Maple Leafs captain John Tavares hasn't been better since leaving the NY Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Islanders
Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Five years ago, when New York Islanders captain John Tavares left Long Island for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, two things were certain in the minds of many. The Islanders were going to suffer a setback after losing the face of the franchise, and Tavares would put up bigger numbers when playing with a more offensively talented Leafs team.

Neither has happened.

Per a tweet (can we still call them that?) from Big Head Hockey, Tavares' first five seasons as a Maple Leafs are remarkably similar to his last five seasons with the Islanders. The 2009 1st overall pick has averaged the same 0.98 points per game, with his goals, assists, and shots per game almost identical. How's that for consistency? Also, it was Tavares that ended both teams long playoff series winning droughts with OT goals in Game 6 of the first round.

Yet, when you consider the game has opened up offensively in recent seasons, Tavares' stats with the Islanders are more impressive. The average goals-per-game across the league was 2.78 from 2013-14 to 2017-2018, while the average has jumped to 3.06 from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

Few players around the league were recognized as being more valuable to their team, making Tavares a Hart Finalist in 2013 and 2015. While with the Islanders, Tavares' excellence made careers for his line-mates as PA Parenteau, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo all earned multi-year contracts elsewhere after putting up strong offensive seasons alongside Tavares.

Meanwhile, Josh Bailey had a “meteoric” rise to quote former head coach Doug Weight, when he played with Tavares during the 2017-18 season. Bailey made the All-Star team and registered the only 70-point season of his career, leading to a six-year extension to remain with the team until his trade to Chicago and subsequent buyout last month.

Matt Moulson, John Tavares
Vancouver Canucks v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The expectations have been much higher in Toronto. His arrival came with the belief that the Maple Leafs, a team already with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, were ready to make multiple Stanley Cup runs. He scored a career-high 47 goals in his first season in Toronto but has been unable to replicate that 0.57 goals-per-game pace. In the last two full regular seasons, Tavares scored 27 goals in 78 games and 36 in 80 games played last season.

As the Leafs determine the future of their "core four," the perception is that his $11M AAV contract is holding the team back despite his nearly point-per-game numbers. For Toronto fans, Tavares is an overpaid second-line center. His contract isn't terrible in the same way some others are around the league, but the team's lack of playoff success has made the Toronto captain a target for criticism and left fans and pundits wondering if his signing doomed the Kyle Dubas era from succeeding.

The Islanders, of course, have gone further than the Maple Leafs since Tavares' departure, falling just short of the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons under Barry Trotz. If you thought that was going to happen, you're lying.

The Leafs have been the better regular season team by far and are a virtual lock to be in the post-season each year while the Islanders grind through a regular season in hopes of qualifying. Still, the amount of success the Islanders had in the years immediately following losing Tavares is just as surprising as the fact that his offensive numbers haven't surpassed what he put up on Long Island, and now at age 32, with two years remaining on his contract, it's less likely that they will.