The trajectory that John Tavares finds himself on could not be more ideal at this point. He’s spent his career in New York — that is, the past nine years after being selected first overall in the 2009 NHL Draft — building a reputation for himself as a bona fide all-star. Of course, he began building that reputation long before his introduction to the NHL, after being hailed as the next Wayne Gretzky while playing for the Oshawa Generals. With such accolades, it makes sense that Tavares, at this point in his career, would find it necessary to place an emphasis on the results of his labor. For that reason, Tavares finds himself returning to his hometown of Toronto to play for the Maple Leafs; a childhood dream come true only sweetened by the fact that the deal resulted in approximately $77 million over the next seven years. Still, this amount is reportedly far less than he could have received had he signed with one of the other teams who were desperately vying for his attention. The fact that Tavares signed his deal on July 1st, Canada Day, signifies the sentimentality behind this deal that superceded all other factors for the star athlete. For Tavares, returning home to Toronto is about one thing: the Stanley Cup.

It’s been 51 years since the Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup. Still, the franchise has remained as one of the premier entities across all major sports leagues. Although it’s been five decades since they’ve attained the highest victory in the NHL, the focus of the Maple Leafs is to retain their legacy. Perhaps there is no better way to do so than to bring in one of the NHL’s star players, who just so happens to have been born and raised in the Toronto region. That is to say, in the 2018-19 season, the Maple Leafs will make their play towards the Stanley Cup with both talent and a narrative; that of the hometown hero.

Tavares said it best himself in a tweet sent to his fans:

With this narrative comes expectation. There will be a great deal of pressure placed on both Tavares and the Maple Leafs as a whole once the season begins. Although the amount of scrutiny that comes with returning to your hometown team is a deterrent for many players who find themselves in this situation, for Tavares and The Maple Leafs the decision seems a rather easy one because both are solely focused on the same thing: winning the Stanley Cup. This will bring both personal glory for Tavares and with the regional pride that will swell through Toronto should the Maple Leafs bring the victory to fruition. Although the stakes are high, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.

That’s not to say this issue is as black and white as win or lose. In crafting this narrative, both Tavares and the Maple Leafs are creating opportunities for themselves that could result in lasting legacies. Although he could have received a higher salary had he signed with another team, the marketing and sponsorship opportunities that exist for Tavares within this narrative could be endless and net a much more significant gain for him long-term, in terms of his bank account and his status as an all-star. It is undeniable that the Maple Leafs hold significant brand power. Just this week, the arena in which the Maple Leafs play changed its name from the Air Canada Centre to the Scotiabank Arena; the arena will stay that way for the next 20 years since Scotiabank paid $800 million to have their name on the building, and in the process garner an association of their own with the team. If predictions are correct and Tavares could be the next Wayne Gretzky, then Tavares is smart to consider the marketing opportunities that can come with playing for the hometown team. Popular Canadian brands such as Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire would be smart to partner with the Leafs to score an opportunity to cash in on this narrative and build a brand for Tavares at the same time.

Athletic careers are not long ones. In signing with the Maple Leafs, Tavares is thinking ahead and working in ways that will make his career and his post-career as prosperous as possible. Tavares is undoubtedly taking a risk with this move. Had he signed with any other team he would have received more money and had fewer expectations thrust upon him. Yet, with this decision comes a forfeiture of a short-term plan in favor of a long-term gain. Although expectations will be high at the start of this upcoming season, Tavares and the Leafs have placed themselves in a position to build the narrative: that of the hometown hero. If Tavares is successful in his upcoming tenure with the Maple Leafs, he will craft a lasting legacy for himself and for the franchise.

According to Tavares, signing with the Maple Leafs is at the very least a childhood dream come true.