Johnny Toronto: What the Tavares Signing Means for Auston Matthews

Gordon Brown
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Maple Leafs Land Top-Free Agent John Tavares

In what is being heralded as the most significant free agent signing in Maple Leafs’ franchise history, newly anointed general manager Kyle Dubas managed to land the most sought-after player on the board—John Tavares.

Following a 9-year, 669 game tenure with the New York Islanders, the former 2009 1st overall pick and Mississauga, Ontario, native announced that he was going home after a campaign which saw him record 37 goals and 47 assists for a total of 84 points. In hindsight, that happens to be just two points shy of his career high which was set during the 2014-15 season. 

Evidently, once the Islanders were out of the running it appeared the race was narrowed down to just San Jose and Toronto but would ultimately signal a homecoming for the talented 27-year-old. 

His deal comes in at 7-years and $77M, with an $11M AAV—the second highest yearly average next season behind Connor McDavid’s $12.5M AAV and will match Drew Doughty’s contract once it kicks in the following 2019-20 season. 

Teams across the league should be frightened more than ever by Toronto’s top-9 forward group, which includes a monstrous three-headed group of centremen headlined by Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and the recent addition of John Tavares… 

The projected top-9 is as follows:

Hyman - Matthews - Nylander

Marleau - Tavares - Marner

Johnsson - Kadri - Brown

Truthfully, this stacks up with the best of the best throughout the entire league, however, it also poses an important question about the depth chart for years to come.

Although Toronto’s philosophy has not revolved around any single player over the course of its rebuild, Auston Matthews has widely been regarded as the franchise’s saviour since his induction to the league two years ago. Ultimately, former general manager Lou Lamoriello’s memorable words, “The logo will be the face of this franchise,” have held relatively true. 

Having a highly-competitive core has taken a great deal of pressure off of Toronto’s most prized young talent in Matthews—but what does the addition of Tavares mean for the development of such a generational player?

Initially, the perceived turmoil appears to be minimal, if any is present at all, according to Auston Matthews’ timely Tweet,

“Welcome aboard @91Tavares ! Pumped to have you in the blue and white and now call you a teammate #goleafs' (@AM34 on Twitter).

At first glance, the civility could be genuine but there is a serious inquiry to be discussed concerning Matthews’ ice-time. In 2017-18, he ranked as the 197th skater league-wide in terms of that stat while averaging 18:08 time on ice per game, including just 2:09 of power play time on the team’s second unit.

Head coach Mike Babcock recently confirmed that he made a trip out to Arizona this summer to meet with his top-flight centre, reportedly to reconcile these very facts with him. With the introduction of a perennial All-Star in Tavares, one can only think this would complicate the dilemma.

Tavares had been a centrepiece for the Islanders since his debut in 2009 and even more so once he was named the captain at the age of 23. Last season, he averaged 19:56 of time on ice while leading the Islanders’ 6th-ranked power play, backed by an average 3:10 of power-play minutes, with 30-points produced—good for 17th in the entire league.

Side-by-side, it looks as though the ice-time will continue to favour Tavares based on age, experience, and production.

Subsequently, Toronto’s power play was ranked second overall in 2017-18 with a 25.0% success rate… Now imagine it with John Tavares. I believe Auston Matthews is prepared to welcome this kind of reinforcement, with the end-goal being a Stanley Cup and the potential for multiple.

An internal power struggle at its worst, the Leafs have a wonderful predicament on their hands if it can even be called one.

On one hand, the Leafs have a top-centre. On the other? Another top-centre. Toronto has officially entered 1-A and 1-B territory with respect to their top-two options down the middle.

The only topic that should be up for debate is the impending captaincy. Not that it is absolutely necessary to name one, but the Maple Leafs now have several deserving candidates among their ranks. It remains to be seen who should deservingly take the reigns as team captain, luckily, this roster is capable of flourishing under multiple leaders.

One word to describe this current lineup? Lethal. Have you ever seen hockey sticks used for mass destruction? 

Between Auston Matthews’ 34 goals and Nazem Kadri’s 32 recorded last season, alongside Tavares’ 37, the Leafs are well equipped down the middle for years to come and should not have internal issues unless a faltering record warrants it.  

Essentially, who can truly be upset with their team for going out and successfully recruiting another franchise-calibre free agent? Especially one as significant as John Tavares. 

According to Pierre LeBrun, Matthews played a prominent role in landing the prized free agent and was “absolutely ecstatic about the Tavares news,” even reaching out to him with encouragement to join the Leafs.

Growing pains may happen naturally but Leafs Nation should be rather content with their team’s offseason thus far, despite several key variables which remain to be determined—underlined by William Nylander’s impending contract renewal. 

This is just the beginning of Toronto’s offseason, although it will undoubtedly stand as the most significant transaction of the summer around the league.

“I’m thrilled to be starting a new chapter of my career and life in Toronto with the @MapleLeafs. I feel very fortunate to come join a team with a great young core and play where I grew up learning and loving the game. I can’t wait to get started!” — John Tavares (@91Tavares on Twitter). 

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs