Maple Leafs Commentary: John Tavares, Aging & Holding His Own

This is our fifth Toronto Maple Leafs’ player review. First, we wrote about Auston Matthews and what we believe makes him the best player in Maple Leafs’ franchise history. Second, we looked at why we believe that Mitch Marner is so underrated. 

Third, we looked at Michael Bunting and shared his good fortune and the team’s to find a place where he fits so well on the first line. He might not do as well in another role on the team; but, as readers noted, what does that matter? He’s found a space where he contributes and adds great value to the team.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: William Nylander, Skilled But Polarizing

Fourth, we looked at William Nylander to suggest why, although he was extremely skilled, he was polarizing to many Maple Leafs’ fans.

As a reminder, if you missed the first four posts, we’re basing these reviews on the film study and note-taking of long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith. When he reviews each game after it’s played, he notes what each player does with the puck, without the puck, where they are, and what they’re doing while not directly involved in the play, etc. 

Maple Leafs Player #5: John Tavares

John Tavares has been a little bit of everything for the Maple Leafs since he signed his seven-year $77 million deal in the Summer of 2018. He has been a goal scorer (47 goals in his first season with the team) and a shutdown center tasked with playing against the opposition’s best lines. He’s always been one of the best face-off centres in the NHL. Most recently he has been the digger in the corners and net-front presence on a line with William Nylander. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Along with his versatility, Tavares is also one of the hardest-working players on the Maple Leafs. He rarely takes a shift off. He’s also a captain who leads more by example than by glitz or his scoring prowess. 

Tavares Is Not the Best Player on the Maple Leafs’ Roster

He’s not the best player on the team, nor is he the team’s heart and soul. Still, Tavares remains a productive player. From everything we’ve seen both on and off the ice, he appears to be an honest and forthright player who has the best interests of the team at heart. He’s low maintenance and takes up little space. Unless you are a New York Islanders fan, it’s really hard not to like the guy.

Related: The NHL’s Top 100 Prospects – Preseason Rankings

This past season was not one of Tavares’ best. He still scored at almost on a point-a-game pace; but, along with William Nylander, he did not have the greatest season defensively. 

Tavares Knows He’s Aging, and Is Working Hard to Remain Competitive

This current offseason has been the first in three where Tavares has been completely healthy. Rumors are that he’s been working out vigorously, with special attention to improving his skating. In that, he’s a realist. He knows he’s slowing down and doesn’t want that to be an issue that hurts his team’s chances on the ice.

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs Center John Tavares screens Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He’s correct that his hard work is justified. Focussing on his skating, that’s the area where he appears to be the weakest. We want to note here that it seems as if NHL players are either known as good (meaning fast) skaters or they get labelled as bad skaters. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. 

Related: Canadiens Strike Gold With Hiring of Marie-Philip Poulin

Our opinion is that, although Tavares is far from a speedster, he’s not a bad skater. We can’t think of many instances where we’ve seen him in trouble trying to keep up to the play. He is an average NHL skater. He certainly does not get marks for style with his choppy stride but he gets the job done. 

Tavares Is Where He Wants to Be (Geographically) as a Player

One key point about Tavares is that he has wanted to be a Maple Leafs’ player since he was a youngster. When he was signed by the team, he posted this photo on Twitter taken when he was just a kid.

Another question with Tavares is his age. He’ll be 32 when the 2022-23 season starts. In his thirteen-year career, he’s played 949 regular-season games and 44 playoff games. If he stays injury free, he’ll pass the 1,000 games played plateau this coming season. 

Tavares’ Bottom Line: Right Now, He’s Holding His Own

Although Tavares has been healthy for the majority of his career, at this stage of his career, age and wear and tear do become a concern. There is also the $11 million price tag that he carries over the next three seasons and the question of whether he can remain good value for that money. Many fans believe he’s not.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Tavares: 300-Goal Scorer

The bottom line for Tavares is that he’s aging, but he’s working hard and still holding his own as a player.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]