No Decline: John Tavares Numbers Are a Little Un-Lucky, but Surprisingly Strong

May 2, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (91) pursues the play
May 2, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (91) pursues the play / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans are pretty disillusioned right now.

It's been eight years since the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews and this year, the team seemed to go backwards. They had the worst season and playoffs that they've had in years.

A lot of this blame is going to the players, especially the Core Four. This is understandable, but also really silly and emotional.

One player who who takes a lot of heat is John Tavares. He is the captain, and he just finished his sixth season with the Leafs.

I think people would be surprised to know what a strong season he had.

No Decline: The Surprisingly Strong Numbers of the Leafs Captain, John Tavares

John Tavares is 33 years-old, so a decline would be expected. The only thing is: he was really unlucky this past season, which plays into the narrative that he's declining, but in fact, he is as good as ever.

Tavares scored 29 goals this past season. That's tied for the 7th highest total of his 15 year career. His 65 points were a career low as far as points-per-game go, but there is an explanation for this.

In 2018-19 Tavares had 88 points and it was his best season. That season though, at 5v5, his individual shooting percentage was 17% and this year it was 9%.

Tavares's on-ice shooting percentage (how the Leafs shot with him on the ice) was 11% during his best year, 8% this year.

And yet, this past season Tavares' had a higher individual xGoals and higher individual high-danger attempts per 60 than he had in his best year.

Tavares on-ice stats 2018-19 vs 2023-24: Corsi: 53% vs 52%. Shots-for% 51% vs 52% High-Danger Chances: 56% vs 56% xGoals 53% vs 54%. (numbers

The Leafs did get better on-ice results (59% vs 55%) in 2018-19 but I think it's pretty clear that the difference was mostly in shooting percentage.

Here is Tavares' final xGoals Percentage by years since he's been with the Leafs: 53%, 52%, 56%, 54%, 54%, 55%.

Not only is that remarkably consistent, but there hasn't been any drop off.

Tavares vs Crosby

Sidney Crosby, whom I am pretty sure will get some Hart votes this year, had the following numbers: Corsi-For 55% , Shots-For 54%, High-Danger Chances 56%, Goals-For 51%, xGoals 55%. He was rated a +17 on his Athletic Player Card.

Tavares, who supposedly had a horrible season and should be shot into space, had the following numbers: Corsi-For 52%, Shots-For 52%, High-Danger Chances 56%, Goals-For 55%, xGoals 55%. His Athletic Player Card rated him a +14. (The same as William Nylander, actually).

The Leafs had better results with Tavares on the ice than Pittsburgh did with Crosby on the ice. Their expected goals were even, but Crosby started over 63% of his shifts in the o-zone and Tavares just 53%

At the end of the day, Crosby had 95 points and Tavares had 64. Usage, power-play, and shooting-percentage doesn't explain this difference away completely, but I think that looking at each players' numbers does show that they are a lot closer than perception would seem to indicate.

In the playoffs, Tavares was hard-matched against David Pastrnak and mostly shut him down.

Despite how demonstrably unlucky he was, Tavares finished 30th in on-ice goals-for percentage among 70 centres who played 1000 5v5 minutes. He finished 16th by expected-goals percentage.


At the very least, Tavares has barely declined. At the very least, he's still an ELITE second-line centre. Somehow, he has become incredibly underrated and underappreciated. The fact that he's still this good after year six of his deal is pretty incredible. He's 33, but since he has always been a fairly slow player, it barely seems to matter.