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Tavares Reaction: Where the Isles Go From Here, and are the Leafs True Contenders?

If you’re an Isles fan, you should be angry. Your team just had one of the best players in the world for 8 years, and got nothing but one playoff series win. And now he’s gone. John Tavares is off to Toronto.

In a 2016 interview with Sportsnet 590, Tavares said “I would love for that to continue for the long haul. I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game have been able to spend their entire career somewhere. I hope I’m in that same position.”

But, obviously, minds change, and John Tavares is off to Toronto.

So the question now is what do the Islanders do from here? They previously made positives steps higher up, hiring Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello. The drafted Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, and Bode Wilde all lower than they were ranked, and have calder winner Mat Barzal ready to take Tavares’ spot. It’s not all bad.

But John Tavares is off to Toronto, and the Isles have to regroup, and build the team back to contention.

They did not do a great job of that on July 1.

31 year old Leo Komarov who scored 19 points last season was signed to a 4 year contract with a $3 million AAV, and 34 year old Valtteri Filppula was signed to a 1 year, $2.75 million dollar contract. Tom Kuhnhackl was brought on as depth and Thomas Hickey was resigned for 4 years. They followed up by trading for old friend Matt Martin the next day. A less than ideal way from responding to losing John Tavares.

They now have 10 players signed through the 2020-2021 season:

Andrew Ladd, 32, signed through 2023 at $5.5 million

Josh Bailey, 28, signed through 2024 at $5 million

Cal Clutterbuck, 30, signed through 2022 at $3.5 million

Casey Cizikas, 27, signed through 2021 at $3.35 million

Leo Komarov, 31, signed through 2020 at $3 million

Johnny Boychuk, 34, signed through 2022 at $6 million

Nick Leddy, 27, signed through 2022 at $5.5 million

Thomas Hickey, 29, signed through 2022 at $2.5 million

Adam Pelech, 23, signed through 2021 at $1.6 million

Scott Mayfield, 25, signed through 2023 at $1.45 million

That’s bad. Especially when Leddy and Bailey are the only Top 4/Top 6 players on that list.

They’ve signed marginal players to bad contracts, and they’ve drafted pitifully, as shown above.

So what do the Islanders do from here? They have enough talent to build around that they don’t need to go into a full scale rebuild, but they have a lot of holes to fill, the biggest one in goal, and a lot of players who shouldn’t be in future plans signed long term. It’s a tough position to be in.

They look a cheap chance on Robin Lehner, a good move, but Lehner likely isn’t the long term solution for the Islanders. Prospect Linus Soderstrom is making the move to North America, but is ultimately an unknown. Secondly, they need to build around Mat Barzal. Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee are free agents after this season, and really don’t have any other significant NHL pieces right now to build around. It’s going to be a long road back to contention for Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders, but if they do it the right way, they’re not screwed.

That brings us to the team that got Tavares: The Toronto Maple Leafs.

A 105 point team just got one of the top players in the league. They can now run a core of Auston Matthews, Tavares, and Nazem Kadri down the middle, as possibly the best top 3 centers in the league. They can surround their centers with Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Patrick Marleau, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, etc. The Leafs are no joke.

But signing Tavares doesn’t solve the Leafs biggest issue, their defense. Currently, and obviously this can change between now and the beginning of the season, their defense looks like

Morgan Reilly – Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev

Travis Dermott – Conor Carrick

Not great, and the Leafs are about to put $20-25 million into signing their big 3 of Matthews, Nylander, and Marner, handicapping them to add on the back end. Reilly proved himself as a top pairing guy last season, and the Leafs are going to need the same out of him in 2019. Any regression from Reilly, or goalie Freddy Andersen, could be trouble for the Leafs.

I’ll get into this more when I analyze the Atlantic’s juggernauts in depth, which I’ll do later this summer, but will Toronto be able to score their way to victory against Tampa and Boston? It remains to be scene, but I have a tough time believing the Leafs can win a Cup with their current defense. Nonetheless, the Leafs are much more of a threat to Tampa and Boston, and the rest of the league for that matter, than they were in 2018.

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