Why John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs May Not be a Perfect Fit

xx yySenior Writer IMay 13, 2009

OSHAWA, ON - JANUARY 14:  John Tavares #91 of Team Orr skates in the 2009 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Cherry on Wednesday January 14, 2009 at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, Ontario. Team Orr defeated Team Cherry 6-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

At the beginning of the playoffs, fans of the sixteen teams battling for the Stanley Cup could barely keep quiet about the possibility that their team, their players, and their history could be etched on to one of the most beautiful trophies in sports.

Fans of the other fourteen teams meanwhile, were scrounging the internet for rumors, reading up on mock drafts, and feverishly thumbing through lists of upcoming free agents to pinpoint names of who would help next year’s cause.

As the days, weeks, and games go on, the list of fourteen swells until all thirty teams are encompassed into off-season planning.

Twenty-nine teams are saying “what can we do to get better?” The thirtieth team is asking themselves how they hold on to that success and avoid a hangover that lasts into next season.

One of the defining moments of a non-playoff team’s destiny is the NHL’s Draft Lottery—the night where the order for the upcoming draft is determined, and the rumor mongering truly starts because now, everyone’s standing come June is finally known.

Since the Draft Lottery when it was announced that the New York Islanders would be selecting first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry draft, there have been rumors abound; mainly surrounding the Isles, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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It was the day after the Draft Lottery when Brian Burke announced, not only his intentions of moving up in the NHL draft standing, but his hopes of drafting the highly coveted forward out from the London Knights (formerly of the Oshawa Generals) of the OHL, John Tavares.

Following this announcement, suddenly every fan and media member that had ever come into contact with the NHL was up in arms either in a fit of joy, or a burst of outrage.

Maple Leafs fans were delirious that someone actually had a plan for the future of the organization. After suffering through the dealing of draft picks for the likes of Owen Nolan, Ron Francis, Brian Leetch, Phil Housley, Luke Richardson, and Yanic Perreault since the turn of the millennium, a trade with the team drafting second or first overall would mark the second-straight year the Leafs traded into the top-five of the draft.

The notion that they might draft a forward to build the ranks around only sweetened the rumor.

Those that weren’t happy with it though, thought Burke was being too brash by announcing his intentions of moving up in the draft, and also thought that this “strategy” of trying to get to John Tavares was silly.

While the critics can keep thinking this, Burke voicing his opinion seemed more logical than the belittling he received for doing so because of one simple thing: You’d be hard-pressed to find a team whose interest isn’t piqued by Tavares or Victor Hedman.

Did he risk the chance of ostracizing himself to his other GMs by announcing his intentions? Sure he did. Garth Snow even spoke to it when he approached the media later that same day.

Did Burke really say anything we weren’t thinking?

No. Not at all.

With that in hindsight though, everyone began to move on and concentrate on the playoffs.

We got through Mike Cammalleri trying to knock Martin Havlat’s block off, Sean Avery’s latest melt-down, and the most anticipated Conference Semi Final in recent memory between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

As the hockey continued though, and teams fell be the wayside, the rumors began to swirl again.

All of the sudden, the New York Islanders were taking Victor Hedman with the number one pick, and the Tampa Bay Lightning were up and willing to deal—not just with anyone, but with (surprise, surprise) the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many thought a conclusion like this was inevitable: Back at the trade deadline, Olaf Kolzig, Jamie Heward, and Andy Rogers were sent to the Maple Leafs so that the Lightning could alleviate some cap space. The Leafs also got a fourth-round pick in the trade (thought to be compensation for taking the extra contracts), while only giving up Richard Petiot.

Despite the fourth-rounder being seized by the NHL after the Leafs mishandled Jonas Frogren’s contract, many thought the ground-work for a return trade had been laid.

All of the sudden, the rumors really started to get going. One day the Leafs and Lightning were swapping picks straight up. The next the Lightning could possibly be including Vincent Lecavalier while a Leafs package could feature names like Stajan and Kaberle going the other way.

Sidenote: I’m not meaning to create rumors in any way with the aforementioned trades. These are simply examples of the variety of trades that we were hearing about coming from sources ranging from the credible to the not-so-much over the past few weeks.

If I were going to make up a deal? The Leafs would trade for the second pick by packaging their seventh, alongside Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, and a third (and fourth if necessary) to Tampa Bay for the second.

From there, I’d have them deal Jiri Tlusty, two later rounds picks, and Tyler Bozak to the Los Angeles Kings for the fifth overall pick. Then I’d take Brayden Schenn.

Although I love the long-term potential of Bozak, he was sought after by a lot of teams during his courtship, so it’s possible the Leafs could fleece a draft pick for him, although I’d rather not have them do that.

Again, I’m not fabricating a rumor here; I’m just saying what I might do. Speculation is fun when taken in small doses and not too seriously.

Earlier this week, the newest rumor had Tampa Bay wanting Tomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn to be included in any potential second-to-seventh swap, while the Leafs would take on the Ryan Malone contract (Which Burke denied earlier today).

This is the point in time where we start to wonder if John Tavares and his favorite team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) are perfect fits at the big league level.

The biggest problem with the above deal is parting ways with Luke Schenn. For those who look purely at the numbers, his rookie season was nothing stellar: He had 14 points in 70 games and was a minus-12.

