The 2021-22 National Hockey League playoffs ended with another agonizing defeat for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they lost to Stanley Cup holders Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite their 3-2 lead in the series and needing just one win to advance to the second round for the first time since 2004, the Maple Leafs have let loose and now find themselves having a summer that is sure to be filled with some deep soul searching.
Captain John Tavares scored six points in the seven-match streak but was criticized by fans and the media alike for his poor performance. He seemed sluggish and ineffective for long periods of time, and a deeper look at his stats shows that despite his points, the Maple Leafs struggled while on the ice. The team often spent significant stretches surrounded by their area with their leader on the ice in 5-on-5.
Tavares arrived in Toronto during the 2018 season and was delivered almost immediately. The $77 million 7-year deal was a huge commitment for the Maple Leafs but they decided to take a risk on the 27-year-old Ontario native. Some parallels can be drawn between Tavares’ situation and the decision that the Vancouver Canucks now faces with GT Miller.
Although there are differences in their games, both players are great battle-hardened players who rely more on their wits and physicality than speed or superlative speed. Miller will be 30 when he signs his new contract outside next season and will have a long-term deal.
Should the Canucks watch over Tavares play in the playoffs this year and avoid signing Miller on a long-term deal?
John Tavares arrives in Toronto
When John Tavares announced that he would sign a seven-year contract with The Leaves on July 1, 2018, it sent many Ontarians into a frenzy of frenzy. Much has been said about Tavares being a fan of Maple Leafs as a kid and for the franchise to add such a respected player to their already exciting young core, the thought was that it would only speed up the rebuilding process.
However, after four years, it can easily be said that this signature was a huge mistake and a hindrance to rebuilding the Leafs.
Tavares had come out of a season in which he scored 84 points in 82 matches, including 37 goals. He scored four seasons goal of over 30 seasons for Islanders by the time he reached Free Agency.
While he has been far from bad during his time with the Maple Leafs, scoring 274 points across 280 regular season games, hitting his salary cap means expectations are very high. It didn’t live up to its $11 million cost and is now on the wrong side of 30.
John Tavares’ play in the 2022 National Hockey League Playoffs
The series against Lightning was a perfect case study of Tavares’ struggles. He looked a step behind a lot of the streak and found it difficult to keep up with many of Tampa Bay’s fastest forwards. Although Tavares wasn’t bad — he scored on a point average per game almost, after all — he didn’t deliver nearly $11 million in value.
The Maple Leafs scored only 2.49 goals per 60 minutes with the Tavares on the ice in a 5-on-5 against the Lightning. This was the third worst mark for any skater, above Colin Blackwell and Ilya Lyubushkin. Part of the reason for this was that Tavares struggled to find shooting opportunities for himself, finishing with nine shots at 5-on-5.
It’s not fair to rule out that Tavares stepped up his playing during the last few games of the series, but even then, it was clear that his game lost a dynamic element. He’s still an elite at certain tasks, such as dominating board play and working with a low puck in the attack zone as the clip below shows, but his lack of footspeed prevents him from being an influential star at $11 million.
John Tavares dances and feeds Morgan Riley to connect the match! pic.twitter.com/fGeiVgTewP
– Hockey gambling podcast (HockeySGPN) May 11 2022
Is Tavares a realistic comparison to JT Miller?
Miller and Tavares share some similarities in their playing styles. Both are strong on the disc and have great shots that allow them to capture corners. They are not afraid to get into dirty areas of the ice and have a vision to find their teammates. Neither of them is a great skater although they are good enough to remain very effective.
Miller has scored 99 points in 80 games this season, a better mark than Tavares has ever achieved. However, Miller will be a few years older heading into his extended extension. While the results weren’t there, Canucks collected one of the best young cores in franchise history. Signing Miller to a long-term deal is a risky decision that could prevent the core from reaching its true potential, something the organization doesn’t take lightly.
“When you sign a player in their 30s, and you are put in a position where you have to sign for the long-term, what you have to weigh in that decision is how much that player will give you in the first three years compared to the last three,” said President Jim Rutherford. In an interview day Sportsnet 650 earlier this month. “You know at some point there will be a dip in player play. But did that give you so much more in the first three years than it makes up for the last three?”
Players love [Miller] It’s hard to find, it can put points, and it’s strong and physical, and things like that. But we’ll negotiate with his agent this off-season and we’ll negotiate in a way that works for the Canucks not just for the time being, but for the long-term, and if both sides can come to an agreement, JT Miller will. Be here for the long haul. If the numbers get out of hand, we have to make a unemotional decision and make a difficult decision that will not be popular with anyone, and try to acquire the assets that will help this franchise in the long run.”
Do you think the Canucks should sign Miller for a long-term extension? Do you see similarities between Miller and Tavares? Let us know in the comments section below.