Maple Leafs Still Getting Their Money’s Worth From Tavares

There’s no doubt that Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares’ contract isn’t the friendliest one on the team. General manager Kyle Dubas made a major splash in 2018, signing the hometown kid to a seven-year, $77 million deal.

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After scoring 47 goals and 88 points in his first season, Tavares didn’t follow that up as he appeared to be average in 2019-20. Many thought that the contract was going to become a major issue for the team. 

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Tavares did bounce back in 2020-21 and was looking like his usual self-compared to the previous season. This season, still facing criticism of the contract that he carries, we’re still seeing a player that has looked strong and continues to be a key factor for the Maple Leafs’ success. 

Tavares Still A Factor Offensively

Some may look at Tavares’ contract and think that it’s the worst ever given out and that this is a reason why the Maple Leafs are in a cap crunch. They’ll point to the fact that the captain is making more than he probably should as a second line centre and that his production has declined since. Yes, $11 million and taking up 13.5 % of the team’s salary cap isn’t appealing to see. But, he’s still been extremely productive every season and that’s what matters. 

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

In four seasons with the Maple Leafs, Tavares has been above a point per game twice, including this season with 44 points in 44 games. He just missed out on that mark in 2019-20, where he missed time suffering a broken finger early on in the season. In addition, he still didn’t seem himself as he sustained an oblique injury in May of 2019 that forced him to miss the World Hockey Championships. Even last season, he was still on a good pace production wise. 

In total, he has tallied 242 points in 245 games since signing with the Maple Leafs, putting him 20th overall in the league in points. Even though it’s not above that P/G pace or producing at a rate like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, it’s still very strong production as a second line centre. 

As a projection, Tavares is on-pace for an 80-point season as this would be the second time that he could hit the mark since his first season as a Maple Leaf. Even over the last two seasons where there wasn’t an 82-game season, Tavares was on-pace to reach 71 and 75 points, despite not being a P/G. That is still great production.

His underlying numbers are above average this season. With a minimum of 300 minutes played this season at five-on-five, Tavares has a Corsi For percentage of 52.61 and a scoring chances for percentage of 54.66%. He also has the third best individual Corsi For and scoring chances for on the team (behind Matthews and William Nylander) with 170 and 122 respectively. For being a second line centre and to put up decent possession numbers when he’s on the ice, Tavares is still having an offensive impact with a very potent and dangerous top-six unit.

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But his impact is felt in the face-off circle. Among players who have taken a minimum of 400 faceoffs this season, Tavares has the second-best faceoff percentage in the league with 61.2– behind only Patrice Bergeron who is a pretty good centreman. His play in the dot is critical, as the more face-offs you win, the more control you’ll have of the puck to begin and kick start an offensive attack.

Will This Production Last?

Given how Tavares still has three more years with his cap hit after this season, there’s always the concern of what might happen in those final years. While he continues to produce at 31 years old, it’s possible that the production may dip even more and he may not be that 70 or 80-point producer.

However, high-end point producing players like Tavares are always going above and beyond even into their 30s. Steven Stamkos is 32 and has dealt with his fair share of injuries; including core muscle surgery, diagnosed with blood clots in 2016 and a broken leg in 2014. Yet, he remains as one of the top centres and shooters in the league as he has 54 points this season. 

Tavares has dealt with injuries during his time in Toronto, including the horrific concussion he sustained in the playoffs last season. When he’s healthy, that’s when he’s at his best and on top of his game. 

He still possesses great strength, strong defensive play, hands, a strong net front presence and being a shooting threat in the slot. He’s a well-rounded centre that makes the Maple Leafs deep at the middle of the ice and he’s playing with a talented winger in Nylander, who is viewed as the team’s MVP for the first half with his production. 

The second line has played well all season. After recording 34 points in the first 31 games, Tavares is has produced 10 points in his last 13 games. Same with Nylander as he has eight points. While you’d like to see a bit more consistency from the second line, they did a lot of the heavy lifting in the first half of the season when the Maple Leafs struggled. Now, the top line has taken control. 

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Everyone goes through tough stretches. If Tavares is still able to produce at his current pace for the next three seasons, then the contract will still hold up as good value for the team. Even if he is a second line centre.

Embodiment of a Leader

When Tavares was given the captaincy, you knew that the team was going to be in good hands to develop great character, accountability and being someone to rely on. At the time, he was the perfect player for a young Maple Leafs squad to learn and gain valuable experience.

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs Center John Tavares (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Whether it’s calling out the team for a poor performance or even assisting in helping a player re-ignite their career like Josh Ho-Sang, Tavares is there to be a voice and guide for when they need him. He’s even done a great job helping Nylander be more of a leader as he continues to take on more responsibility on the team. The two have developed some great chemistry as they continue to provide a steady balance of fire power in the top-six.

Having someone who can produce and yet still be a role model for everyone on the team, is a major price to pay, but one that is needed and Tavares does just that.

Statistics from Dobber Frozen Tools, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and NHL.