John Tavares is coming back to where his hockey career started.

On Sunday (Canada Day, no less), the former New York Islanders superstar and Mississauga, Ontario native agreed to a contract with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. The news was first reported by Anthony Petrielli of Maple Leafs Hot Stove and later confirmed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Tavares contract will run for seven years at $11 million per season.

Tavares was unquestionably the top free agent available this summer. The 27-year-old, All-Star center was drafted first overall by the Islanders in 2009 and played all nine seasons of his career with the team. In 2017-18, Tavares led New York in scoring with 37 goals, 47 assists and 84 points.

In all capacities, Tavares is a top-tier talent who plays a premium position. He was the face of the franchise for a decade in New York and was highly coveted on the open market with San Jose, New York, Boston and Toronto (among others) looking to land him. In Toronto, Tavares now moves on to a better situation for both his personal game and his Stanley Cup chances.

Toronto is a perfect fit for Tavares. Once the laughing stock of the league (post-millennium), the Maple Leafs have loaded their front office with smart people leading to a successful rebuild and a team on the precipice of being contenders for a long time. Tavares will join a team bursting with young talent, including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and vet Nazem Kadri. Toronto’s first three lines will feature three 30-goal scorers down the middle. Toronto is going to be hard to defend and score a hell of a lot of goals.

Whether he’s playing on the first or second line, Tavares has got bonafide talent surrounding him – more help than he ever had on the Island. Plus, he bleeds blue.

Ultimately, the Islanders never built a good enough team around Tavares.

In his time in New York, Tavares made the playoffs just three times in nine seasons and made it out of the first round just once. He was doing way too much losing with the Islanders to believe they could suddenly be on the cusp of contending again. Sure, the Islanders are in better shape with former Leafs GM Lou Lamiorello running things opposed to Garth Snow, but the team still wasn’t talented enough for Tavares to commit long-term again considering past results. Even with the Islanders having the option of adding an eighth season to a potential deal, Tavares made the right call.

Contractually, a reported $11 million per season deal puts the Leafs in an interesting position. With Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander all hitting restricted free agency within the next year, the Leafs will have to allocate money creatively to get their top youngsters signed to long-term deals. It’s not going to be impossible for general manager Kyle Dubas, but the Leafs cap will be loaded with possibly four huge contracts taking up a significant portion of that cap. Honestly, it’s a good problem to have. And at $11 million per season, Tavares came in at below expected value.

After chasing and failing to land Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos last offseason, it’s a huge win for Toronto to attract top talent like Tavares. It’s a perfect move for the organization and the first sign the Maple Leafs of the past two decades are gone and the team is entering a new era of contention. For the biggest hockey market in the world, it’s about to get a little crazier.

 

About Liam McGuire

Social +Staff writer for The Comeback & Awful Announcing. Liammcguirejournalism@gmail.com