John Tavares
Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

John Tavares’ Free Agency Decision: How Is It Going 3 Years Later?

Before we dive into this article, we cannot take John Tavares’ health for granted. In Game 1 of the 2021 First Round Series between the Leafs and Canadiens, Tavares sustained one of the most gruesome and unfortunate injuries in a long time, as his head collided with Corey Perry’s knee at full speed only 10 minutes into the series. While he has endured quite some criticism from both Toronto and Long Island, here’s to a quick and full recovery. Hopefully, the Leaf’s captain can return to the ice as soon as possible. With all that being said, John Tavares did make a seismic free agency decision on July 1, 2018. After verbally expressing his commitment to the New York Islanders throughout the prior season, Tavares signed a 7-year, $77 million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. His image instantly reversed from former captain and franchise hero to public enemy #1 on Long Island. To this day, many Islander fans still resent the fact that he led them on for months and still left them for nothing. However, 3 years into his massive deal, let’s take a look at how it has worked out for both the Maple Leafs, Islanders, and John Tavares himself.

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For the Leafs and Tavares: Uhhhhhh……

Maple Leaf’s Twitter was an unforgettable place that fateful day. After the star center posted a photo of him sleeping in Toronto bedsheets as a kid, his new fans were convinced that their decades-long Stanley Cup drought was finally coming to an end. They were adding Tavares to an already high-powered offense led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and others. It was instantly a foregone conclusion to Leaf’s fans that they would cruise through the Atlantic division and truly contend for another championship. However, 3 years later, it could not have gone much worse for the Maple Leafs.

Their futility in the first round of the playoffs has continued, as an embarrassing collapse against their arch-rival, the Montreal Canadiens, has extended their playoff series drought to 17 years and confirmed their status as the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history. Even if they won it all next year, that would give Toronto a 55-year hiatus between championships, a season longer than the New York Rangers’ infamous dry spell between 1940-1994. Where things have gone poorly for the team as a whole, it’s gone arguably even worse for #91. He already had the weight of the world on his shoulders after returning to Toronto as a hometown star. Then, the media scrutiny piled up even more after he was named Maple Leafs captain over Auston Matthews.

While Tavares is not to blame for the most recent disappointment against Montreal, he did underperform in the two previous years, against the Bruins in the first round in 2019 and Columbus in the 2020 Qualifying Round in the Bubble. Rumors are now swirling that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will break up the core following another brief and underwhelming postseason appearance. An interesting summer will take place in Toronto, but it seems like the captain is going nowhere given the huge amount of money he’s owed.

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For The Islanders: Not Too Shabby

To make matters even worse for Tavares, his former team, the New York Islanders, have shot themselves back into relevance as a consistent playoff team. Even finding a replacement down the middle in Mathew Barzal, the Islanders have won 5 playoff series in the past 3 postseasons compared to 0 in Toronto. They even have a foot in the door to try and win a 6th against the Boston Bruins. Head Coach Barry Trotz and GM Lou Lamoriello have resurrected the former laughingstock franchise into a destination team. With a successful roster and a new arena opening its doors at the end of 2021, things are looking up on the Island. Even more complex is the financials behind the situation. Had Tavares chosen to stay and sign a lucrative extension with the Isles, names like Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, and new captain Anders Lee would have all likely left as free agents instead of becoming key contributors to this upstart squad. There appears to be a foundation in place that will have the Islanders contending in the playoffs and silencing doubters for years to come.

All in all, it looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs are the big losers of the John Tavares sweepstakes thus far. As one team has reached new heights and will continue to without their former captain, the other team has found new lows and appears to have a long struggle ahead in order to find an end to their record-long Stanley Cup drought. Even worse for JT is that a rebuild and non-playoff years could be ahead as well. Tavares has fortunately been able to find a nice payday in his hometown, but the unrelenting Toronto media have vilified him and his team for underperforming so heavily in the past 3 seasons.

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