Well, “creation of Canada”, you had a solid 151-year run as the main reason to celebrate July 1st but I’m afraid all good things must come to an end and be replaced by better things. Today we celebrate the two-year anniversary of John Tavares coming home.
Tavares leaving the Islanders to sign with the Leafs was one of the most shocking events in NHL free agency history. For Leafs fans, it was sweet vindication. For years this fan base has heard it from other fans, saying “Leafs fans think every player is going to Toronto!”, and for the most part they were right: we went through this with Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Steven Stamkos, and various other big names over the last decade and a half with none of them donning the Maple Leaf. For a long time, the Leafs were in the position of being that person someone flirts with to get their partner to become jealous. Never a true threat, just a decoy.
John Tavares changed all that.
Elliotte Friedman’s reporting on How the Leafs signed John Tavares is a fascinating read. The article details how the free agency pitch meetings were run, lessons learned from two years prior when the Leafs unsuccessfully pitched Steven Stamkos, what the Leafs’ approach was this time around, how they put the ice back in at the Air Canada Centre to film Mitch Marner’s on-ice theatrics, and the moment the night before free agency when Tavares phoned Leafs GM Kyle Dubas:
The news predictably set the Isles fanbase on fire. Really, it was kind of understandable: the pain of losing your cornerstone player for nothing is real. But for some Isles fans it became personal and vicious. Despite being the noble face of their franchise for 9 years, Tavares was vilified as a “snake”, infantilized by the nickname “pajama boy” and had his social media mentions overrun with insults and videos of people burning his jersey. He was even the subject of one of the most cringeworthy videos you will ever watch, released just before his first return to The Island as a Maple Leaf. I’ve never successfully watched the entire thing in one sitting.
Isles fans also tried to convince everyone they didn’t need John. The chant “we don’t need you” rained down upon Tavares in that first game (an Islanders win) back at Nassau Coliseum. Isles fans pointed to their finishing the 2018-19 season with a whopping three more points than Toronto as the main evidence for this. But hold up: are you telling me they wouldn’t have benefitted from having John Tavares on their team that season? It was obvious to anyone with two eyes that the Isles successes that season were the result of the Barry Trotz Effect, in which an extremely talented coach instilled a stifling defensive system to make up for his team’s lacking offensive talent. Trotz’s system helped elevate Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss to Goalie God status, finishing the season 2nd (0.930) and 3rd (0.927) respectively in save percentage. The Isles made the playoffs with the second-least goals for and least goals against: they were a low event, disciplined team who played to their strengths and bought into Trotz’s system.
But again I say… wouldn’t the Trotz-helmed Isles have benefitted from having this offensive beast on their team for the last two seasons? Logic says one thing, Isles fans another.
But enough about Isles fans. In his 145 games as a Maple Leaf, Tavares has provided us with lots of great memories. Here’s a listing of his top 10 goals as a Maple Leaf:
10. Good night Golden Knights (11/7/19)
9. Cookie jar on Bob (vs. 12/28/18)
8. Chasing Reimer (vs. CAR, 12/23/19)
7. I like hats (vs. CHI, 10/07/18)
6. Backhand bardown (vs. TBL, 02/25/20)
5. Triple deke (vs. EDM, 03/09/19)
4. Shut it haters (vs. NYI, 04/01/19)
3. Nice try, Carey (vs. MTL, 02/09/19)
2. Last second hero (vs. DET, 12/23/18)
1. Debut goal (vs. MTL, 10/03/18)
From all of us here at The Leafs Nation, Happy John Tavares Is A Toronto Maple Leaf Day!