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We tried as hard as we could but we couldn’t find anything negative to say about John Tavares

As we look back at the past year for a lot of Leafs a consistent theme is how we wished they could have been better. John Tavares really isn’t one of the players that applies to though. In his first year in Toronto he managed to hit a career high for goals and a career high for points. He also centered a line that had both of his wingers achieve career highs in goals and points. I’m not sure you can really make a case for any human being deserving of making $11,000,000 a year, but in John Tavares case, he certainly is making a case that as far as athletes go he’s one you should be comfortable with paying.

Season recap

I mean, 47 goals, 88 points, an All-Star appearance (his 5th straight). I think we’re generally going to be singing a lot of praises here. There’s the chemistry he found on the line with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner that looks to be pretty permanent depending on the extent of Hyman’s injury and Marner’s contract negotiations, but the center who always seems to be playing with wingers experiencing career years continued this year. We’ll assume that Marner is a better player than Josh Bailey, Matt Moulson or Kyle Okposo, and that mutually beneficial relationship helped Tavares eclipse his previous bests.

For all the talk of about how John Tavares was going to give the Leafs an over the top powerplay, Tavares actually saw his power play numbers decline in Toronto and was much more dominant at even strength. I’m not sure how much of this should be put on Tavares, as well as on a unit with Matthews, Marner, Rielly, there are only going to be so many points to go around, but it will be interesting to see if Tavares can sustain his 5v5 production but improve in this area next season.

The other thing if we want to nitpick John Tavares it could be on his 5 points in 7 playoff games. That was a career low performance for him in the playoffs, although I can’t say for certain many of those other times saw him line matched to Patrice Bergeron. It’s also worth noting that his playoff ice time was 1:30 less than what he average with the Islanders. We’ve all probably stopped complaining about playoff ice time way too early, and hopefully this is still very much a topic between management and the coaching staff.

Stats and charts

League Leaders 5v5 P/60
1 Nikita Kucherov 3.37
2 Sidney Crosby 2.92
3 Andrew Shaw 2.90
4 John Tavares 2.87
5 Mitch Marner 2.87
6 Johnny Gaudreau 2.84
7 Connor McDavid 2.82
8 Patrick Kane 2.80
9 Max Domi 2.80
10 Artemi Panarin 2.80
11 Auston Matthews 2.76
12 Brayden Point 2.75

First of all, LOL @ Andrew Shaw on that list. Second of all, look at John Tavares and linemate Mitch Marner both cracking the top five. What a wonderful time to be a Leafs fan and this is exactly what Tavares was brought in to do. It’s just a shame we didn’t know Andrew Shaw would have produced even better results. I’ve mentioned the 47 goals and 88 points earlier, but you combine when you look at the conservation 5v5 usage of Leafs star players and there is a strong case that Tavares, Marner, and Matthews will have even more in them if they had the chance to play at a slightly increased rate.

CF% GF% xGF% HDCF%
2018-19 Leafs 53.29 59.71 53.36 56.24
2017-18 Isles 48.49 48.49 47.19 47.36

Yep. It’s pretty easy to say that Toronto agrees with John Tavares. There’s also a big difference in giving him quality linemates compared to expecting him to turn his wingers into stars. The high danger chances is huge, as it the actual goals for percent, which is particularly impressive knowing the competition that Tavares faces on a regular basis.

With TOI With CF% With GF% With xGF% With HDCF% With
Mitchell Marner 1060.33 53.59 60.68 54.99 57.60
Zach Hyman 914.60 54.02 59.38 54.73 56.79
Andreas Johnsson 121.08 53.44 75.00 45.67 42.86
Kasperi Kapanen 91.58 54.85 50.00 52.58 54.00
Connor Brown 72.82 51.83 100.00 55.87 65.63
Patrick Marleau 70.78 39.01 20.00 32.16 44.44
Auston Matthews 41.12 62.26 40.00 66.68 73.91

So it’s rare to see players who are on the ice with their linemates more regularly than they are with Freddie Andersen, but that was the case for the Tavares, Hyman, and Marner trio. The results seem to support there was nothing wrong with that decision either. In fact, there were only 5 other Leafs forwards who played more than 40 minutes with Tavares this season, and it was largely due to Hyman’s injury that saw a rotating cast of left wings.

The Leafs we should learn from this is that Patrick Marleau should never be on the ice at the same time as Tavares with the exception of the presentation of the Stanley Cup, and that overall Tavares seems to work well with everyone else, although Andreas Johnsson wasn’t an ideal fit even if the results were pretty solid.

In closing the numbers say that John Tavares is pretty darn good. You probably didn’t need the numbers to tell you that, but nevertheless there they are.

Preseason predictions

I think I might have gotten this one right…

Tavares is talented goal scorer and playmaker who will take an incredible amount of pressure off of Auston Matthews, and has the potential to take Mitch Marner to the next level in terms of his development as well. At the moment, he’s one of the best players in the game, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, and realistically we’ve probably got 3 or 4 years before those worries are something we will have to discuss.

Okay, so that was bit of low hanging fruit. Hopefully we’ll get more than 2 to 3 more great years though.

Highlights

If you have 10 minutes to kill, here’s every Tavares goal from this season…

Grade

I’d probably be considering an A++ here if it wasn’t for the playoffs counting a little against every Leaf. That’s not to say that John Tavares was perfect in the regular season either. We can point to defensive zone deficiencies, we can point to his power play numbers not being what they could have, and heck, he only turned Zach Hyman into a 20 goal scorer, not a 30 goal scorer. That being said, a career year from one of the biggest acquisitions in team history is a huge deal and he did a remarkable job of exceeding expectations.

Final thoughts

He really is that good. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be that good next season. We should continue to be very excited about John Tavares.

If you want to quit reading there, I don’t blame you. The rest of this is just going to be hypotheticals about how Tavares is going to deal with Hyman missing time to start the season and any potential fallout from the Marner contract. The reality of those impacts is that Tavares will continue to dominate as he always has. It’s perhaps because he does so well in elevating linemates that the Leafs might have been wasting his abilities by putting with two strong linemates.

Looking at the linemate data above, it seems possible that Kasperi Kapanen and/or Connor Brown could be worthwhile linemates in the future assuming they are still with the Leafs next season. Giving Marner a chance to carry another a line by possibly working with Kadri could give the Leafs that three line deep threat they had hoped for, and enjoyed at their best times this past season on a more consistent basis. The idea of one of Marner, Tavares, or Matthews always having the luxury of matching against a third pairing seems nice, and in this theory the Leafs can shorten their bench and merge three good lines into two outstanding lines when they need to.

Alas, when you have something working well you probably shouldn’t tinker with it, and to his credit, Mike Babcock didn’t tinker with Tavares.

No stats were harmed in the making of this post. Those stats however were sourced from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.



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