Less than a year into his seven-year deal, John Tavares is making a case for being the best free agent signing in Toronto Maple Leafs history. The Mississauga, ON native is closing in on 50 goals after scoring four times in a win over Florida.
The 28-year-old and linemate Mitch Marner are one of the most lethal offensive combos in the league. Marner leads the Leafs in points (90) and assists(65). Tavares set a club-record for most goals in his first season (45) and is second to Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL goal-scoring lead.
“Going into the summer, we knew the kind of player (John) was. Marner said. “He’s had a great season for us so far and it’s been a lot of fun playing with him. Hopefully, it goes on for a while longer.”
Maple Leafs have been victimized by bad signings in the past
Toronto has been victimized by disappointment in free agency, with David Clarkson, Pavel Kubina, and Jason Blake as costly failures.
Curtis Joseph’s signing in 1998 led the Leafs to a pair of Eastern Conference Finals. Gary Roberts provided the grit and leadership that propelled Toronto to the Final Four in 2002. Alexander Mogilny gave Mats Sundin the pure sniper he had been lacking for years.
While all of these signings had a significant impact, it was relatively short-term because the age for free agent eligibility was 31. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, players can be unrestricted as early as 25 with seven years of service.
“(John is) so detail-oriented.” linemate Zach Hyman said. “Just seeing how long he prepares before he goes out on the ice and all those little things add up to form John. He wants to play in the League a long time and he takes care of his body. It’s nice to see him have a big night.”
It is tough to project the impact of Tavares over the remaining years of his deal. His age and durability are signs that the prize of the 2018 free agent class will reap rewards for years to come.