Three key players tallying for 116 points (54 goals, 62 assists) last season left the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency this summer. Yet the signing of just one player was able to lift the blue and white to the top of the odds to win the Stanley Cup next season.
John Tavares can do that to your team, he is that good.
He has always been a star. Since his early days playing with older age groups. Getting exceptional status which would allow him to play in the OHL one year earlier than allowed. And then getting drafted first overall by the New York Islanders in 2009; a no-brainer.
Which is why it was a no-brainer for the Leafs to let those three players go in order to pursue the 7-year, $77 million contract they gave Tavares to come home and live out his childhood dream. That dream was to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not everyday you can live a childhood dream pic.twitter.com/YUTKdfMALl
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018
Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, and Leo Komarov were the three players who were allowed to leave. All players who have been key in their stay or donned the “A” on their jersey at one point for the organization.
Tavares makes this team better in many ways. Offensively his hands and vision are amongst the best in the league and his ability to make something out of nothing is impressive. Amongst active skaters since his first season in 2009-10, Tavares ranks ninth in points with 621 (272 goals, 349 assists). At 6-foot-1, 207 lbs., his big frame makes it tough for opponents to move him.
Other than his skill and the fact he is one of the best players in the league, what he also brings to a young Leafs core is leadership. He was the captain of the Islanders the past four seasons after serving as an assistant captain since 2011-12. Many are speculating that part of the pitch to land Tavares was offering him the captaincy although that hasn’t been confirmed. However, due to his experience and age, there is no more perfect fit than him.
The teams big three should also flourish with this move. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are still on their entry-level contracts while William Nylander – who is a restricted free agent – will be back.
It is expected that Marner will slide onto Tavares’ wing while Matthews and Nylander end up on the second line but that is all still unknown. Nonetheless, up the middle of the ice Toronto is deadly and when you look at the pool of players coach Mike Babcock has to work with now and in the years to come, it’s a special group.
Why does this signing instantly make Toronto a favorite to win the Cup next season? They have the talent to do it whether it is next season or the next seven. The talent is on the roster now and in Toronto’s farm system.
The Hockey News, the most recognizable ice hockey magazine publisher in North America has an issue they release called Future Watch. In this magazine they outline the top prospects around the league which have been drafted and are in teams’ farm systems, playing NCAA, in Europe, wherever they may be. Scouts and writers write all the entries and in the end, they cast their vote on who they believe has the best prospect pool. This season the Leafs were chosen as the team with the best talent coming up the pipeline.
The rising batch of young talent along with the fact Toronto knows the arena they’ll be playing in next season was enough to convince Tavares to come home.
The biggest question mark surrounding this team is whether their very good offense can help balance out where they struggle the most, which is defense. It will definitely help but the team still has a lot of work to do on the back end in order to help goalie Frederik Andersen.
On paper the team looks like they are one of the top teams to beat. Fans will just have to wait and see what happens when Toronto hits the ice. There is one thing for sure surrounding the organization. The future is bright in Toronto.
— Mitchell Marner (@Marner93) July 1, 2018
— Nazem Kadri (@43_Kadri) July 1, 2018
— Auston Matthews (@AM34) July 1, 2018