The Toronto Maple Leafs have landed the big fish in free agency.
John Tavares announced on Sunday that he is leaving the New York Islanders after nine seasons to sign with the Maple Leafs. The contract is a seven-year deal (the maximum length he can sign as a free agent) that will pay him $11 million per season.
Tavares announced his decision in a two-part message on Twitter, addressing both the Islanders organization and the Islanders fanbase.
While this is a devastating loss for the Islanders, it is a massive addition for the Maple Leafs and should make them one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. Tavares is one of the top offensive players in hockey and is joining a young team that is already loaded with talent. Between Tavares and Auston Matthews the Maple Leafs are going to have one of the best 1-2 duos in the league.
Now the hard work begins for the Maple Leafs front office. In the short-term (meaning this season) the Maple Leafs have plenty of salary cap room to add Tavares without much of an issue, even with the restricted free agent status of young star forward William Nylander. But Nylander, Matthews, and Mitch Marner are all going to need new contract extensions over the next year. They will all be costly. Along with that they still have to work to do to improve the defense.
Even with all of that, there is almost no downside to this for the Maple Leafs.
It is not very often that you have a chance to add a franchise, top-line player without having to give up anything in return. Players like this do not usually end up hitting the open market. When that chance presents itself you have to take it and worry about everything else later.