John Tavares Finds a New Home in the Toronto Maple Leafs Lineup

Toronto Maple Leafs v Arizona Coyotes
Toronto Maple Leafs v Arizona Coyotes / Zac BonDurant/GettyImages

Toronto Maple Leafs fans were enjoying their team’s unexpected 7-game win streak until it was ended by Vegas Tuesday night. Much of the talk surrounding this stretch has been around the team coming together to cover for the absence of top defenceman Morgan Reilly.

It seems a long time ago now that Reilly took out his anger on the Ottawa Senators' Ridly Greig with a crosscheck to the head, earning himself a 5-game suspension in the process.  Things looked bleak at the time for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Apparently, the answer to overcoming that adversity was simplifying the game.  Getting the puck safely out of the defensive zone.  Forechecking hard.  Avoiding costly mistakes.  It’s amazing how some teams lose sight of these principles, and are then surprised upon returning to the basics to see how effective that style of play can be.

Of course, there were other contributing factors to this recent run of good fortune.  The emergence of 27-year-old rookie Bobby McMann as a source of secondary scoring.  The return to form of goalie Ilya Samsonov.  A fourth line that is actually playable.

But one noticeable change that hasn’t really garnered a lot of commentary was the movement down the lineup of captain John Tavares.

Toronto Maple Leafs Drop John Tavares To Third Line

Tavares, 33, is in the second last season of the 7-year, $11M/yr contract he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018 (per  Most would agree he has provided value for those numbers, but we’re starting to see the inevitable age-related decline this year, as he has fallen behind his career point-per-game pace (43 points in 55 games).

Head Coach Sheldon Keefe has moved Tavares to the third line, centering McMann and Nick Robertson, and Tavares has looked pretty good (the Vegas loss notwithstanding).  Easier matchups are always welcome for a skilled veteran who has maybe lost a step.

In a similar vein, Tyler Bertuzzi has taken Tavares’ spot on the first powerplay, and has been productive in front of the net.  This bigger role for Bertuzzi seems to have boosted his 5-on-5 play as well. He's broken out of a 19 game goal-scoring drought with 5 tallies in his last 6 games.

Max Domi may or may not continue to centre Bertuzzi and William Nylander on the Toronto Maple Leafs second line, but so far, the returns have been positive.  Or they were prior to last night.

Many critics have been calling all year for Keefe to spread out the “Core 4” over three lines instead of two, especially in light of the team’s lack of scoring outside of those four players.  However, that ignores the difficulty of seemingly demoting one of your star players.

Apparently, the team’s needs have finally trumped the feelings of the players, and Tavares is the odd man out.  To his credit, he appears to be accepting the move stoically and not complaining, as a good captain should. Mentoring younger players can still add a lot of value, and a bit less ice time can lead to more energetic shifts.


Perhaps he realizes that what’s good for the Toronto Maple Leafs maximizes his chances of winning a Stanley Cup.  When you’re 33 and don’t yet have a ring, you do what’s necessary to make the best of your final seasons.