Leafs captain John Tavares is refreshed, recharged and returning to his scoring ways
If anyone was going to take his equipment with him on a mini vacation, it would have been Maple Leafs captain John Tavares.
Tavares took his family to Naples, Fla., over the all-star break and still managed to find ice two of those days to keep his feet moving.
Part of it is because he is 33 and was coming out of his roughest dry patch in his time with the Leafs. And it’s just who he is, devoted to his fitness, his craft and his game.
“It was a long break and you just find, after four or five days, it’s really good to get moving, get the feel for the game, feel the puck and get a sweat, get your heart rate back up,” Tavares said. “It’s good to take advantage of some of the rest, but it’s important to build things back up and get ready to play.
“Everyone’s a little bit different. But, for me, that’s what I think is best.”
He had gone 10 games without a goal until finally netting one in a 4-2 win over Winnipeg on Jan. 27, the team’s last game before an eight-day break that included the all-star weekend and the team’s bye period.
“I think everyone’s probably feeling a little more refreshed when you get a little break and a recharge,” Tavares said. “I’ve been really happy with my game all season long. Obviously, throughout 82 (games), there’s always one or two that maybe aren’t always great where you’d like to play a lot better.
“But, over the course of the year, the foundation of my game has been fairly strong. And it’s good to see things going in and getting rewarded … I want to keep that consistency.”
He has scored in both games after the break and now has three goals and three assists in his last three games.
“Thrilled about it,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “He scored a huge goal for us going into the break, which I’m sure helped a lot. It wasn’t just about rest and relaxation for him. It’s a combination of that and some work to stay fresh.
“A guy like him looks at (the break) as an opportunity to refresh and also get a bit of a leg up on the rest of the competition as much as he can. Not surprised to see him come through. He’s a guy who scores a lot, and he’s had his chances. We made a couple little adjustments on the power play that I think have benefitted him, and he’s capitalized.”
Tavares said there was no link between his struggles and a dispute, which became public this week, with the Canada Revenue Agency over what the proper tax rate should be for the lucrative bonuses that are part of his seven-year, $77-million (U.S.) contract. He could be on the hook for $8 million (Cdn) — $6.2 million in taxes owed, the rest in interest.
“It’s not weighing on me,” Tavares said. “I understand the question, but at this time I think I don’t really have any other comment other than it’s in the court process.”
Tavares was far happier talking about Thursday’s events, a team skate at Nathan Phillips Square where he led Team Ontario against the William Nylander-led Team Europe and the Morgan Rielly-led Team North America in a three-on-three tournament. Nylander’s team, which featured former Swiss league player Auston Matthews, won.
The players dressed in full gear and took the subway from the Scotiabank Arena to the event.
“It’s just remarkable the passion the city and the fan base have for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Tavares said. “A lot of us grew up playing on the outdoor rink, so it’s cool fun for us to have a little skate, a little three-on-three tournament.
“You can hear and feel the passion and the love for this team.”
The Leafs had a little fun with Nylander, who regularly rides the subway, as he was hounded for autographs by fans on “The Better Way.”
“I did ask him, actually, if this what it’s like for you on the subway,” Keefe said. “But normally he’s not wearing full equipment with his name on the back.”
Defencemen Mark Giordano and Jake McCabe did not participate Thursday, with Keefe wanting to give them time off. Dallas forward Mason Marchment was fined $5,000 (U.S.) for a late, unpenalized hit on McCabe in the second period of Wednesday’s game.
“Certainly that was a play that should have been penalized in the moment,” Keefe said. “It’s up to the league handle it from there, which it seems they did.”