In the end, the Bruins made their pitch, but John Tavares didn’t swing.
Tavares, considered the top prize in the NHL free agent market this year, announced at around 1 p.m. Sunday that he had agreed to leave the Islanders and join the Maple Leafs — a deal widely reported to be for seven years and $77 million.
The Bruins last week made their pitch to bring Tavares to Boston. Team president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, and coach Butch Cassidy traveled to Los Angeles and met Tavares and his agent, trying to entice the the veteran center to come to Boston for the next seven years.
The Bruins had the cap room to acquire Tavares when they spoke to him last Monday. However, they would have had to move some salary, and defenseman Torey Krug, with a cap hit of slightly more than $5 million, or second-line center David Krejci, three years left at $7.25 million, would have been among the likely targets.
“It’s time to live my childrhood dream here in Toronto,” wrote Tavares in a short missive upon making his decision.
A native of Mississauga, Ontario, Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists for 84 points in 82 games for the Islanders last season. He has 621 points in 669 career regular-season games.
Losing Tavares is a crushing blow to the Islanders, who have undergone an organizational makeover in recent months under still relatively new owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky. They hired Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations and fresh Stanley Cup winner Barry Trotz as coach.
Tavares posted a note of thanks to the Islanders and their fans on social media.
Last Saturday, the Bruins and a handful of other teams learned that they lost out in their bid to land legendary Russian scorter Ilya Kovalchuk as a free agent. Kovalchuk, 35, opted instead to sign a three year deal, worth just short of $20 million, with the LA Kings.