The free agency process is not an easy one for the players, the teams and the fan bases. In the end, the player can only choose one team. Therefore, any other team that was considered will be disappointed to some degree. In the case of one John Tavares, he chose Toronto over Tampa and others, and we at Raw Charge, like a jilted lover, wanted to know why we weren’t good enough for him.
Through a series of back channels, favors called in, and the under-the-table-exchange of a few tariffed trade goods, we were able to secure the phone number* of Mr. Tavares. The usually reticent center was kind enough to share his recollections of the meeting he had with Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman, Assistant General Manager Julien BriseBois and Head Coach Jon Cooper prior to his decision.
What follows is a transcript of the that conversation. All “umms, ahhs, you knows, likes” and awkward pauses have been omitted for clarity.
John Tavares: Hello. This is Jonathan. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?
Raw Charge: John, thank you so much for not screening this call. It’s Raw Charge, a SB Nation blog. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule of being anointed as the Chosen One in Toronto.
JT: Sure, no problem. Who is this again? How did you get my number?
RC: It’s Raw Charge, we’re a little blog down in Florida that covers the Lightning. And about the number, it’s probably better that you don’t know how we got it. We were just hoping you’d answer a few questions about the meeting you had with the Lightning brass a couple of weeks ago.
JT: Actually, you know normally I wouldn’t but it was so weird I feel like I should really tell someone. I guess some random blog in Tampa is just as good. Y’all are kind of like The Athletic for Tampa, right?
RC: Sure, well, The Athletic without a paywall. So, it seemed like Tampa was an odd fit for you. They are a pretty stacked team down the middle and didn’t have a ton of cap room, well at least enough to afford your services. So why did you add them to the short list of teams you granted an interview to?
JT: I was intrigued by their interest. As you probably know, I’ve known Steven Stamkos a long time and saw what he went through during his few hours of free agency. So I called him up a couple of weeks before I arranged the meetings. He seemed really excited and told me how great it was to play for an organization run by Jeff Vinnik and Steve Yzerman.
I knew money would be an issue, but Stammer said that Yzerman would work something out and I should go into the meeting with an open mind.
RC: The Lightning were the last team you met with. Was that on purpose?
JT: Logistically it was the best fit for them, but I also thought they were the least likely place for me to end up. I kind of included them out of respect for how well run the organization is and I was intrigued on how they would pitch me given their salary cap situation.
RC: Can you describe how the meeting was set up?
JT: Sure, we were in a conference room at CAA headquarters. It was myself, Pat [Brisson, his agent], Steve Yzerman, Julien Brisebois and Jon Cooper. They brought a laptop and nothing else. I remember we had to close the curtains because Lou Lamoriello kept peeking in through the windows.
I was expecting a pretty intense discussion about my role with the team, how they expected to keep the supporting talent and how we could avoid getting into a bad situation with the cap like Chicago is. That’s pretty much how all of the other interviews went. Some of the teams had cut creative little videos with me photoshopped holding a Stanley Cup or passing the puck to an actual winger who can score a goal.
With how Stammer described the organization I wasn’t expecting a lot of fluff, but I was thinking that they were going to have a fairly detailed breakdown of how they were going to use me on the ice and how they would fit in my contract requests into their long term plan.
We were expecting them to focus the hard sell on how great it was to play for an owner that was fully committed to putting the best product on the ice but smart enough to leave the hockey decisions in the hands of the people he hired to make those choices.
I was also expecting them to talk about what a great hockey town Tampa was and how loud the building gets when the Lightning are winning. I was there a couple of years ago for the playoffs and was surprised at the crowd and the way the town supported the team. I figured they’d show us a bunch of slides about their attendance numbers and how they outdrew supposed hockey hotbeds like Boston and New York last year.
Also, we assumed they would overwhelm us with talk about all of the young talent that was on its way up from the AHL that would fill in the spots around us. But we didn’t get any of that. We didn’t even get a Photoshop of me holding the Stanley Cup on the beach, I was kind of looking forward to that.
RC: So they didn’t mention any of that?
JT: No. Not a single word. They just booted up the laptop and clicked on a file. All that popped up on the screen was a pdf with the words, “No State Income Tax” on it. It wasn’t even in color. Just black and white. And I think they used a comic sans font.
I thought it was kind of a joke at first because of the font, but then Pat and I started asking questions and I realized that their whole pitch was about the state income tax. When I asked Steve about how he would manipulate the roster and who he might move to stay under the salary cap if they signed me he just shrugged his shoulders and pointed at the slide.
I then asked him if he would alter his draft and development strategy with me on the team. Again, he kind of shrugged and pointed at the screen. We thought he would talk about how important they thought drafting and developing internal players was to their success to this point and that they would continue to do so.
RC: Yeah, they are shockingly good at finding players that fit their system and fill in key roles for relatively low pay.
JT: Exactly! It’s like they know what kind of style works for them and they actually draft players that fit that style and make good decisions on the ice. At that moment, Steve’s cell phone rang and he stepped away from the table to take. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, but it sounded like he was speaking in Russian and I didn’t know he was fluent.
RC: Well he did play with the Russian Five so I’m sure he picked up a few words here and there. Did you wait for him to finish the call?
JT: No, we started talking to Coach Cooper about how I would fit into the line-up. Like you said earlier, the Lightning have a lot of good centers on the team and not to boast too much, but I don’t think I would fit in to well as a third line center. When I asked what role I would fill on a team that is so deep at center, Coach Cooper looked at me with a bit of a smirk and said something about “figuring it out” and that “positions were just outdated constructs perpetrated by the media and companies trying to sell jerseys” and then pointed at the screen.
RC: That would would explain the way he mixes and matches lines.
JT: I noticed that too. Again, we figured he would talk about how the roster is full of versatile players that can fill different roles and makes them tough to match up against. I would love to play on a line with Stammer on one side and Kucherov on the other.
RC: So they talked about Stamkos moving to wing?
JT: No...I just kind of assumed that’s what would happen. I was getting a little upset at this point I’m sad to say so I asked them if I’d have to change my number. I’ve kind of grown accustomed to the 91. But Coach Cooper didn’t say anything. He just pointed at that stupid .pdf file and chewed his gum.
At this point Steve said something like, “Никакого государственного подоходного налога” [according to Igor that translates roughly to “no state/personal income tax”] and then hung up the phone.
RC: What happened after that?
JT: Well, Steve lowered his glasses and then just glared at me for the next ninety minutes.
RC: That was it?
JT: Yup. I’m not going to lie. It was weird. There was one little detail that really bothered me over the two-hour meeting.
RC: What was that?
JT: Well, when they clicked on the file at the beginning of the presentation I saw the name. It was “Stamkosnegotiation2016.pdf”. I honestly think it was the same slide they showed him.
[We reached out** to the Lightning about the presentation and an employee with knowledge of the meeting, speaking anonymously, confirmed the file name saying: “Yeah, we kind of dropped the ball on that one. Can you blame us though? It worked so well with our own players. Just pop that on the screen and tell the agent to run the numbers. I mean...we probably should have at least changed the file name...”]
RC: I could see how that would hurt your feelings. So how did the meeting end?
JT: After the staring contest, Steve got up and said, “Call us on the first and we’ll finish this deal up.” Then they packed their stuff up and walked out.
RC: Interesting. I guess you never even thought about making that call.
JT: Well….I almost called and said I would sign for 5 years and $36 million. I mean, they did have a good point about the income tax. But Pat pulled out the photo of me sleeping in the Leafs sheets and I realized that I had always wanted to play for Toronto and they offered me a lot, I mean A LOT, of money. So I signed with them instead.
RC: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
JT: No problem.
*Yeah none of this actually happened.