That's right. I said it. The Maple Leafs don't need John Tavares. That's not to say that John Tavares wouldn't be a wonderful Leaf, and it's not to say that if the Leafs end up with the first draft pick that John Tavares would be a bad selection, but tanking for Tavares is probably a little drastic.
John Tavares is an amazing goal scorer. Scoring goals wins games, so that's got to be the cure for the Leafs woes. Without Sundin the Leafs don't have any big goal scorers. Well, that's conjecture, here are some facts. On the offensive side of the puck, the Leafs have the NHL's 10th ranked power play (20.4%), ahead of Pittsburgh (17.5%), Montreal (14.1%), and Vancouver (17.2%). The Leafs are 8th in the league in goals for, with 116, only 4GF behind Pittsburgh.
The Leafs troubles aren't offensive in nature, the Leafs have defensive and goaltending problems. Think about Atlanta and Tampa. They've been stacked with snipers for years, and have been as bad as ever post lockout which levelled the salary playing field to allow them to compete.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are 29th in goals against, with 137 allowed. The Atlanta Thrashers have allowed 139. The Toronto Maple Leafs are 28th in penalty kill success, ahead of Atlanta and Edmonton.
Here's the December ISS top 30:
1. Victor Hedman, LD 12/18/1990 L 6.06 220 Modo SweE
2. John Tavares, C 9/20/1990 L 6.00 200 Oshawa OHL
3. Matt Duchene, C 1/16/1991 L 5.11 196 Brampton OHL
4. Jared Cowen, LD 1/25/1991 L 6.04.7 218 Spokane WHL
5. Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, LW 4/12/1991 L 6.01 198 Timra SweE
6. Jordan Schroeder, RW 9/29/1990 R 5.08.2 175 Minnesota WCHA
7. Evander Kane, C 8/2/1991 L 6.01 180 Vancouver WHL
8. Nazem Kadri, C 10/6/1990 L 5.11.5 180 London OHL
9. Richard Panik, C 2/7/1991 L 6.01 202 Trinec CzeJr
10. Brayden Schenn, C 8/22/1991 L 6.00 193 Brandon WHL
11. Drew Shore, C 1/29/1991 R 6.02 190 USA Under-18 NTDP
12. Jeremy Morin, C 4/16/1991 R 6.00.5 189 USA Under-18 NTDP
13. Dmitri Kulikov, LD 10/29/1990 L 6.00 190 Drummondville QMJHL
14. Zack Kassian, RW 1/24/1991 R 6.02.5 212 Peterborough OHL
15. Simon Despres, LD 7/27/1991 L 6.03.5 214 Saint John QMJHL
16. Ryan Ellis, RD 1/3/1991 R 5.09.2 183 Windsor OHL
17. Jacob Josefson, C 3/2/1991 L 6.00 187 Djurgarden SweE
18. Stefan Elliott, LD 1/30/1991 R 6.00.2 185 Saskatoon WHL
19. Scott Glennie, C 2/22/1991 R 6.01 180 Brandon WHL
20. Peter Holland, C 1/14/1991 L 6.01.5 188 Guelph OHL
21. Landon Ferraro, RW 8/8/1991 R 5.11 169 Red Deer WHL
22. Tommi Kivisto, RD 6/7/1991 L 6.00.5 198 Red Deer WHL
23. Louis Leblanc, C 1/26/1991 R 6.00 178 Omaha USHL
24. Taylor Doherty, RD 3/2/1991 R 6.06.5 217 Kingston OHL
25. Ethan Werek, C 6/7/1991 L 6.00.5 191 Kingston OHL
26. John Moore, LD 11/19/1990 L 6.02 189 Chicago USHL
27. Carl Klingberg, LW 1/28/1991 R 6.03 205 V. Frolunda SweJE
28. Joonas Nattinen, C 1/3/1991 R 6.02 176 Espoo FinJrA
29. Anton Lander, LW 4/24/1991 L 6.00 187 Timra SweE
30. Erik Haula, LW 3/23/1991 L 5.11 170 Shattuck-St. MN-HS
The Leafs need a stud goaltender and to shore up their defense. There aren't any first round goalies in the ISS rankings so it's probably best the Leafs concentrate on defense. One of very few undrafted players on the Canadian WJHC team this year is defenseman Ryan Ellis, who's sitting at sixteenth in the ISS rankings, most likely due to his age. Assuming Ellis actually goes 16th, it's not unreasonable to think that Toronto could acquire a first round pick in that neighborhood by moving Kaberle or Kubina on draft day when they won't have their NTCs. Depending on team's needs, Jared Cowen (ranked 4th) could still be around when the Leafs draft between 5-8 in all likelihood.
On the management side, Brian Burke knows how to make a blockbuster draft day deal, and Cliff Fletcher is still ready to swindle other GMs. If Toronto moves one of their big two blueliners and manages to draft Cowen and Ellis in the first round, will that not have been a good performance on draft day? Consider Anaheim's cup run, steadied by Pronger and Niedermayer. Consider Toronto with two really good defensemen who are ready to go at 19 and contribute while still on entry level contracts.
This is a lot of speculation and conjecture, but the point is that the Maple Leafs don't need to tank to rebuild. John Tavares might score goals, but the Leafs have more pressing issues. I hope Tavares enjoys his years on Long Island.