John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf.
A kid who grew up a Leafs fan, in Ontario, picked Toronto. A free agent, one of the most coveted in the NHL's unrestricted-free-agent history, chose the Leafs and coach Mike Babcock. These things aren't supposed to happen. But here we are: John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf for seven years and $11 million annually, and the power dynamic in the Eastern Conference and the league as a whole might have just shifted.
So, what does this mean? Here's a look at how he fits in with the Maple Leafs, along with the fallout for his top jilted suitors:
What does this mean for the Maple Leafs?
This is everything for Toronto.
It's the addition of a world-class center to the lineup for the next seven years. Auston Matthews, Tavares and Nazem Kadri (through 2022) make the Leafs as deep in the middle as anyone else in the NHL. It's the validation that Tavares not only chose to go home but felt comfortable enough that the Leafs were close enough to winning (and keep winning) that he chose them over the Bruins, Sharks and Lightning. It's the result of a multiyear build orchestrated by Brendan Shanahan, where the Leafs dove to the bottom and have now risen so far that John Tavares wanted to hitch himself to that shooting star.
And do it for what amounts to a hometown discount.
It's hard to fathom that when a player is making $11 million annually, but Tavares was offered more from the New York Islanders and perhaps others in the sweepstakes. It's no secret that Tavares and friend Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning traded notes about the latter's free-agent experience two years ago. No doubt he was inspired by Stamkos' taking a little off the top in order to help the Lightning's salary-cap situation.
From a cap perspective, the Leafs have a few contracts to hand out in the near future. William Nylander is up this summer as a restricted free agent. Matthews and Mitch Marner are up next season. Jake Gardiner goes UFA in 2020. There was talk about Tavares accepting a massive first year on his deal and then signing a long-term deal after that, but the NHL wouldn't even entertain that structure. Instead, Tavares goes $11 million annually over seven seasons, with a bonus structure that pays him 40.5 percent of the contract in the first year, basically.
All of this is great. But the parade planning is entirely contingent on how the defense, in particular, is built out. Rare is the Stanley Cup champion that doesn't have a Grade A, if not elite, defenseman. Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes have both reupped with their teams. What the Leafs do on the blue line in the next few seasons will determine whether Tavares made the right gamble here.
Since we can't help but provide needles for the Maple Leafs' balloons on a blessed day like this, we now present the nightmare scenario: The defense is the Achilles' heel; Tavares gets the captaincy and the benefit of the doubt from the Toronto media, while Matthews plays second fiddle and receives the majority of criticism for the Leafs' foibles; and because Tavares came home, Matthews eventually leaves for Glendale.
Hey, anything can happen. John Tavares just signed with the Leafs.
What does this mean for the Islanders?
Tears. Pints of ice cream. Incinerated jerseys.
Tavares' leaving the Islanders is like someone used the franchise's stomach like a speedbag. They signed Lou Lamoriello in an effort to stabilize the team, and Tavares ended up signing with the team Lamoriello literally built before leaving for the Islanders. They signed Barry Trotz to be their head coach for five years. They told Tavares they would split time between Brooklyn and Nassau Coliseum, before building a new arena at Belmont Park. They had local businesses offering him lifetime supplies of bagels, cheesecakes and beer.
None of it mattered. Tavares wanted to go home, and he didn't have faith in an organization that had too much turnover (like jettisoning his friends Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen) and too much uncertainty.
In some ways, the task for the Islanders doesn't change. They have a great young player in Mathew Barzal, who clearly becomes the franchise focal point. They have some prospects in the pipeline, especially in goal. The answers weren't going to come from unrestricted agency, but through Lamoriello working his trade magic. There are some options, like wingers Max Pacioretty and Jeff Skinner, or center Ryan O'Reilly, or the Erik Karlsson gambit, if he wanted it.
Yet losing Tavares rips the heart out of the current lineup, and it was a lineup fraught with problems to begin, from the crease out.
Their focus, their future ... it's all reshaped and shifted. Perhaps that'll be liberating, what with the cap space they'll have to play with. But the path to contention was much clearer with Tavares leading the charge.
What does this mean for the Sharks?
The Sharks were runners-up for Tavares but won the shade-throwing competition, as GM Doug Wilson expressed disappointment in his decision but thanked his own players for having "continually chosen to bypass a chance at unrestricted free agency in recent years because they want to play in San Jose." Hey, enjoy Canada, John. We're good ...
The Sharks now turn their attention to the Joes: Pavelski, their 34-year-old star who has one year left on this contract; and Thornton, a free agent whom they hope will return for another season despite some wonky health.
But their attention should go beyond that. Please recall that the Sharks cleared out money in Mikkel Boedker and his $4 million salary cap hit, dealing him to Ottawa; and then buying out the contract of Paul Martin.
"It's no surprise, as I've said before to you, that Ryan is a guy that teams ask about. When people are calling me to talk about our team, they're looking at our better players. Ryan is certainly one of our better players. We've talked at length about his reputation throughout the league, so that's why we've been getting calls on him," said Sabres GM Jason Botterill. "We'll certainly look at them because of where we finished in the standings. It would have to make sense to improve our team."
The Sharks didn't need Tavares. Their window to win is open, especially next season. But there's no question he would have elevated that status. And clearly, Tavares liked the age demographics of the Leafs rather than those of the Sharks' roster.
What does this mean for the Bruins?
Like the Sharks, Tavares was a luxury, not a necessity. It means the Bruins don't need to move David Krejci's $7.25 million cap hit (through 2021) nor David Backes' $6 million cap hit (through 2021) in order to make room for the Tavares contract.
The focus now returns to the second line on the wing, with Rick Nash having announced that he's unsure about playing in 2018-19. The trade market is full of options.
What does this mean for the Lightning?
When Ryan McDonagh signed a seven-year extension for $6.75 million (starting in 2019-20), it signaled that the Lightning were likely out of the Tavares derby. Acquiring Tavares would have likely meant center Tyler Johnson ($5 million through 2024) and winger Ryan Callahan ($5.8 million through 2020) would have to be moved out to accommodate the hit.
Instead, they'll likely remain, and the focus turns to fleshing out the blue line next year -- with McDonagh, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev inked -- and dedicating funds to winger Nikita Kucherov, who will be a restricted free agent next summer.
What does this mean for the Stars?
That they're good enough, or their state's tax benefits are good enough, to have gotten into the room with Tavares. Which is more than the Montreal Canadiens could say.
The focus turns to Tyler Seguin, who goes unrestricted next summer and will be looking at a Tavares-esque payday. Keep in mind that he's originally from Ontario. Uh-oh ...