Very interesting reporting from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail has revealed that the Leafs are up to some trickery – or at least up to something other than underachieving. A very unique set of circumstances surrounding the OHL's top goal scoring talent have prompted the Leafs to offer John Tavares an equally unique employment opportunity.
Much has been made about Tavares domination in the OHL and his failure to receive an exception for the next NHL draft – for which he is 5 days too young for eligibility. Tragic as it may be given the success of young talents like Toews, Kane, Cogliano, Gagner, and Price in the equally young season, the NHL has chosen to remain stringent on its draft eligibility policy.
Rather than play another season in the OHL, Tavares and his agent have some decisions to make. They have shopped around for interest in Europe, and now are considering an offer which would see Tavares opt out of the draft and play for the AHL's Toronto Marlies.
The 18yo age restriction holds in the AHL as it does in the NHL, making Tavares ineligible to play in either league until 2009-'10. The Marlies deal offers the comfort of familiarity and the opportunity to play very close to home. Aside from the geographical benefits, the prospect of joining the Maple Leafs as soon as he meets the NHL age requirements will provide a strong influence. But, there are a few key hurdles that require jumping before Tavares could ever play for the Leafs.
Unless Toronto can grease the skids prior to draft day, the likely #1 pick will command a hefty sum, and thus force the Maple Leafs to swap club assets for his rights – or worse – require Tavares to hold out and stay in the AHL for two additional seasons. This is due to restrictions whereby a given player must be two years removed from the original draft selection in order to sign with another NHL team.
Should the Leafs be unable to deal for Tavares rights, he would essentially have to forfeit any chance of playing in the NHL (for a team other than Toronto) in order to void any obligation to the organization with his draft rights until 2011, where he can then sign as an unrestricted free agent. While some will justifiably point out Tavares' reluctance to wait until he is 20yo before playing in the NHL, this scenario with the Maple Leafs allows him to sign as an UN-restricted free agent and thus fetch far more money than he would under current entry-level salary restrictions.
It is slightly complicated, and perhaps not the path of least resistance, but it's a proactive initiative by a GM hanging onto his job by a single of his slickly-combed hairs. Any attempt to acquire goal scoring for a team that has failed miserably in the talent development department gets a pat on the back at this point. Bringing in Tavares will create a vastly improved atmosphere at the Ricoh Colosseum, and will foster a winning attitude in the Marlies dressing room -- something that will hopefully carry over with the players that graduate to the big dance and lace 'em up for the Leafs.
If Tavares has the patience to play two full seasons in the AHL prior to becoming a Maple Leaf, he will be a hero on a Toronto club in dire need of a pure goal scorer. But we know he wants a crack at the NHL badly, making this scenario about as likely as John Ferguson Jr. holding onto his job at the conclusion of this NHL season.