists. Both Bailey and Tavares have racked up 42 points this season, tied for third-best in the NHL. 

As a whole, the Islanders' offense ranks second in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning as they've scored 121 goals in 34 games. 

The problem is that their defense is in shambles and their goaltending has been sieve-like. Only the Arizona Coyotes have allowed more goals than the Islanders' 120 against. 

Regardless, this is still a team that holds a playoff spot nearing the halfway point in the season. It will be up to general manager Garth Snow to fix the defense and find a true No. 1 goaltender to make New York a truly imposing team. 

If he can do that, it could very well lock down Tavares in orange and blue for the next seven years or so. But he isn't giving anything away yet. 

"We'll continue the way things have been going, keeping the communication open and taking it one day at a time," Tavares said. "A lot of focus is on the ice, on getting us to the playoffs. I've always stated how much I enjoy being here... and wanting it to work out here."