Looking past those number though, Schenn played 20 minutes a night (at least) and over 28 shifts per game—shifts against the leagues top players—and many of them were quality shifts. He was also second in the league in hits, and first in blocked shots.

Since the lockout, the fleecing-out of the slow-footed, “clutch and grab” defenseman clocking in at 6’2 or better has left many teams searching for a fleet-footed defender with the ability not to get caught up in the speed of the game.

In Luke Schenn, the Leafs were able to find that at fifth overall in last year’s draft.

What’s more, while neither Schenn nor Tavares have “bona-fide” NHL careers yet, Schenn has a year under his belt while “Johnny-T” doesn’t.

Then there’s the old adage about building from the net out. If you’ve already got your biggest piece in place on the blueline, why trade it to score more goals? Why do you think the Lightning are so hard-up for a defender right now? They traded away Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich last offseason, and signed eleven new forwards.

So why do you think they need Luke Schenn? For the same reason the Leafs would if they traded him away.

But this potential flip-flop is more than about who the Leafs would give up, but what about who comes back?

John Tavares is undoubtedly talented. He has the ability to score goals that are other-worldly, and the Leafs need his kind of offensive talent.

Just not from JT.

The story would seem perfect though: Tavares is from nearby Oakville, Ontario, and played hockey with Sam Gagner and Akim Aliu for the Toronto Marlies in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. John Ferguson Jr. even attempted to let Tavares play for the AHL’s Marlies a few seasons ago, although that would’ve hardly set his fate in stone with the Leafs.

But while everyone is wrapped up in how well Tavares’ skills would translate, they’re overlooking what many worried would get to Luke Schenn: The Toronto media.

Now before we go any further, it’s not to say that the media following the Islanders, Lightning, or any other franchise would be easy to deal with: we saw that this season when Steven Stamkos started slowly in Tampa. But dealing with the press in Toronto is something different.

In talking with a few different media members, it’s easy to get the vibe that Tavares is overly-sought after, if it wasn't already obvious.

Simply put, the kid has been doing interviews since he was 14 when he was breaking the eligibility rules in the OHL. An unnamed source even said that after the Oshawa trade they talked to other players in the dressing room more frequently because “John is the first to admit there are 19 other guys in that dressing room”.

In the beginning it would simply be an onslaught of marketing and media attention for the 18-year old: If you thought “Seen Stamkos” was something in Florida, imagine that 1000 times larger in Southwestern Ontario.

Once the season started, imagine if Tavares didn’t have a point in his first game: Then it’s the innocent “are you disappointed?” question from thirty different reporters. As one game elevates to two games, to five, to ten, and to twenty, the pressure becomes magnified due to the obscure trends of Toronto media.

Even if he succeeds, there would still be questions and pressure: Pressure before he’s even through the front door of the ACC.

That's the way it's always been, whether it's dealing with a bogus rumor of a trade or signing, or just the anticipation of a new player in Toronto: How fast can we get their story, good or bad, out there.

Without even playing an NHL playoff game, at least one outlet could vey well have him pegged as a playoff bust, simply based on his OHL playoff showing.

Not everything has to do with off the ice issues though.

What of his supporting cast? Barring a trade, the Lightning can surround Tavares with Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St Louis (if they so decide to go that route) despite still missing the key pieces on the blueline, along with the questionable health of Mike Smith.

On Long Island, the Isles could form a line of Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Kyle Okposo. Provided the three develop correctly the Islanders could have one of the toughest young lines in the NHL to play against.

The Leafs have done well to rebuild the youthful outlook of their organization, but Bozak and Christian Hanson still have yet to see extended NHL time. Viktor Stalberg is there as well, but he’ll still need some time to adjust to the NHL game while Tlusty needs to perform consistently at the NHL level.

Nikolai Kulemin would be the most interesting player to see alongside Tavares on the wing, especially given that he’s played with immensely talented players before (Namely Evgeni Malkin).

Whether it's the Island, Tampa Bay or Toronto though, we don't know how his career will play out.

Maybe Tavares’ career plays out like Sidney Crosbys’ in that he’s able to immediately make intermediate NHL players into top-liners. Or maybe Tavares is better suited to have young line mates like him and grow with them. Then Toronto isn’t waiting on one budding star, but three.

The need for patience is at an all time high, and while his wingers would take some of the heat, Tavares would still be the talk of the town.

All of this talk about a player who hasn’t stepped foot on an NHL rink yet seems kind of silly. Giving up your best defenseman for him, a guy who has already proven that he’s able to play NHL-level hockey seems kind of silly too.

But while many will make lists stating that “playing close to home” is the best for John, and “freezing out the Islanders and only playing for the Leafs” is the best course of action to take for the budding superstar, remember that this is a kid who’s already said simply being considered to play in the NHL is a privilege.

While playing for the Leafs may be a small concern in the back of his mind, right now, Tavares is ready to go where he’s needed, whether it’s Toronto or somewhere else.

But before Tavares’ is crowned the “savior of the Leafs”, remember a few things:T

hat just because someone is talented doesn’t mean he fits with the team. Just because Toronto was his favorite team growing up doesn't mean he's destined to go there and there alone.

And not all of your problems are solved by flipping one talented player for another.


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report.If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com or contact him through his profile. You can also see all of his previous work in his archives.

Bryan Thiel also contributes to HockeyBarn.com—Where Hockey hits the net!