Toronto signed John Tavares. Great center.
Tampa Bay is trying to trade for Erik Karlsson. He’s had an injury-prone recent past, but he’s twice been named the NHL’s top defensemen.
The credentials and talent of Tavares and Karlsson can’t be questioned.
But are the Maple Leafs and Lightning building teams? Or are they collecting hockey cards?
Tavares and Auston Matthews form a great 1-2 punch at center. But how will whoever is “2” cope with that? Tavares’ cap hit is $11m. Can Toronto afford to keep its young core, including Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander? Given that Tavares was always going to be available this past July 1, why did the Leafs use a $6.25m cap hit on Patrick Marleau, now 38, last summer? Who plays defense? Ron Hainsey, 37, is still in the top pair. Toronto is rotten on the blue line.
The Toronto media is too busy yelling “Go, Leafs, Go!” to take notice. But getting Tavares won’t put the Leafs over the top. Not in 2018-19.
Karlsson would help Toronto more. But he seems headed to Tampa, which already has defensemen Victor Hedman (this past season’s Norris Trophy winner) and Ryan McDonagh – who, at 29, just signed a seven-year extension that carries a $6.75m cap hit.
Who skates on Tampa’s bottom pair: Hedman, Karlsson or McDonagh?
Criticize Pittsburgh signing Jack Johnson if you like. But at least it seems a logical fit.
Tavares may help Toronto win its first Stanley Cup since 1967. Karlsson may help Tampa Bay shake the specter of recent underachievement.
But it seems each team has some finagling to do before that happens.