John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf. Yes, even 24 hours after the news first surfaced, it’s still strange to hear. And, you can guess fans and media in Toronto — where many believe the center of the NHL Universe resides — will never let us forget it.
Some will say it was a bargain, others will call it an overpayment, but Tavares is a rich man after he signed a seven-year contract worth $77 Million dollars to join the Maple Leafs on Sunday following a myriad of activity as the free agency window opened.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) July 1, 2018
There were already a lot of eyes on “Free Agent Frenzy” as the NHL opened its signing window on July 1st. But, when it became clear Tavares was not going back to the Islanders, the number of eyeballs watching intently rose dramatically. In fact, for a short period of time, TheAthletic.com crashed when one of their writers first broke the news. The reality that Tavares was set to join another team for the first time in his career was sinking in even though the New York Islanders — the team who held all the negotiating rights with the 27-year-old center and could have moved him prior to becoming a free agent. Many analysts predicted he would remain with the team prior to the free agency window opening but as the deadline passed, speculation grew that he would be leaving the franchise that he’s called home since being drafted 1st overall in 2009.
He did. They should have seen it coming. They were still devastated.
What This Means for Toronto
A perennial All-Star, The Toronto native is going to ensure the Leafs have the best center corps one-through-three in the NHL. His hard-working playing style, combined with his ability to anticipate plays make Tavares a definite asset to have on any top line. Alongside Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau, the Leafs are dangerous. More dangerous than they already were.
Tavares will also become a mentor to one of the league’s brightest stars in Auston Matthews. Matthews, with the Leafs already boasted a crop of young talent, will be a team to watch and some are calling this the NHL’s first signs of moving towards the “dream team” style of teambuilding made popular in the NBA. It remains to be seen if Toronto can convince Matthews, along with Mitch Marner and William Nylander all to take team-friendly deals but they’ll argue Tavares did, even with his $11 MM per year salary.
More than ever before, the Maple Leafs are an immediate contender in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) July 1, 2018
The Rest of the East
While the Leafs were never going to say no to an opportunity to land one of the NHL’s Top-Ten centers, adding him has served as a wake-up call for the rest of the teams in the East. Those who missed out on Tavares know they need to get better. Those teams who will play Toronto regularly know they’re in trouble should they not improve their rosters.
Whether it’s the immense talent the team now possesses, or the fact their new star has a history with Head Coach Mike Babcock the Leafs are out to dethrone the Washington Capitals.
The Rest of the NHL
This deal is also interesting for the league in that it’s unique. Almost build exclusive around signing bonuses, there won’t come a point in this seven-year deal where Tavares will be paid $1MM in salary. He gets signing bonuses that make up most of the deal, all paid out at Canada Day.
Is this the way big stars will now get their deals? Connor McDavid’s was structured in a similar way just not to this extent. How will this work for Matthews and Marner? How will future stars of the league be compenstated and will it affect the stability of the NHL and ownerships groups who don’t have the kind of money the Leafs do to throw around?