John Tavares to the Leafs is the single greatest off-ice victory in a long time for the franchise, rivalled only by the 2016 Draft Lottery. Former front office executives didn’t exactly leave the bar that high, considering one of their ‘big free agent signings’ was David Clarkson.
But Tavares is here, and the Walt Disney element of the whole process is easy to notice. Hometown kid turned NHL star forgoes making more money to go on a journey to win a Stanley Cup with his childhood team. Which brings me to the focus of this here piece.
I found myself marathoning the High School Musical trilogy a few days ago. If you haven’t seen any of them, it’s a story focused around two students Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens). By the end of the trilogy, Troy learns that he is in charge of his own life and can indulge in multiple loves and not just one (that being basketball and singing). Pretty simple, right?
As with many Disney movies, there’s teen romance and spontaneous singing that turns into massive dance numbers which no one who isn’t involved seems to mind or notice.
Something that caught my attention during my umpteenth viewing of the movies were the connections to the Leafs. I know that falls into the stereotype of the fan base, but hear me out for a second.
The entire ‘Tavares to the Leafs’ storyline has been characterized by certain words/themes. Painful choices, internal struggle, loss, reuniting, opportunity, and new beginnings stand out the most. A lot of the songs in High School Musical hilariously mirror some of those themes and events we’ve been paying so much attention to in the last week.
“When There Was Me and You” - Gabriella Montez (Tavares)
The New York Islanders didn’t do themselves any favours by not making the playoffs in the 2017-18 season or trying to make a deal ahead of the deadline to bump the team up a few spots. Whatever your opinions were on the Brandon Davidson and Jason Chimera trades, it wasn’t enough to get them into the post-season.
For Tavares, it would be the sixth time in nine seasons that his year ended in April. Did that factor into his decision? Most definitely. The Islanders have their budding stars in Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee, but the path to greatness was clouded by a lack of organization direction both on and off the ice.
And so we have the first song of our Tavares HSM soundtrack, where our hero contemplates where he is and where he wants to be.
It’s funny when you find yourself looking from the outside. I’m standing here but all I want, is to be over there... But everybody else could tell, that I confused my feelings with the truth.
The Islanders most likely sold Tavares on their plans, but actions speak better than words. He may have been sold the same ideas from previous management with no changes by the season’s end.
“Start of Something New” - Troy (Dubas) and Gabriella (Tavares)
The Leafs were the first team to get a meeting with Tavares at the CAA offices in Los Angeles. The mission: to sell the 2009 first-overall pick on the opportunity to come home and play for his childhood team.
Based on the outcome, we can assume that the meeting was a hit.
Here we have a duet between Dubas and Tavares selling him on what it would be like playing for the team, the plans moving forward, and preferred line up combinations, in particular, Mitch Marner.
*Leafs meeting with Tavares*— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) June 28, 2018
Shanahan: We'd like to call Christian Dvorak to the stand
Dubas: Christian, how many goals did you score during the last year you played with Marner?
Dvorak (sobbing uncontrollably): 73
Dubas: In how many games?
Tavares: Omg pic.twitter.com/byPQEB4Y8W
Troy (Dubas): Living in my own world, didn’t understand, that anything can happen, when you take a chance.
Gabriella (Tavares): I never believed in what I couldn’t see, I never opened my heart to all the possibilities.
Both: This could be the start of something new
“Scream” - Troy (Tavares)
Now we get to the internal struggle portion of the story. The choice had boiled down between the Leafs and the Islanders, leaving the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, and Boston Bruins to look elsewhere.
However, narrowing it down to two teams didn’t make the decision any easier. Does Tavares stay to what he’s familiar with and - as the old NHL cliché goes - finish what he started in Long Island/Brooklyn/Belmont Park?
The pros and cons weigh out differently, depending on what he chooses to do. He also probably had opinions from his agent Pat Brisson, members of his family, past teammates, close friends, you name it. But in the musical world, when you find yourself in times of trouble, you sing.
The day the door is closed, the echoes fill your soul. They won’t say which way to go, just trust your heart. To find what you’re here for, open another door. I’m not sure anymore, just so hard... I don’t know where to go, what’s the right team. I want my own thing, so bad I’m gonna scream!
“Gotta Go My Own Way” - Gabriella (Tavares) and Troy (Lou)
It’s Sunday morning on July 1st and Tavares has already decided to join the Leafs.
John Tavares said his choice came down to #Leafs and Islanders. Decided late afternoon on Saturday it would be Toronto. Let Kyle Dubas know last night, and the rest is history.— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) July 1, 2018
The Islanders tried to get their superstar to re-sign, but the era was now over. Tavares letting them know must’ve been hard and scary at the same time. Hard, because it was the team who drafted him and allowed him to build his pedigree in the NHL. Scary, because one does not simply tell Lou Lamoriello, “No.”
Out of all the songs in High School Musical, this one fits the storyline perfectly. Party A sending off an emotional goodbye to Party B.
Gabriella (Tavares): I’ve got to move on and be who I am. I just don’t belong here I hope you understand. We might find our place in this world someday. But at least for now, I gotta go my own way.
Troy (Lou): What about us? What about everything we’ve been through?
Okay the above-mentioned lyric may not match too well, seeing as how Lou was part of the organization for a little over five weeks. But there are still members of the franchise who were being left behind in this move.
“The Boys Are Back” - Troy (Kadri) and Chad (Tavares)
Social media erupted when the news was made official. John Tavares was a Maple Leaf, and the dream became a reality.
OMG WE DID IT. TAVARES IS A LEAF!!! pic.twitter.com/E3AbwW24Kq— Omar White (@OLW93) July 1, 2018
Some current players on the team took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the signing as well.
The tweet from Kadri stood out the most to me. The two found themselves on the same London Knights team back in 2009 after a massive trade that saw Tavares, Michael del Zotto, and Daryl Borden take on the Knights mantle while the Oshawa Generals received Scott Valentine, Michael Zador, four second-round picks and two third-round picks (OHL deals are nuts).
Kadri and Tavares led the Knights to a first-seeded finish in the OHL, but they unfortunately fell short in the Conference Finals of the playoffs that season.
Teammates again, the two are going to look to recreate the magic they had in London that season.
Troy (Kadri): Take it back to the place where you know it all began
Chad (Tavares): We could be anything we wanna be
Troy (Kadri): You can tell by the noise that the boys are back again
Chad (Tavares): Together making history
“We’re All in This Together” - Cast (Mike Babcock)
It’s the grand finale and Mike Babcock has the floor. To say the team he had when he first got here is different from the one he has now is an understatement. Each year better players (pl’yrs) have entered Babs’ roster and he’s had the pleasure of deciding where they slot in.
Tavares is the cream of the crop.
If you want to have some fun, pay attention to how hard Babs tries not to smile and scream, “WE GOT HIM BOYS!”
Drafting and developing has gotten the Leafs to the point where free agents see a true future here, and one that can lead to winning. If anyone is starting the hidden parade, it’s definitely Babs.
Here and now, it’s time for celebration, I finally figured out, that all our dreams have no limitations. That’s what it’s all about. Everyone is special in their own way, we make each other strong. We’re not the same, we’re different in a good way. Together’s where we belong.
Maybe I’m crazy and have visions of a 91 jersey clouding my judgement. If so, then that’s okay. Most Disney musicals have their happy ending, and there’s no telling if the Leafs got theirs with Tavares choosing to come home.