Don’t get me wrong, the thought of #91 on a power play with Matthews and Marner makes me all kinds of giddy. Giddy that I am not allowing myself to feel because not too many years ago the Leafs sat in a room with Steven Stamkos, Toronto boy, and struck out trying to bring the free agent generational talent home.
But that’s not why I’m conflicted.
You see, in the time that has elapsed since the Leafs sought to woo Stamkos, many a thing has changed for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Whilst the coach and President of the team remain the same as those that sat in front of Stamkos, the GM - Kyle Dubas, is newly appointed and fresh on the job. This inexperience does not bode well when big game hunting.
Auston Matthews is another generational talent that has been drafted and developed by Toronto since Stamkos decided to stay in Tampa.
Frederik Andersen is an elite goaltender.
The team is DRASTICALLY different than the one that hoped to welcome Stamkos into the fold.
So, with these differences, why the trepidation?
My first question is: Do they need John Tavares?
I’ve gone around and around, mulling the taste of this question on my pallet and, I’ve arrived at the same answer that I arrived at when the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Mike Babcock.
When Mike was brought on board my thought was “this is not the time to be bringing a coach of this ilk onto a rebuilding team, BUT, if a coach of this ilk is available, you go after him.” It’s the same as drafting a player. At draft time, you take the best player available, regardless of position - at least that’s the adage.
Which brings me back to Tavares. Do the Leafs need another number one centre? No! But he’d make a hell of a 1A centre. He’d be a veteran presence in the dressing room and would have a vested interest in playing for the team that he cheered for as a youngster. It’s no secret he grew up cheering for the boys on Bay Street.
Can Toronto be a hard place to play? YES. Especially when the team is awful. That’s the not case this time around. The Leafs are a top 10 team in the NHL. Go look. It’s true.
My second question is: Don’t the Leafs need to improve on defense and how is Tavares becoming a Leaf helping in that regard?
Well, to my thinking, that question is answered one of two ways.
1). Tavares becoming a Leaf and the front office upgrading the defense are mutually exclusive. Both of those things can happen this year. Can the Leafs afford an elite, number 1 defenseman if they sign Tavares to a long term contract? No. But who’s available to acquire that fits that description. I know, you’re gonna cite the guy in Ottawa as a great example. The Ottawa Senators will not deal Erik Karlsson within the division. It is a pipe dream without the pipe. Further, ask yourself what it would cost for the Leafs to acquire such a player in trade. Are you willing to subtract a valuable part of the roster? Could the Leafs afford to re-sign Karlsson to a long term contract with Tavares, Marner, Matthews, Nylander et al on the books, long term? My guess is no.
What if the Leafs went out and acquired a solid #3 D man, went with what they’ve already got, AND:
2). BLUDGEONED THE STINKING CRAP OUT OF OTHER TEAMS.
You don’t need to play defense nearly as much if the puck is in the offensive zone. YOU FEEL ME!? Tavares is that kind of player. Matthews/Tavares is equatable to Crosby/Malkin as far as offensive impact.
This combo would be flat out scary for teams to plan against. Think about choosing whether or not you want your top line squaring off against the Matthews line or the Tavares trio. Damn. That’s a lesser of two evils scenario.
Remember when the Jays had Donaldson/Bautista/Encarnacion in the lineup.
Yeah. This is that. Choose the belt or the wrench. Either way you’re getting beat.
Just blast pucks. It’s an interesting game plan.
Auston Matthews also figures into the moral fabric of why I’m conflicted about the potential of John Tavares becoming a Leaf.
What will Auston think if Tavares pulls the Blue and White over his head? Is this his team with Tavares here? Is this going to upset chemistry? Is this thought of winning it all enough to make some of the awkwardness of the implications acceptable? What of the captaincy? With Tavares being the captain in Long Island, is it a given for him in Toronto??
Is the potential of upsetting the face of your franchise by inserting another generational talent capable of diverting some of the limelight worth a better chance at winning a cup? Is it?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions because I have never talked with Auston, nor do I have any knowledge of his personality in this regard. Further, I have no idea what the Leafs plans for the captaincy are.
In any event, they are valid questions and would give me, if I was the GM of the Leafs, some pause for thought.
I’ve just turned 40 and I feel like I’ve been blessed with a little clarity when it comes to how I see things.
The 20 year old version of myself would be salivating, selfishly, at the prospect of adding a weapon like Tavares to an already potent infantry of stickmiths.
The older version of me feels for the Islander fan that has a Tavares jersey. The father that takes his family to games. The young man that has a Tavares stick, signed, in his bedroom.
This is the face of a franchise that would be leaving and I feel for the fan that has stuck it out during the awful swamps of loss that have plagued the hearts of those living on Long Island.
Tavares owes the organization nothing, make no mistake. He re-signed with them after his entry level contract expired and has spent 9 years toiling in an organization that was run like Target in Canada. Simply inept. BUT, his leaving would be catastrophic for the team. It would signal instant rebuild.
I’m sure these are the thoughts weighing on the mind of John.
What if, just what if, Auston Matthews decided to depart for Arizona when he becomes an unrestricted free agent?
Hurts, as a Leaf fan, doesn’t it?
And that is why I’m conflicted.
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