Leafs lure Tavares home

Hopes for Cup too good to pass up

02.07.2018
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The biggest free agent signing so far: John Tavares (here during a World Championship game followed by Frenchman Laurent Meunier) moves from the New York Islanders to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images

John Tavares, one of the best players in the world today, has left the New York Islanders to sign with his hometown Maple Leafs. The seven year, $77 million deal gives the team an enormous leap in its quest for a first Stanley Cup since 1967.

International hockey fans have known about Tavares since 2006 when he played at the U18 World Championship. Tavares later won gold at the World Juniors in both 2008 and 2009. Drafted first overall by the Islanders in 2009, Tavares quickly established himself as one of the best centres in the game, but the team had many weaknesses and made the playoffs only three times in nine years.

Team Canada was the beneficiary in that “JT” played at the World Championships in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and later won gold at the Sochi Olympics and helped Canada win the championship at the 2016 World Cup.

Not the most graceful skater, Tavares is known for his vision, quick hands, and brilliant passing. In 669 regular-season games, he has 621 points. He joins a Leafs team loaded with young talent and considered a future Cup contender. The multi-national team is led by American Auston Matthews, Canadian Mitch Marner, Swede William Nylander, and Dane Fredrik Andersen in goal.

The Leafs lost several players as well: James van Riemsdyk, who signed with the Flyers for five years and a whopping $35 million; Tyler Bozak, who signed with St. Louis for three years and $15 million; Roman Polak, signed a one-year deal with Dallas for $1.3 million; Tomas Plekanec, who returned to Montreal on a one-year deal at $2.25 million; and, Leo Komarov, who went to the Islanders on a four-year contract worth $12 million.

The signing of Tavares just after 12 noon on 1st July had immediate impact around the league. To avoid a similar fate a year from now, the Kings signed stud defenceman Drew Doughty to an eight-year, $88 million contract extension. This news came on the heels of the Kings signing KHLer and Olympic gold medallist Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year contract worth $18.75 million a few days earlier.

The other big deal of the day saw St. Louis acquire Ryan O’Reilly from Buffalo for five players – three roster players (Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, and Tage Thompson) and two high draft choices (a 1st-round draft choice in 2019 and a 2nd-rounder in 2021).

Other significant signings and player movement:
  • Jack Johnson left Columbus to sign a five-year contract with Pittsburgh worth $16.25 million
  • Austrian Thomas Vanek signed with Detroit for a year at $3 million
  • Buffalo signed goalie Carter Hutton from Nashville to a three-year contract worth $8.25 million
  • Defenceman Mike Green re-signed with Detroit for two years worth $10.75 million
  • Valeri Nichushkin has left the KHL to re-sign with the Dallas Stars for two years at $5.9 million
  • Goalie Petr Mrazek has left Detroit to sign a one-year deal with Carolina for $1.5 million
  • Chicago signed veteran defenceman Chris Kunitz to a one-year deal at $1 million
  • Cup finalists Vegas Golden Knights sign Paul Stastny to a three-year contract worth $19.5 million
  • James Neal agreed to terms on a five-year contract with Calgary worth $28.75 million

One interesting development over the last week relates to a superstar for many years who is now considering the bigger picture of his career and life. The 34-year-old Rick Nash, a free agent, has declared he won’t be signing with any team any time soon, contemplating his health and future before committing to playing more hockey.

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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