The Maple Leafs win big in landing John Tavares
The player: John Tavares, C, 27
The terms: Seven years, $11 million annually with the Toronto Maple Leafs
Yes, of course. Yes, yes, yes. This is the No. 1 free agent on the market. Most in the league remained dubious he would become available. Top free agents in the NHL rarely exercise their right for movement in the open market. Now Tavares gets to live out his childhood dream. Mike Babcock, who already reportedly has a strained relationship with Matthews, may have to manage some egos. Matthews, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft, was supposed to be the face of this team. But the franchise dangled the captaincy in front of the 20-year-old, but never actually let Matthews claim the carrot. This is now Tavares' team, and Toronto must manage what happens with Matthews, who is an RFA next summer. ( Mitch Marner is an RFA next summer, as well, and logically, he might be the one who is used as trade bait if Toronto gets into a cap crunch).
For the Maple Leafs, this was a no-brainer. The fact that they didn't have to do something wacky in signing Tavares is gravy — this is a straight up hockey deal that makes the rich richer. Of course, the Maple Leafs are going to have to upgrade their defense eventually; Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey both become UFA's next summer, and it will be hard for Toronto to keep both (especially Gardiner) at market price. But to rise above the many, many suitors and win the ultimate free agency sweepstakes is unequivocally a win for Toronto.