Maple Leafs’ John Tavares Is Headed for Career Season

It appears the rumours of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ captain Johnny “Toronto” Tavares’ demise might be premature. The 32-year-old Tavares, who has played over 950 NHL games in the regular season and playoffs, showed he might have some magic left when he lifted the struggling Maple Leafs on his back and carried them to a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. 

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Tavares scored a hat trick and added an assist in what had to be considered a must-win game for the Maple Leafs. Had they lost to the Flyers on the second game of back-to-backs that included travel and starting a goalie who was still looking for his first NHL win in ten career starts, we hate to see what the atmosphere in Leafsland would have looked like this morning. 

The Timing of Tavares’ Goal Was Perfect

Equally important for both the Maple Leafs and Tavares was the timing of his best goal of the season, and possibly his career as a Maple Leaf. After taking a 3-1 lead at 2:49 of the third period when Zach Aston-Reese potted his first goal as a Maple Leaf, Ilya Samsonov let in an uncharacteristically soft goal by Owen Tippet. That gave the Maple Leafs and their fans an oh-no, here-we-go-again moment. 

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Shortly afterward Tavares pulled off the play shown below.

We aren’t sure if what followed was a cheer or a collective sigh of relief from the Maple Leafs’ faithful. It was the defining moment of the game, and the early season to this point for the Maple Leafs.

Where Does Tavares Night Put Him Statistically with Other NHL Players?

Tavares’ three goals give him 398 for his career, just two shy of 400. The goal also places him in 107th place all-time in the NHL. As far as Maple Leafs’ players from history, that’s two more than Maple Leafs’ great Dave Keon and two behind former Maple Leafs’ player and iron man Phil Kessel. (from “Greater set of tests await Maple Leafs, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 03/11/2022).

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Tavares’ four points give him 909 for his career, moving him into 119th place for points all-time in the NHL. That’s one point ahead of Scott Stevens and one behind another Maple Leafs’ great player in Gary Roberts.

Tavares Is On Pace for a Huge Season 

His performance in the game also puts him in the lead for team scoring with seven goals and seven assists for a total of fourteen points in eleven games played. A lot can happen between now and the end of the season; but, at this point in the early going; and, despite struggling along with the other Maple Leafs’ core players, Tavares is presently on pace to score 52 and 104 points this season. 

His seven goals place him in an eight-way tie for eighth place in goals this season in the NHL. One more goal would move him into a tie for third place in the league. Connor McDavid leads the league with eleven goals in ten games. 

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Tavares also finds himself in a three-way tie for eighth in points. His fourteen points tie him with Buffalo’s Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin, one point behind Erik Karlsson and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid is setting a blistering pace to lead the league with 22 points in only ten games played. 

Tavares Is Proving Critics Wrong

Much has been made of whether or not Tavares can live up to his $11 million cap hit. After scoring 47 goals and 88 points in 82 games in his first season as a Maple Leaf, in the three seasons since Tavares has scored 72 goals and 186 points in 198 games played. That is an 82-game pace of 30 goals and 77 points. Good, but not $11 million good. 

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

This past offseason a lot was made of how Tavares’ contract was becoming an albatross around the team’s neck. That still may be. However, if Tavares can keep producing at his present pace, the 2022-23 season could be his best season production-wise and push that conversation down the road a year or two. 

Can Tavares’ Success Translate into the Postseason?

Even better, if Tavares can duplicate that production into the postseason, it could go a long way to shaking off an even bigger albatross and finally getting the Maple Leafs past the first round of the playoffs. 

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We realize that’s all a long way off; but Tavares, for the moment at least, is showing that he still has what it takes to be one of the NHL’s best players.

[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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