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31 in 31

Inside look at Toronto Maple Leafs

Tavares signing raises hopes of winning Stanley Cup for first time in 52 years

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It has been 51 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.

It took 51 days this offseason for the long-suffering fan base to finally believe a plan is in place to end that excruciatingly long drought

 

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"From the players to the fans to the organization, there is a lot to be excited about," 22-year-old forward William Nylander said. "The future is bright."

The optimism first sprouted when Kyle Dubas, 32, was named general manager May 11, replacing Lou Lamoriello. Dubas, who was promoted from assistant GM, is considered one of the brightest young minds in the game and was instrumental in developing the cache of prospects with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, who won the Calder Cup on June 15.

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It then bloomed when center John Tavares, the biggest name on the free agent market, signed a seven-year, $77 million contract July 1, 51 days after Dubas was promoted.

How did Dubas celebrate?

"I sat in the office with our staff, thinking of ways to make our team better," he said. "Then I went home and went to bed. We're still a long way from where we want to get to."

That may be, but the addition of Tavares, who turns 28 on Sept. 20, was a significant step in the right direction and made Toronto one of the deepest teams at center in the NHL. That group includes Tavares, who had 84 points (37 goals, 47 assists) last season with the New York Islanders; Auston Matthews, who turns 21 on Sept. 17, who had 63 points (34 goals, 29 assists); and Nazem Kadri, who turns 28 on Oct. 6, who had 55 points (32 goals, 23 assists).

But Tavares, who grew up a Maple Leafs fan in nearby Mississauga, Ontario, said this wasn't simply a case of wanting to come home.

"It was Kyle," Tavares said. "I mean, it was amazing how he kind of carried himself and delivered his message and vision on why I would be a good fit here as a hockey player.

Video: John Tavares is named No. 10 on the list

"It really took the right opportunity. I thought the timing couldn't be beat. And certainly being from here, with where this team is at and how good and young their core is, seeing how the Marlies did and what the future holds, it was just hard to turn down the opportunity. 

"It's one of the premier organizations, not just in hockey, but in sports."

Tavares will be counted on to help the Maple Leafs win their first Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004. They finished 49-26-7 and set their record for points in a season in 2017-18 (105) . Their 270 goals were tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for third in the NHL and 230 goals-against ranked 12th. Goaltender Frederik Andersen, who turns 29 on Oct. 2, set a single-season Maple Leafs record for wins with 38.

But Toronto was eliminated in seven games by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

"The goal has to be to get past the second round, at minimum," Nylander said. 

Nylander, a restricted free agent who had 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) last season, remains unsigned. Matthews and center Mitchell Marner, 21, who had 69 points (22 goals, 47 assists), each could become an RFA after this season. Negotiations are ongoing with each of them.

Dubas does not agree with critics who question Toronto's defense. Morgan Rielly, 24, and Jake Gardiner, 28, each had an NHL career high in points last season with 52. In his relatively short time on the job, he also does not seem concerned with the weight of the franchise's history. He seems more intent on watching these Maple Leafs make their own.

"It's exciting for us," Dubas said. "You always go up and down in terms of the process. It's a matter of, are you in, or are you out?"

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