Photo credit: @KP8Design
On Sunday, in a very surprising decision, John Tavares left the New York Islanders at the alter to instead join the Toronto Maple Leafs on a $77M deal over seven years. Tavares joins an already great offense with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
So what does this mean for the Leafs, Sabres and the entire Atlantic division itself?
Adding Tavares to the roster allows the Leafs to pivot two franchise players in him and Matthews. It’s the type of depth few teams enjoy outside of the Washington Capitals with Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetsov, the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin, and the Edmonton Oilers with Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl bringing Stanley Cup expectations.
Toronto’s forward crop is certainly that much stronger regardless of James Van Riemsdyk leaving, presenting a nightmare for opponents moving forward.
Toronto also has a very strong and healthy farm system, which just won the Calder Cup, to put quality wingers next to Matthews and Tavares. In short, Toronto went from being a team on the rebound to a Cup contender.
“It was an opportunity I didn’t want to turn down.” – John Tavares on his decision to join the Maple Leafs.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 1, 2018
With that, though, there are some hiccups the Maple Leafs now face. First, they only have one year remaining with Matthews, Marner and Nylander all on deals at rookie salary. Once those players get paid their cap space will become limited to bring in free agents on a regular basis.
Secondly, the Toronto defense still needs help and faces losing Jake Gardiner next summer. Toronto may have to move one of their top forward prospects like Andreas Johnsson, Carl Grundstrom, or even Kasperi Kapanen to bring in needed help.
The time for the Maple Leafs starts now for them to have big success in the playoffs. The pressure will become about as hot as the sun every passing year they don’t win.
While you never want to see your rival grab a two-time Hart Trophy finalist, the Sabres have probably the best thing you can ask for if you are going to face an imposing duo like Matthews and Tavares with uber prospect Rasmus Dahlin.
While the Tavares addition certainly makes Toronto that much better of a club, the Sabres potentially have a kid who can neutralize the Maple Leafs forwards.
Additionally, if Casey Mittelstadt develops as expected to be a top line center, Buffalo has a heck of a one-two combination at center themselves with him and Eichel.
Jack Eichel snipe going top cheddar where Momma hides the cookies ?? pic.twitter.com/grWYqjpM87
— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) December 28, 2016
Buffalo’s biggest need at this point is on the wing position where they need Reinhart to keep developing as a scorer and one of their draft picks to develop like Toronto has with Marner and Nylander.
For Buffalo fans, this should just add a little more fuel to the fire with Toronto when both teams play each other while hopefully producing some great hockey.
Pre-Tavares Toronto was still chasing Tampa Bay and to a lesser extent Boston. With Tavares, they should directly be challenging Tampa Bay for the division crown and are ahead of the Boston Bruins at this point.
Tampa Bay absolutely should be using this as a major motivator to finally grab a Cup with the Stamkos-Hedman-Kucherov core as their clock ticks with contracts coming up for a lot of their young players. Boston certainly can stand up well to Toronto, but are you picking their aging roster over this younger Leafs team long term?
For the Atlantic division overall, this is a major hit to teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and to a lesser extent, the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers. Detroit and Ottawa are rebuilding rosters that need a lot more skilled players all over and the Tavares addition makes the gap back to the playoffs that much wider.
A lot of star power exists between Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, and potentially Buffalo soon, which will not leave many playoff spots open for the division’s weaker teams.
The next decade will be really tough for Atlantic division teams trying to jump past Toronto, Tampa Bay, and hopefully Buffalo that all are loaded with talent. It would not be surprising in two to three years to see if the Atlantic division replicates the tenacity and competition that the Central Division has had for much of the 2010’s.