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What Changes Should The Leafs Make? – Part I (John Tavares)

May 15, 2024, 6:49 PM ET [423 Comments]
Mike Augello
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It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to look different when training camp rolls around in September. We already know there will be a new message and direction behind the bench, but the question is what will GM Brad Treliving do to reconstruct or shakeup the roster.

There has been no one who has been a bigger advocate of a reallocation of the Leafs roster, but the concern going into an extremely important summer is how severe Treliving’s shakeup will be. There no doubt has to be some augmentation of the core group that has been the same since 2018, but the fear is changes akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Over the next few weeks, we will look at possible moves that Treliving may consider and whether they will be the right move or wrong move.

What to do with John Tavares

The Leafs face a difficult situation with their team captain. The 33-year-old is not the same player who signed a seven-year, $77 million free-agent contract in 2018. He is no longer a top-line center and an impact player, but he is still an effective second-liner who scored 65 points (29 goals, 36 assists) and is excellent on draws.

Is he still an $11 million player? No, but he is the player who scored the game-winner in overtime of the only series the Leafs have won in 20 years, and in spite of his only scoring two points in seven games against the Bruins, one was the tying goal in the Game 2 victory, and the other was the primary assist on Matthew Knies OT winner in Game 5.

Here are the options for Treliving:

A) Buyout – This makes absolutely no sense, since the Leafs would get only $606,666 in cap relief with a buyout and would then have to find someone in or outside the organization to fill his role on the roster. Tavares is slowing down, but he still has value.

B) Trade – Since Tavares has a no-movement clause, the possibility of a trade out of Toronto first would start with whether he wants to be moved. After the second-round loss to Florida last May, he was asked and said he wanted to stay. It is doubtful that anything has changed on that score.

But let’s just say for the sake of argument that he is willing to waive his no move. Barring a deal where the Leafs take back a player with longer-term or someone on long-term injured reserve, Treliving will have to a) find a team that Tavares is willing to go to, b) find a team that has enough cap space to take some or all of his $11 million cap hit, and c) if a & b are met, Toronto will likely have to include a tangible asset to get said team to take him, even though he has only one year left on his deal.

Remember, this is the team that had to trade a 2020 first-round pick to Carolina to get rid of the third year of Patrick Marleau’s contract (thanks to Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock) and that player turned out to be Seth Jarvis. The Leafs likely would have to trade their 2024 first-rounder in a deal to move Tavares, and after drafting OHL Player of the Year Easton Cowan 28th overall, there should be some recognition that first-round picks are valuable.

One consideration that has been suggested is that the Leafs approach Tavares and tell him that they need to make changes and want him to waive his NMC, in a sense forcing him to go when he does not want to. Tavares is represented by Pat Brisson of CAA Sports and six years ago, he took $2 million less than an offer from San Jose to sign with the Leafs. If Treliving goes down that road with a player who came home to Toronto because he wanted to play for his hometown team, the organization’s reputation would be mud. Good luck getting another big-name free agent to ever sign with the Leafs again for anything less than an overpayment.

C) Nothing – If the Leafs keep Tavares, they should not strip the captaincy from him because of the team’s failures. They let his contract play out, and see what kind of season the soon-to-be 34-year-old has. After next year, perhaps the veteran chooses to sign for a much lesser amount a la Jason Spezza or Mark Giordano, and the captaincy is shifted to Auston Matthews or Morgan Rielly, and if he declines to the point that Treliving does not want to bring him back, then the two sides part ways.

Augello’s Verdict – Option C


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