By Cole Parkinson
I can’t believe I’m actually saying it but — John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf.
Now it’s no secret he grew up in the Greater Toronto Area loving the Leafs but it was always highly unlikely he would wear the blue and white.
First off, he was drafted first overall by the New York Islanders and how many first overall picks leave their team for free agency?
Steven Stamkos basically went through the exact same process back in 2016.
The Leafs made a pitch but he went back to Tampa Bay instead of coming to Ontario to play for Toronto.
The biggest difference is Tampa was a good team whereas the Islanders are much less so.
They had plenty of struggles last year on the ice including a lack of a number one goaltender but that wasn’t the only thing working against the Islanders.
Their move to Brooklyn to play at the Barclays Centre was disastrous, so much so that they are already working on building a brand new arena.
So while Islanders fans are understandably upset at JT’s decision to leave, it wasn’t like it was a shocking thing to happen.
With no rink and a weak team around him, on top of playing for his childhood team, I’m sure it made it easier on him to decide to move up north.
Signing for $11 million over seven years may be a hometown discount as reports have come out saying teams like San Jose and New York made offers of $13 million.
Toronto’s young core of Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner and William Nylander no doubt played a factor in the signing.
The team looks to be Stanley Cup competitor’s for the foreseeable future so I’m sure Tavares liked the prospect of having deep playoff runs.
While Toronto’s weakness has been defence for the past few years, it’s hard to argue that they have gotten better even if the defence has remained the same (so far anyway).
Boasting three centremen the ilk of Tavares, Matthews and Nazem Kadri, the Leafs have one of the, if not, the best 1-2-3 punch of centreman in the league.
While they lost Roman Polak, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk to free agency, I’d say the team is better than it was at the end of the season.
Losing JVR hurts since he is a guaranteed lock for 25 goals every year, but the Leafs are strong on the wing already.
With Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson already showing the fact they are NHL ready last year, the Leafs look to have a solid chance of reproducing some of the offence from JVR’s departure.
The fourth line may still be somewhat a mystery but the Leafs did add Josh Jooris at free agency and he very may well end up as the fourth line centre.
That being said, I can’t imagine the fourth line getting many minutes when Mike Babcock can roll lines with Matthews, Tavares and Kadri over the boards.
Much was made of Matthews lack of minutes last year on the power play but I see that changing quite a bit this year.
With Tavares, Kadri and Matthews all guaranteed to play big power play minutes with the likes of Marner, Johnsson and Kapanen, I think teams will dread taking penalties against the Leafs.
I would love to see JT and Auston form a line for the PP much like how Pittsburgh does with Crosby and Malkin and now Babs has the chance to do so.
Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists last year which is a fantastic year and the good news is he may very well improve on those numbers playing with Mitch Marner.
Babcock has said he sees the top two lines shaping up as Patrick Marleau- Matthews – Nylander and Zach Hyman – Tavares – Marner.
It’s hard to imagine most teams being able to match that especially when you add a third line centred by Kadri, who once again scored 30 goals last year. With summer in full swing, it’s hard to want fall to arrive but the signing makes me wish just a little bit more it was hockey season.
With that said, I think I’ll take a couple more months of summer before I start wishing for the puck to drop.