John Tavares' first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs has gone about as well as anyone could have hoped, but as TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger said Tuesday, the forward came close to returning to the New York Islanders last summer.

Tavares matched his career-high of 86 points on Monday night while netting four goals to improve on his career-best goal total of 45 this season. He signed a seven-year, $77 million contract to join the Maple Leafs on July 1, though Dreger notes that, if not for Tavares stepping into the negotiations, the homecoming almost wasn’t to be.

Dreger on Tavares' four-goal night, playoffs vs. Bruins and more

TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger joins First Up with Michael and Carlo to discuss the Maple Leafs' win over the Panthers, John Tavares' 4 goal night, the playoffs vs the Bruins and more.

"There was an interesting back and forth between John Tavares, [Tavares’ agent] Pat Brisson and, obviously, the Toronto Maple Leafs," Dreger told First Up on TSN Radio 1050 Toronto. "I think Tavares initially wanted one year at $15 million. Just a one-year deal from Toronto, ‘Let’s see if it works or not,’ - that didn't happen. Then they went back and I feel like Toronto offered something around $9.5 or $10 million. Well, that wasn't going to happen. And then, finally, Tavares stepped in to the negotiation and basically told Kyle Dubas, ‘Look, I'll come play for $11 million but I'm not taking less than that. So if there's a deal to be made, then let's get it done. Otherwise, I'm going back to the Islanders.'

"So it wasn't as slam dunk as many of us thought it was on July 1 when it was signed." 

In addition to the Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders, Tavares held interviews with the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning in the lead up to July 1.  

Tavares sits second in the NHL in goals this season and 15th in points. His $11 million cap is the second-highest in the league this season behind only Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid.