Leafs immediate cup threats with Tavares signing

Okay, they can start working on that 2019 Stanley Cup parade route in Toronto. Start on Yonge and Dundas, over to Queen Street, take a left turn on Tavares Road …

What? They haven’t named a street after John Tavares yet? Wasn’t that part of the contract? Seven years, $77 million, dinner once a week at Doug Ford’s, a tribute song from Drake, the tip of the CN Tower being reshaped into a ’T’ for Tavares, and the renaming of Bay Street to Tavares Road. That was the deal. Read the contract’s fine print.

It was Canada Day on July 1, but the fireworks weren’t limited to colourful late-night sky explosions. There were hockey fireworks too, none more explosive than the signing by Toronto Maple Leafs of Tavares, the first superstar free agent to leave his original team since Scott Niedermayer bolted from New Jersey to Anaheim in 2005.

What happened in Mickey Mouse Land? The Ducks won a cup in Niedermayer’s second year with the club, that’s all. Leafs’ fans won’t have the patience to wait for Tavares’ second year with the team to win the Cup.

Toronto racked up the third highest point total in the Eastern Conference last year (tying the 105 points earned by Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals) and the addition of Tavares should mean at least three or four more victories. Why not 82 – 0? Okay, then 80 – 2.

Tavares was believed to be considering either a return to his Islanders, or else the San Jose Sharks or the Leafs.

Toronto fans couldn’t believe their good fortune when the 27-year-old sniper, who has 272 goals and 621 points in his nine NHL seasons, chose the Leafs, saying it was a boyhood dream for the Mississauga native to play for his hometown team.

The Leafs are solid in goal with Frederick Andersen and up front, with their star players all having youth on their side, but their defence needs some work.

General manager Kyle Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan will obviously be getting down to work with Coach Mike Babcock to solidify that defensive unit. The addition of Tavares gives the Leafs two superstars at centre — Auston Matthews is the other, of course — and 30-goal man Nazem Kadri centres the third line.

No team in the NHL can match that strength down the middle. The Leafs, undoubtedly ‘Canada’s team’, have thousands more joyous fans today than they had on June 30, when Tavares was in limbo.

Now that he’s out of limbo and into the Leafs’ lineup, there will be no satisfaction until that Stanley Cup parade winds its way down Tavares Road.

Bruce Penton

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