Should Maple Leafs Wait For John Tavares?

While the Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping that Steven Stamkos hits the free agent market, it seems that others are already coming up with contingency plans. Larry Brooks of the New York Post says that isn’t likely that Stamkos wouldn’t want to spend another few years on a rebuilding team, having already gone through it in Tampa Bay. He suggests another player that wears the No. 91.

John Tavares only has two more years left on his contract after this season. He currently carries a cap hit of only $5.5 million, a deal that certainly helps the team bring in other players. However, you can bet that he is set for one hell of a raise when July 1, 2018 hits. However, whether that new contract is with the New York Islanders is another thing to consider.

Brooks suggest that Tavares, and other Islanders, are not too happy with the fact they still have to practice on Long Island even though the team now plays at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Could this situation potentially sour Tavares on staying with the Islanders?

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Another thing you have to consider when considering whether Tavares will bolt is the Islanders playoff record. Since Tavares joined the Islanders in 2009-10, the team has only made the playoffs twice. On both of those occasions, they were eliminated in the first round. In 2013, they were beaten by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games and were taken out by the Washington Capitals in seven games last year. Even with the money to build around Tavares, the Islanders have never been able to find a way out of the first round. If the rest of this season and the next two go the same way, will Tavares want to stick around?

So, should the Leafs be interested in bringing in the captain of the New York Islanders if he becomes available? The obvious answer is… well, duh. One of the things that Brooks mentions is that Tavares will be reaching free agency at the right time for the Maple Leafs. He figures that the Leafs will be ready for contention around then and Tavares could be the final piece. However, do the Leafs want to wait that long?

The Leafs obviously have some good pieces for the future. Prospects like William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Connor Brown could all be Leafs as early as next season should they have the roster space available. The question should be how close actually are the Leafs to contending again? At times this season, we’ve seen that Mike Babcock can do pretty well with the lineup the Leafs have this year. Imagine what he could do with all that talent added to the Leafs lineup.

Properly Rebuilding

(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

I have been of the opinion for a while that the Leafs rebuild won’t take the five years that everyone seems to think it will. Look at the Edmonton Oilers. Their rebuild is still going and it hasn’t gotten them any closer to the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks know the way to rebuild. Of course they got lucky in the first round, coming out of the 2006 and 2007 drafts with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane respectively. However, Brent Seabrook was a mid-first round pick in 2003. Corey Crawford was a second round pick that year as well. Duncan Keith was a second-rounder the year before. So there you have their five core players and only two of them were sure things.

One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen is that you need time to make a good rebuild. That is totally not true. What you need is good scouting. The more picks you hit on in one draft the sooner you will be out of the rebuild. For example, the Blakhawks got Seabrook, Crawford and Dustin Byfuglien out of the 2003 Draft alone. The Leafs haven’t been that good at getting multiple players out of drafts in recent years. However, with Mark Hunter on board, hopefully that can change.

The Leafs are obviously going to go after Stamkos this off-season if he’s available. The same can be said about Tavares if he is available. However, by the time Tavares hits free agency, if the Leafs develop their own players well, they might not need to.