After yet another disappointing season, it is inevitable for the Maple Leafs to make a big move to shake up the team. The Maple Leafs have gone four straight seasons without making it past the first round of the playoffs. There are many reasons leading to the Leafs’ downfall in the past few seasons and almost all of them tie back to the signing of John Tavares.
In the summer of 2018, free-agent Tavares signed a massive seven-year, $77 million contract with his hometown team, the Maple Leafs. However, the signing seems to be a curse for the Maple Leafs as they have seen no success ever since Tavares signed the deal. Maple Leafs’ fans along with the media believe that Tavares is the scapegoat for the Leafs’ struggles in the last two seasons. Here are three key reasons explaining how Tavares signing with the Maple Leafs ruined their future.
Cap space is a huge part of building a championship team. Almost every NHL team right now has difficulty staying under the salary cap, which means signing smart deals is a major factor in building a strong all-around team.
Looking at the Maple Leafs cap situation, they have done a horrible job of balancing their cap space and staying under the salary cap. Right now, the Leafs have $0 in cap space. That’s right, literally $0, which is the lowest amount of cap space in the whole league. A massive part of them having no cap space is based on them not balancing their salary cap. About $57 million or 71 percent of the Maple Leafs’ salary cap is going to forwards. That is the most in the league. The average amount spent on forwards by a team is about $46 million which means the Maple Leafs are $11 million over the average. Where could the Leafs find $11 million? (Hint: Tavares).
Comparing the Maple Leafs top 3 forwards, Marner, Tavares and Matthews, to the top 3 forwards of other teams does not look good for Toronto. For example, the Bruins top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastranak, is known as the “Perfection Line”. The Bruins’ top line produced a combined 238 points this season and combined make a little under $20 million a season. Meanwhile, the Leafs top three forwards scored only 207 points this season but made a combined amount of over $33 million a season.
The vast difference in points and salary between the two teams shows why the Bruins have been more successful than the Leafs. Even though it’s important to pay top players loads of money, giving them reasonable deals is the way to be successful in the future. Instead of the Maple Leafs paying Tavares $11 million, they could have used that money to pay younger players that would provide secondary scoring for the Leafs in the future.
As mentioned before, the Maple Leafs were spending tons of money on forwards and after the signing of Tavares, the problem increased even more. The Leafs already their future no. 1 center in Auston Matthews, so the addition of John Tavares created more complications for the Leafs. They now had two first-line centers, both making $11 million each. Even though having two elite centers has proven to be successful for many NHL teams, the last thing the Leafs needed was an expensive forward. Instead, with that money, they could have signed a defenseman to improve their weak defense.
With the Maple Leafs now having too many good forwards on decent contracts, they were forced to trade some of them for cheap players that would help them only in the short run. For example, the Leafs traded Nazem Kadri, who was a solid second-line center, to the Avalanche for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot, who both have been disappointing this season. The Leafs also got rid of Patrick Marleau by giving a team a first-round pick just to take his contract (since they were tight against the salary cap). All of these poor trades and many more were influenced by Tavares signing, to try to make the team somewhat balanced (it didn’t work). If it wasn’t for the Tavares signing, the Leafs would still have plenty of money to sign other free agents that would be cheaper, fit on the team and support the future of the Leafs
Altered Maples Leafs Timeframe
The Leafs had one of the brightest futures in the NHL led by their young core and in about 10-15 years into the future, they were projected to be on top of the league. However, when Tavares signed with the Leafs, their status changed from a future dynasty to a win-now phase. The Maple Leafs were put under so much pressure to win a Stanley Cup with Tavares in the seven years or else it would be a massive fail. On top of that, the tough Toronto media would heavily criticize the Leafs for not reaching expectations.
Since the Leafs were extremely pressured to be successful, they began to trade future pieces to attempt to stack their roster. As mentioned before, young players and picks were dealt for short term pieces, but this has been insufficient to guide the Leafs far into the playoffs. Time is slowly running out for the Leafs which means that fans can expect even more trades involving young stars like Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott, Kaspari Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and maybe even Mitch Marner or William Nylander. If the Leafs can’t find a way to start winning soon (they most likely won’t due to other teams in their conference being greater), the Tavares signing will be the reason the Leafs future will be ruined.
In conclusion, even though Tavares is obviously a very skilled and gifted player, the decision of signing with the Maple Leafs will end up ruining their future due to him not being a positional fit, taking up a large amount of cap space and rushing their timeline to win the Stanley Cup.