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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf