Can John Tavares be Toronto’s first 50-goal scorer since Andreychuk?

John Tavares notched four more goals against Florida moving him into second-place in the NHL and putting the question in Leafs Nation’s minds: Can Tavares be a 50 goal scorer?

Good Company

Should Tavares find the back of the net five more times this season, he’ll join a small, elite list of Maple Leafs players.

First up is the three-time 50+goal scorer, Rick Vaive. The 20th best Maple Leaf, as ranked by the team last season, is the only three-time 50+ goal scorer in the team’s history. He did so from 1981-1984 with 54, 51, and 52 goals in that time period.

Next is Gary Leeman, the junior defenseman turned pro right-winger. He only reached the 50-goal mark once, 51 in ’89-’90, but etched himself in the annals of Maple Leafs history as the first since the great Rick Vaive.

Lastly, you have the great Dave Andreychuk, who is the most recent Maple Leafs to nab 50 goals. Andreychuk did so on two occasions, 54 in the ’92-’93 season, and 53 in ’93-’94. Pivotal in the early 90s’ playoff runs, Andreychuk is a shining example for Tavares to follow.

The Outlook

With just 6 games remaining in the season, Tavares will have a tough task getting those five goals that he’s gunning for. That being said, his opposition does show some weak points.

The two games to circle are the next two up: Philadelphia and Ottawa. Phili has a solid D-core, but they are very young and prone to valuing offense over defense. That leaves Tavares to contend with a revolving door of “just okay” (thank you Randy Carlisle) to contend with.

Ottawa is up and down. They showed in their shellacking of the Maple Leafs earlier this month that they can plan, but if Tavares is clicking like he was last night, there’s no reason he can’t pot against them, too.

Outside of those two games, the Leafs play the Islanders, Hurricanes, Lightning, and Habs. All of these teams are vying for playoff positioning (outside of the Lightning), and all will challenge the Leafs in their perspective playoff tune-ups.

Final Thoughts

Good thing Tavares has a propensity to score against any opponent, anyway! For me the perfect way this plays out is two against Phili, two against Ottawa, and his fiftieth against the Islanders.

It’ll be tough, but I have all the faith in the world that John Tavares will continue to raise his level of play and accomplish this feat.

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Ron Hainsey – The Hero Toronto Deserves

The Leafs had a points night as they welcomed the Florida Panthers to the Scotia Bank Center. While Tavares headlined the scoresheet, it was Ron Hainsey’s toughness that stole the show.

“Toronto needs an enforcer”

“Who’s going to stand up for the star players”

“This team needs to be more physical”

Hush yourselves, critics. Ron Hainsey is here and he’s had enough of people taking runs at Leaf players. Yup, the senior-most defender on the team walloped Florida’s Jayce Hawryluk, rag-dolling the high flying youngster after he took a run at Toronto’s four-goal man.

If that doesn’t get you amped up, I don’t know what will. Immediately, Hainsey came flying in to punish Hawryluk for a vicious (missed) elbow he tried to nail Tavares with.

It’s the kind of intensity you see from playoff hockey that gets all of up Leaf fans fired up and ready to go for the post season.

This team isn’t built to crush their opposition with physicality, but Hainsey has reminded the opposition that there are still players in Toronto that will punish you for taking runs at their superstars.

Oh, and he doesn’t care for your explanation…

Can we agree that resting Hainsey by giving him nights off is a bad idea now? Do we really think Marincin or Holl would come in there to set the tone in his absence? No and No. Move him down the lineup, manage his minutes, and make sure this leader remains with the team as we hurdle towards to playoffs.

Does Toronto even need a captain? Going over the Leafs options for the “C”

Does Toronto’s recent inconsistent play show the need for a captain? Many Leaf fans across social media seem to think so. The real question is: who should be the next Leaf captain?

Two Horse Race?

Auston Matthews

He’s the drafted center stud the Maple Leafs has been missing since Mats Sundin left the team more than a decade ago. Auston Matthews is Homegrown, an offensive wonder , and one of the most dynamic goal scorers in the NHL.

It seems like the perfect fit for Matthews to step up and be the Leafs captain, right? The groundwork has been laid for the franchise draftee to take up the “C” after the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Connor McDavid.

He’s locked down for five years now but is this a negative factor counting against him? Regardless of his contract, Matthews has the self-belief to be a leader on the ice and would make for a fine candidate to captain the Toronto Maple Leafs.

John Tavares

The seven-year man, the prodigal son, or the snake (depending on your perspective). John Tavares is all of these things and is ripe to add another, captain of his boyhood team.

He has the pedigree after captaining his drafting team, the New York Islanders, for five seasons. Tavares dropped that team and with it his captain status which begs the question, was Tavares offered the eventual captaincy when Dubas pitched him Toronto?

He has endeared himself to Toronto fans by choosing their team over a host of others, but his play has made Leafs Nation Tavares fanatics. His chemistry with Mitch Marner doesn’t hurt either!

NEXT PAGE: Options not named Matthews or Tavares

#TavaresDayTO may have been a gimmick, but it has righted the hockey universe

I was the first one to jump on board of the Twitter trend, but after further review, I was skeptical of a possible cheap, reactive gimmick that belittles Tavares’ signing in Toronto. After seeing the Maple Leaf community formally re-welcome Tavares, I was wrong to second guess myself.

Nothing galvanizes a fanbase quite like getting your ass handed to you, right? Tavares’ return to the New York Islanders Nassau Coliseum was spoiled by confused, wayward, fair-weather, fickle fans. But moreso, Tavares’ return was spoiled by his teams performance.

6-1, oof.

Trying to move past the letdown, Toronto and Tavares returned to the Scotia Bank Arena to host the Buffalo Sabres. The team altered the lineup announcement after the viral spreading of #TavaresDayTO to rightfully give him the isolated applause he deserved after that night in Long Island.


Goosebumps, right? Tavares too. It’s something both sides initially took for granted; Tavares knew that Leaf fans wanted him to come home, and Leaf fans knew Tavares wanted to play for his hometown team. But, sometimes you need to express those internal, known truths.

It seems corny and more like a Disney plot than an NHL hockey storyline. Whatever it was, the overwhelming goodwill that was produced by this manufactured movement outweighed the negative. It corrected the balance of the hockey universe.

Toronto would go on to beat Buffalo 5-2 with Tavares scoring the opening goal of the game. The Leafs were 1-0 post Islanders catastrophy.

That, however, is not the balance I’m talking about. The Islanders are 0-2, getting outscored 7-2 in that two-game span. The blue and orange are currently tripping over themselves, blowing up a chance to beat divisional rival Washington, and blowing a rebound game against lowly, ten-man Philadelphia.

It’s not much, but it’s enough to show me the hockey gods are real and they are paying attention.

Hopefully, the loss to the Islanders can be a galvanizing point in the season for the Leafs as a team and us as their fan base. The mirrored signs to the New York signs that Leaf fans waived on Saturday night had it right, We don’t need you, John. We want you.

Garret Sparks, it’s Not Your Fault; Leafs Lose Big in Defensive Catastrophy

The Maple Leafs were (maybe predictably) slaughtered at Nassau Coliseum after Islanders fans embarrass themselves about John Tavares’s return. Nothing is fair and just, and the hockey Gods don’t exist. Oh, and Sparks wasn’t to blame.

Recap

Islanders 6 Maple Leafs 1. Pretty telling of the performance by the Buds and also that there is no justice in the hockey world. Islanders fans kept true to their idiotic word, chanting: “we don’t need you”, and “asshole” among other creative jibes while throwing jerseys and rubber snakes on the ice.

Just as a reminder, Tavares left in free agency after playing nine seasons for the New York Islanders. What a dick, right?

Anyways, it wasn’t terrible from the start as Zach Hyman got the scoring started. Hainsey’s point shot was deflected by Marner to Hyman who was able to bounce it in over Robin Lehner for the opener. Other than a disallowed second from Hyman, the Leafs offense ended there.

They still forced Lehner to make 34 saves in the game, but the intensity of the fans was matched by a tenacious Islanders team who were motivated to repay the Long Island faithful with a marquee performance. And they did.

Diving in on a shaky Garret Sparks

What would follow Hyman’s opener was six unanswered goals. Many are pointing the finger at backup goalie Garret Sparks but is that fair? Here’s my assessment of each goal and who was to blame for it:

1st goal: Anthony Beauvillier – 3 on 1 break, Sparks hung out to dry by Muzzin who decided to make a hit instead of keeping the puck in or, ya know, playing defense.
2nd goal: Anders Lee – Rielly gambles on center ice hit that he doesn’t land, Johnsson and Hainsey don’t communicate, leaving Lee opened in front for a half-empty net. Sparks not to blame either.
3rd goal: Casey Cizikas – Bad miss on a simple pass to Muzzin, soft on the stick by Ennis, but you need your goalie to make the simple stick down save there. Not entirely his fault, but it’s a savable shot.
4th goal: Valtteri Filppula – It’s a save that Andersen usually makes, but Marincin and Holl make an absolute mess out of this. Holl rushes to cover the Filppula in front, Marincin also does, Ladd is able to rush the net and shoot, both players lose Filppula and he ends up scoring. Sparks rebound control wasn’t great here but had zero help in front.
5th goal: Nick Leddy – Weird tip in front. No one really to blame on this one, this shot misses the net 9/10.
6th goal: Brock Nelson – Sparks easily abandons the top of the net on a post play which allows Nelson to score it. Again, Andersen makes this save but Marincin makes an idiotic pinch, then just chooses not to cover his man and goes back post where Rielly already is.

Upon further review…

From my initial watching, I was glaringly mad at Sparks. It was another start, another shaky performance, and I was ready to point the finger. Looking back on it, however, this game plays out very differently if Jake Muzzin plays better and Martin Marincin is nowhere near the team.

It’s a shame that Babcock didn’t deviate from his plan of playing Andersen the first game in every back-to-back for this one game. That being said, the players on the ice let Tavares down, as well as their backup goalie.

The Sparks criticism is certainly warranted, but only for maybe 3 of the 6 goals against. He wasn’t outstanding as we all really expected, but take your own look back on the goals, Sparks gets hung out to dry – a lot.

Overall…

It’s a shame for Tavares, but this game clearly meant more to the opposition than it did to his Leafs. Toronto isn’t playing playoff games in February, but the Islanders are. This was their Stanley Cup. Congratulations, I guess.

It’s two points a month before the playoffs start, so it’s important, but there isn’t much you can draw from this game other than it being a one-off. The Leafs were outplayed but judging by recent form and results, this game isn’t a barometer of games to come.

Islanders Fans Determined to Prove how Stupid a Fan Base can be in Tavares’ Returns

The comically awkward hate videos and plans to throw batteries are what the New York Islander fans have planned for the return of Tavares. The determination to be bitter discounts their stellar season and proves how stupid a fan base can be.

Yes, he was supposed to lead the New York Islanders out of obscurity and back to their former glory. Yes, he said he wanted to be in Long Island for the long haul. Yes, he is a team legend and still chose to left.

All of these things are true, but no one seems to put any of the onus on the Islanders’ front office for edging out Tavares for years.

What superstar wants to play in a small market for the entirety of their career? Or,what player wants to massively commute to each game that is inexplicably being played in a building designed for basketball? What player wants to be a part of a team that had years to resolve these issues but instead procrastinated on them and handed him a 5+ year plan to get back out to Long Island?

No player would want to endure all of that, especially not a player of the ilk of John Tavares. The stars aligned and Tavares’ dip into free agency coincided with the Leaf’s having enough cap space to fulfill his lifelong hockey dream. The story should have ended there, but bitter fans have decided to blow it out of proportion.

Sorry, Islanders’ fans but free agency allows for players like Tavares to get out from an unending pit of doom, like Long Island/the Barclay’s Center, and get a crack at playing in a real hockey market.

Stay Classy!

In response to Tavares decision to play out his contract and give the first have of his prime career years to a do-nothing-franchise like their own, Islanders’ fans have prepared a cringe inducing fan video:

Told ya. Cringe.

Anyways, if the embarrassing video wasn’t enough, apparently there is a plan in place to throw batteries at Tavares as well? I doubt enough people have the guts to pull this one off, but the threat is enough to prove how stupid Islanders fans are.

The message in the “Dear John” video is straight forward; we don’t need you anymore. But, why keep bringing it up then? Leafs fans couldn’t care less if it’s an away game at New York, and it’s all on the Islanders fans amping up the emotion in this game.

The best revenge is living well, and the Islanders are actually doing that. They’ll make the playoffs with a young, exciting team, and are playing back at Nassau Coliseum. What need is there to hold anything against Tavares?

Record night coming?

Tavares is two goals off of his personal best, 38, as he prepares to return to the Island. No one in the world is more confident in his own abilities than Tavares. Extra emotion and stress fuels the elite and Tavares is no exception. I’d be willing to put money on the line that he gets on the score sheet tonight… at least once.

Yes, Islanders’ fans, you don’t need Tavares. We get it. We got it before you made the Napoleon Dynamite-esque video! But, instead of moving on with class, you decided to make this an issue. Well, more motivated than ever Tavares doesn’t need you either, and is looking to prove it tonight.

The pure stupidity and jealous ex mentality Islanders’ fans are currently emitting is discounting their team’s break out year. I guess expecting class out of Long Island is too big of an ask.

Leafs Forced to use Three Second-Stringers in John Tavares’ Return to Long Island

Jake Gardiner – Out, Travis Dermott – Out, Frederick Andersen – resting. Thing’s are a little lean on the back end for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they visit Tavares’ old home in Long Island.

New Third Pair

Ahead of the second game in the back-to-back the Leafs are shuffling their defensive lines a little more and mixing in players as much as they can it would seem. Martin Marincin has been called up to pair with Justin Holl as the bottom two for the Leafs defense.

It’s an interesting move for Mike Babcock, to not pair each new player off with a veteran, but rather pair them together. I understand, however, the desire to keep your greenest defenders on a pair that you can minute-manage for the entirety of the game.

The Gardiner injury saw Igor Ozhiganov return to the lineup after a months absence and he played well. Ozhiganov finished with an empty stat line and 15:08 if ice time. While underwhelming, it’s a positive; Igor showed he can seamlessly return to the team and put in a solid effort.

Justin Holl

Ozhiganov did well, but there is no need to rush him into what looks to be a high intensity back-to-back. Justin Holl, the Leafs OTHER extra defenseman will get the right-side duties tonight on the bottom pairing.

Holl impressed last season after getting called up and scoring in back-to-back games from the blue line. He impressed in those two games with the two goals and, more importantly, his +5 rating in that stretch.

There is a possible problem with injecting Holl into the lineup tonight. That issue is rust. Holl has played in just 2 NHL games this season and due to having waivers attached to him, has had no AHL games to keep him in game shape.

I would have liked to have seen Holl in the first game against Edmonton in Gardiner’s absence but that’s only due to the hindsight gained after the Dermott injury. Holl will have a tired team in front of him but no doubt they’ll be motivated for JT.

Martin Marincin

I’m seriously impressed that Martin Marincin is still a Maple Leaf right now. He played a big part in the Leafs’ playoff defensive woes last season and offers little to nothing from the back. This begs the question: why is Marincin getting the call up?

Let’s be honest here, Marincin is in because Calle Rosen is injured.

The Leafs did have Marincin on the roster earlier this season. Once Ennis returned from injury, however, there was no roster space available for him and he was waived. Despite my crossed fingers, Marincin (and his gaudy $700,000 contract) wasn’t claimed by anyone and he’s been in the AHL since.

In his 10 games with the Leafs this season, Marincin has chipped in 2 assists with a -1 rating. In his 8 AHL games, he has 1 goal and 3 assists for a 0+/-.

Scheduled Sparks gets the Start

As is tradition this season, Garret Sparks gets the start for the Leafs second game in the back-to-back. It’s good for Sparks to get into a game that will have a playoff-like intensity, providing him meaningful NHL hockey experience while still in the regular season.

There is little to no pressure on Sparks, whose job is basically to take whatever the opposition throws at him. He’s tasked with playing and knowing there is little to no chance of Frederick Andersen coming off the bench to relieve him.

Sparks hasn’t looked the most steady in net this season, but his stats show he’s doing a fine job as a backup. Throughout his 13 games played this season, Sparks is 7-3 with a .908% save percentage and GAA of 2.86.

He’s improved on his numbers in 15/16 when he first came up which is terrific. The next step in Sparks’ development is to learn how to stay more composed in net, which he can absorb from Andersen’s style of play.

It’ll be a tough game, regardless of Toronto’s bottom pairing and backup goaltender getting the start. Hopefully, the added pressure on the Leafs to come together for Tavares can inspire a solid performance.