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Given the opportunity to save face with some players still hopeful to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the NHL is drawing a hard line: No one, not even minor leaguers signed to two-way contracts, will be permitted to represent their country in Pyeongchang.
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Were the Leafs to sign Tavares, it would likely necessitate the trade of Nazem Kadri. The 26-year-old Kadri (selected six picks after Tavares in 2009) scored 30 goals for the first time last season and also established himself as a defensive center, but he is under contract for another five years at $4.5 million per season.
Pittsburgh, in its last two successful Cup runs, had the luxury of an effective third-line center in Nick Bonino (whose cap hit was less than $2 million) playing behind Crosby and Malkin. Toronto would have to clear out Kadri’s contract to allocate the cap space to address other areas of need, such as their blueline.
The addition of Tavares might also force the Leafs to make a choice between Nylander and Marner. Both wingers posted over 60 points in their rookie seasons and look to be on their way to a significant pay increase on their second contracts.
Unless Lamoriello can work his magic and get Nylander and Marner on cost-effective bridge deals or long-term extensions at below market value, Toronto may have to move someone they don’t want to, as the Hawks were forced to do with Brandon Saad in 2015 and Artemi Panarin this summer.
Of course, as was the case with Stamkos and the Lightning, Tavares may very well re-sign with the Islanders, though there are some significant obstacles to clear before that happens.