If John Tavares was supposed to have some sort of adjustment period or ‘feeling out phase’ with the Maple Leafs, I must have missed it.
After signing one of the most lucrative free agent contracts in the lockout era to play in the biggest market in hockey, it wouldn’t have been surprising if things didn’t go off swimmingly immediately. Sure, we all excitedly plugged him into projected lines and expected Tavares to be one of the franchise’s cornerstones, but anyone who watches plenty of sports (especially in Toronto) realizes things don’t always live up to the hype right away, and that makes people impatient (see: William A.M. Nylander).
Fortunately, Tavares has been able to avoid the vultures entirely as he’s settled into wearing blue and white. It can even be argued that he’s been the Leafs’ most valuable player to this point in the season, as the team heads back from the all-star break to embark on the stretch run.
Tavares has 30 goals already. It’s January. Think about that. His career high to date has been 38, a mark he’ll breeze by in no time. And while there is always luck involved in a run like this, he has been generating an unbelievable amount of offense and coming by it honestly.
Here are the top players in the league in all-situations expected-goals this season, from MoneyPuck:
That is some elite of the elite company. And don’t worry, at evens Tavares is actually tops. He’s getting it done everywhere, not relying on powerplay tap-ins to blow up his totals by any means. Just look at how much he’s been a pure driver of offense at 5v5. This is a cumulative look, and as a rate Matthews is comparable in terms of scoring, but this really illustrates how Tavares, healthy all season, has set himself apart from the team in terms of his offensive contribution through 49 games.
(Tavares did not die on the way back to his home planet)
I suppose the only knock on Tavares would be that he’s about average defensively, and most people knew that before he joined Toronto. But his game in the offensive zone has shown to be all-world, something that really has the potential to set the table for how a lot of the younger forwards will approach their play in that end, elevating the team as a whole. As far as skill guys go, there aren’t a ton who can protect pucks out in the corners, unleash a lethal shot, stickhandle in a phonebooth, and funnel so much offence through the center of the ice like Tavares can.
To this point in the season, with Matthews missing a good chunk of games due to injury, you could argue Tavares has been Toronto’s most dangerous player over the team’s body of work to this point. As far as bright spots go, Andersen seems to lead the way in most people’s minds for carrying the team to where they are right now in the standings, and Rielly’s emergence has had him in Norris talks in the early stages of the season. Still, I can’t help wondering where Tavares finishes things out, considering he’s currently on pace for his first 50 (or even 40) goal season and has changed the dynamic of the forward group so substantially. He’s been as valuable as anyone, league-wide.