When the Leafs signed John Tavares in July, and Mike Babcock said that he’d be playing on a line with Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, Leafs fans had been drooling over the potential that the Marner-Tavares duo had together before the season started.
And nearly halfway through the season, that potential may not have been high enough. With 37 games played, Marner already has 50 points, including 38 assists, and Tavares has 24 goals and 42 points, and is on pace to surpass his career highs in both areas.
Of course, with a nuclear offense that they’ve provided, the media has decided to figure out who is the better player and driving the bus, and it seems like the general consensus (at least among the mainstream media) is that it’s Marner. But is that the correct answer, or is it Tavares? Is there even an answer? It’s time to dive into who is driving this dynamic duo.
First off, let’s look at who is driving the offense. To do so, I decided to look at both players careers, and how they’ve elevated the play of their linemates, and see if there’s anything in common with the elevated play of their current partner.
Now, the normal way to do this would be WOWY’s, but unfortunately, there are no WOWYs that track standard point totals, they only show the players differences in possession (which is something we’ll look at later). So, I decided to come up with the numbers myself, to the best of my ability without going insanely deep into it.
I did this under a few rules/assumptions:
  1. I took their linemates season totals in years where they mostly played with Tavares or Marner, and operated under the assumption that all of their points came from playing with 91 or 16.
  2. To make it a bit more accurate, I only used 5v5 points, because that’s usually when lines play with each other.
  3. Every season where they didn’t play with Tavares or Marner, I counted it towards their PPG without 91 or 16, even if some of those points may have came with them on the ice.
It’s not going to be 100% accurate, so try not to cite these numbers, but it’s the closest I could get without hyper analyzing every single shift that Marner and Tavares have ever had. Either that or coding, but that’s not something I’m capable of right now.
Without further ado, here are the results. First, Tavares.
As you can see, Marner has seen an 88.66% jump in his 5v5 PPG since Tavares joined, by far the biggest increase out of any of Tavares linemates. While some players like Moulson, Bailey, or Okposo are in the upper-echelon of it (~50% or higher), Marner is in his own level among Tavares usual linemates. But, Marner is also the only player with a 0.5 5v5 PPG or higher without Tavares, so that says something about Marner’s individual skill. Perhaps that means that Marner is the one driving the bus.
Tavares has also seen an increase in his 5v5 PPG from playing with Marner, although not to the same increase as Marner did with Tavares. The other notable thing here is that Tavares is the only player he has played with that has seen a drastic increase. Kadri saw an increase of 26.46%, Bozak, Hyman, and Marleau are all within the 15-20% range, and most notably, JVR actually dropped 1.58% when he played with Marner.
So, what are the takeaways from this?
Marner and Tavares are by far the best players that they’ve each played with, and because of the fact that they are both incredibly skilled, it has created space for each other to do things they couldn’t before, hence the spike in both of their offensive totals.
But, if I were to make a bet as to who is driving the bus offensively, it’s likely Tavares. While Marner usually makes his linemates better, he never has to the degree of some of Tavares greatest accomplishments in Moulson (who is now in the AHL), Bailey (who is solid at 18 5v5 points in 35 games, but only in his first year away from 91), and Okposo (who’s making $6 million for four more years after this season to score 11 5v5 points in 38 games).
This is proven further if you look at their WOWYs this season.
via NaturalStatTrick.com
While neither player has been amazing possession-wise away from each other, it’s safe to say that Tavares has fared better away from Marner than the other way around. In fact, Marner has been nearly-replacement level without Tavares. It’s a small sample size, so it isn’t too concerning (I’m not trying to say that Marner relies on Tavares like Draisaitl relies on McDavid), but it is a thing.
So, to conclude: this has been a red hot duo, and while the eye test may make it seem like Marner is the one driving the bus, the history of Tavares’ previous wingers and the data from this season show that it’s safer to say that the bus driver is Tavares. That’s not to say that Marner isn’t making Tavares better (Tavares has never had an easier time scoring goals this season), but Marner probably wouldn’t be in the top 10 scoring without Tavares.