It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that every kid playing hockey dreams of.
You grow up idolizing your favourite team. You watch them for years and years and it convinces you to follow in the footsteps of your favourite player(s). You work hard to get to the big league with constant practicing, hard work and dedication. You’re living the dream of playing in the NHL and then all of a sudden you’re faced with the biggest decision of your life, an opportunity to the play for your hometown team. The dream that has been in your mind every night as a kid is actually becoming a reality.
Not everyday you can live a childhood dream pic.twitter.com/YUTKdfMALl
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018
For John Tavares, that dream of playing for his childhood team came true after signing a seven- year, $11 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1st. When news broke of the signing, Leafs Nation was ecstatic.
Correction on Year 2 signing bonus, it's $14.99M, not $15.25M. So official breakdown reads like this: Year 1, $650k salary, $15.25M sb; Year 2, $910k salary, $14.99 M sb; Year 3, $910k salary, $11.09M sb; Year 4, $910k salary, $8.44M sb; Years 5-7, $910k salary, $7.04M sb each yr https://t.co/fqt0dFwl4K
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2018
For many years, players have been devoted to playing for their team that drafted them to the very end in hopes of bringing success to their team. It’s great to see that commitment that they have and that dedication is what makes hockey a great sport to follow.
“When you grow up somewhere, it’s sometimes even harder for those players to come home, they have to sort of feel safe that this is a place where they’re going to be given every opportunity to have success,” president Brendan Shanahan said. “It’s not just you, it’s your family, it’s the people you grew up with that are going to go on that journey with you. Certainly, we understood that that was an important part for John.”
Tavares felt the same way.
“You’re in one place for so long. You get so embedded. Your roots are so deep in there and you care so much about the people and the people that have cared about you, it really took the right opportunity and the right fit. I thought the timing couldn’t be beat,” Tavares said at his press conference. “With where this team is at and how good and young their core players are and seeing in recent weeks how the Marlies did and what the future holds with much more talent and the job that they’ve done here, it was just hard to turn down.
You don’t see the super stacked teams that we see in other sports like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Mainly because it’s difficult to put those kind of teams together in a sport with a salary cap. Now, I think we can add the Leafs to this group of talented behemoths in the sports world.
But then again, players that were promised success and have dealt with constant failure and a chaotic organization will look somewhere else to find the success they’ve longed for. For years, LeBron James came up short early in his career while being one of the best players in the National Basketball Association. He then went to Miami and won two championships before returning to the Cavaliers winning his third title.
Tavares is doing something that other players are afraid to do, to find success elsewhere when everything else is failing.
“With where this team is at and how good and young their core players are and seeing in recent weeks how the Marlies did and what the future holds with much more talent and the job that they’ve done here, it was just hard to turn down.” – John Tavares
Since being drafted first overall in 2009 by the New York Islanders, Tavares has been one of the premier scorers in the NHL. Since his first game, he has amassed 272 goals, which puts him fifth in goals, more than Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Jamie Benn. He tallied 621 points in 669 games with Islanders, a 0.93 points per game average. This puts him 9th overall. The other eight players ahead of him? In order; Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Nikolas Backstrom, Evgeni Malkin, Anze Kopitar and Steven Stamkos. All of who are elite players.
Tavares has done everything to prove that he belongs with the elite since his first game in the league. He’s had a lot of individual success, but it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t had much team success. Being in the league for 9 seasons, Tavares has only made the playoffs three times, with only one playoff round victory.
After constant regular season failure, poor management and major stadium issues at the Barclay’s Centre, Tavares finally felt the need to move on. It’s clear that if he is going to win a championship, it wasn’t going to be on Long Island.
Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Since pushing the button on a full- on rebuild, the Leafs have done everything right. They rebuilt their prospect pool, added a winning head coach, put together a solid management team and had constant improvement every season. While key figures in Mark Hunter and Lou Lamiorello have left, the mold and foundation has been set for general manager Kyle Dubas, who has done nothing but exceed expectations even more since taking on the role.
After another disappointing first round exit with a young Leafs team, there was going to be more changes coming. Before becoming GM, Dubas a championship team with the Toronto Marlies, followed by an excellent draft by selecting key prospects in Rasmus Sandin and Sean Durzi to name a few. And now, he landed the biggest free- agent forward this year.
By signing Tavares, the Leafs got a whole lot better with a core that already includes; Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott and Frederik Andersen.
The Leafs have vaulted into a position to win with a surplus of talent for now and even for the future. Of all the teams that were in on the Tavares sweepstakes, the Leafs were always the front-runners to be a long-term option for Tavares. Tavares was never going to find that success with the Islanders, or possibly with any other team. While they had a successful draft this year, they are still years away from ever being a “contender”.
They have the pieces to win four, five or six years down the line, but they don’t have the pieces to win now. For Tavares, it came down to winning now and being that hometown boy to lead his childhood team to a championship.
“This opportunity was just so rare,” Tavares said. “I believe that this team has got such a great opportunity, and not just for the first few years of my contract, but for me what was important was all seven years. I really believe that there is a big window here to win and be a part of something special… it just felt right.”
And with the players they have right now, adding Tavares really makes this a special team.
It’s been reported that Tavares might be playing with Mitch Marner. Not only do teams have to worry about Matthews and Nylander on one line, they have to worry about Tavares and Marner on the other. Then you have Nazem Kadri, Marleau, Johnsson and Brown in a bottom six role, which makes the Leafs top nine forwards more difficult to play with than ever. Their depth is, no doubt, the best in the league heading into the 2018/19 season.
With a revamped centre trio, Tavares (37), Matthews (34) and Kadri (32) all had 30 goal seasons last year. Combined, that’s 103 goals. With James van Riemsdyk going back to the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s clear that goal scoring is not going to be an issue. There’s also Patrick Marleau (27), Marner (22) and Nylander (20). The Leafs have six 20- plus goal scorers from last year. Tavares just makes a deadly offense, even more deadly.
On top of that, the newly formed three-headed beast down the middle for the Leafs are all in the top 10 in even strength goals over the last two seasons among centres. Matthews sits on top with 61 (tied with Connor McDavid), Tavares sits seventh with 43 and Kadri is tied with Tyler Seguin and Sean Monahan at 40.
For years, the Leafs have been through tough times and a lot of uncertainty has surrounded this organization. Things started to turn around. And now, things are getting better for this historic franchise.
The Leafs have now gone from playoff contender, to full on Stanley Cup Championship contender with the snap of a finger. While there may be some concerns on the Leafs blueline, it seems that the Leafs are done with a rebuild. They are now in the position that the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and even the Washington Captials were in.
The heart wants what it wants. After dreaming of this opportunity since he was a kid, Tavares wants to win a Stanley Cup. He’s in an organization that is primed to win multiple times.
“As a kid cheering for the Leafs growing up, you start to get those feelings again,” Tavares said. “Once I went through the interview process and got that and what it was like as kid watching the Leafs and following my favourite players, I thought the timing was too good and it was an opportunity I didn’t want to turn down.”
The Leafs are in it to win it. They are now the team to beat. The time to win is now. This is the Leafs opportunity to win. This is John Tavares’ opportunity to win.
His dream has become a reality.