John Tavares has informed the New York Islanders that he will not be signing with them, as first reported by Arthur Staple of the Athletic.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to sign the Ontario native to a seven-year deal, per multiple reports.
Tavares confirmed those reports himself when he released a statement via his Twitter:
"These past six days have been nothing I could have ever expected. Making the thoughest decision of my life: to stay where I have been my entire career or take a calculated leap of faith into an opportunity that I blieve will be special to me and my family. The island has been home, it's what I know, it's part of me — it always will be. I can't thank you all enough for the dedication you have all showed. I'm sorry if this decision pains you, as you can tell it wasn't easy, but have trust in the future because it is bright. The Islanders are in great hands. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be an Islander for as long as I did. The island, the fans, the organization, my teammates will always be special to me and my family but it's time to live my childhood dream here in Toronto."
The writing was on the wall for Tavares' exit after the Jun. 30 deadline in which he could sign an eight-year deal with the Islanders passed. Per the NHL's CBA, the Islanders were the only team that could have offered him that long of a contract.
It ends a nine-year run with the franchise that drafted him first-overall in 2009. During that span, Tavares developed into the face of the franchise and one of the greatest players in the organization's history. He ranks seventh with 272 goals, fifth with 349 assists and fifth with 621 points.
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However, he was unable to achieve much postseason success with a franchise that has been stuck in neutral since winning four-straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. Behind the inept management of former general manager Garth Snow, who was unwilling to provide pieces to develop the team into a contender around Tavares, the Islanders made the postseason just three times during the 27-year-old's career and won just a single playoff series.
Yet Tavares continued to do and say the right thing over the past year as his contract situation became a hot-button issue, claiming he wanted to stay with the Islanders and telling the team that he did not want to be dealt at the February trade deadline.
But now the Islanders have allowed Tavares to leave without getting anything in return, a difficult blow to a franchise moving in the right direction.
Over the past month, the hiring of Lou Lamoriello as president saw the firing of Snow as GM and head coach Doug Weight. He then followed it up by signing Barry Trotz, fresh off winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, as the team's new head coach.
But the personnel changes and an eight-year contract were not enough to keep Tavares as there were too many aspects that were still up in the air. The Islanders still are in need of a No. 1 goaltender, have to improve on one of the worst defenses in the league and are splitting games between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center over the next three years until their new arena near Belmont Park is built.