Identity Pt. 2: Leafs Forwards

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As we all know, the identity of a team doesn’t lie within a single player, coach, or somebody in management. It’s something an organization carries with them throughout years and, much of the time, decades. 

It takes an impossibly long time to build, and thus becomes something that’s ingrained within the fibers of the jersey, and that’s carried within those threads no matter the GM, captain, coach, or arena in which the games are being played.

Maybe this is why the Toronto Maple Leafs are who they are. A greedy bunch with little to no on ice work ethic. After all, when you think about it, this organization has been run by greedy owners for decades now. Owners that hike ticket prices regardless of the on-ice product. Owners that run great players out of town if they ask for too much, or refuse to pay for great players that want a taste of playing on the big stage (Gretzky anybody?). 

Maybe this group of selfish, heartless, me-first-team-later prima-donna ice dancers is exactly what this organization deserves after decades of being little more than a cash cow. 


Maybe I’m being a little too dramatic though, because it’s not as if it’s ALL of them. Jake Muzzin, Zach Hyman and Morgan Rielly are a few prominent names that actually appear to have some drive and passion.  

Again though, the identity of a team doesn’t lie within a few, and players such as Jake Muzzin, Zach Hyman and Morgan Rielly are far too few when you look at this roster. 

So, with that in mind, and while knowing that the current GM, Kyle Dubas, and his poor contract negotiating skills are here for at least another year, I’ll suggest some personnel changes that could be made to start altering the culture of this team. 

(p.s. This is exhausting. I’ve been writing about this for a decade.)

I’ll start with a change of guard among the forwards and cover the defense, goaltending and management in future articles. 

The Trade Chips

To start this off we’ll run through the players that are almost 100% guaranteed to be on the roster when next season begins (whenever that may be). 

The big 4 are going to be here. My sincerest apologies to the following people: 

  • Those that want William Nylander traded. 
  • Those that want Mitch Marner traded. 
  • Those that are sick and tired of listening to those that want Nylander and Marner traded.
  • Those that are sick and tired of hearing the “Who is better: Nylander or Marner” debate. 

They’re both Leafs. They both play like the corners are lava. They’re both amazingly talented and could be better if they upped their give-a-shit-meter, but neither will be going anywhere at this time. 

Outside of the big 4 there are few players that should feel safe from the trade block. They include Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev (unless he prices himself out of town), and Nick Robertson. 

This leaves the trade chips: 

  • Andreas Johnsson (3 years remain @ 3.4M)
  • Alex Kerfoot (3 years remain @ 3.5M)
  • Pierre Engvall (2 years remain @ 1.25M)
  • Frederik Gauthier (RFA)
  • Denis Malgin (RFA)
  • Evan Rodrigues (RFA)

Not much value there to work with. 

Also, there is literally NOTHING here that would demand a top 4 defender in return. 

So what’s the play, and who should the Leafs target? 

I think Kyle Dubas has already shown his strategy with the departure of Kasperi Kapanen. Trading for prospects and picks is the way to go. Removing Andreas Johnsson from the roster, for example, for cap space and draft picks would do little more than remove a player that the Leafs have an abundance of (non-physical, small wingers). It would then give them more trade chips, roster space, cap space, and the ability to shape their bottom 6 into something with a purpose, instead of the offensive group without a clear role that we saw last season. If they can move another player or two for picks I would suggest the following replacements…..

Lawson Crouse 

The Arizona Coyotes are in financial and draft pick trouble. They violated the rules surrounding the physical and medical testing of draft eligible junior players and have been made to forfeit their 2021 1st round pick and their 2020 2nd round pick as punishment.

This means that the Yotes won’t have a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round pick in this years draft. They gave up their 2020 1st round pick in a trade for Taylor Hall, and their 2020 3rd round pick in a trade for Carl Soderberg. They also gave up their 2021 3rd round pick in the Taylor Hall trade.

In total they have just one pick to make in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. Ouch. 

Lawson Crouse would tick off a few boxes for the Maple Leafs. For starters, at 6’4” 220, he’d be the biggest player on the team outside of Frederik Gauthier, he’s age appropriate for the current group (23 years old), he plays with an edge (13.45 hits/60 + 3 fighting majors this season), he isn’t a prime penalty killer but has helped there in the past (1:25 TOI/GP shorthanded this past season), and he’s an Ontario native. While he isn’t an offensive dynamo, he’s better in that department than players such as Matt Martin and Kyle Clifford who have been brought into the fold in recent years in an attempt to add an element of physicality. He has back-to-back 25pt seasons, and at his age it’s not crazy to think that he could settle in as a 35pt 3rd liner for years to come. 

Last is his contract. His 1.533M cap hit would be one that the Leafs could easily accommodate. His actual salary is one that climbs though, and that’s what makes him a prime target for the Leafs. He made a total of 1M this past season but that will jump to 1.35M this year, before going up again to 2.25M for the 2021/22 season. In total he’ll make 3.6M over the next two seasons. That might just be a cost-cutting contract that management and ownership can agree to move on from.

Wayne Simmonds 

This isn’t an article about nothing but physicality. It’s about bringing in outspoken players to help change the superstar culture within the dressing room. 

Simmonds can help with that. 

On the ice he’s a no-nonsense type of player. He goes hard to the net and battles in the corners. He works hard no matter the situation, and that’s a lot of what the Leafs could use right now. 

I would hope that he could be the same way off the ice, because right now I don’t think the Leafs need an “aww shucks Mitchy, I wish you could just realize how great you are” type of veteran. They need somebody that can kick your ass in the dressing room as well. They need guys to stand up and be pissed off when the team simply isn’t working hard enough. Then they need those same guys to hit the ice to show them how it’s done. 

I think that’s Wayne Simmonds. 

He can hit, fight, produce bottom 6 offense, and provide energy to the room. 

What more could we ask for? 

Luke Glendenning 

The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings will look for more picks this year because they only have 6 in the first three rounds, and if you aren’t like Ottawa, who own 9, then are you even rebuilding the right way? 

Luke Glendenning is a 4th liner and the Leafs were linked to him once before. At the time things were a little different. Mike Babcock, who coached Glendenning in Detroit, was the head coach of the Leafs, and many believed he wanted his depth grinder around to help him win. 

Mike Babcock got Nic Petan instead. Same thing…… right? 

Glendenning will be entering the final year of his contract and will earn 1.8M towards the cap. In order to facilitate a trade I believe Detroit would have to retain half of that amount, but if they’re willing it would mean the Leafs could add a good depth option. 

Glendenning comes with an engine that rarely shuts off. His point totals were never great and dipped to new lows this season (as did the entire Wings team), but his ability on the PK and grind-it-out-in-the-corners approach to the game would be a welcome addition to the team. 

Nick Ritchie 

I’m not going to talk about this one much because it’s very unlikely that Boston and Toronto can make a deal here. 

Nick Ritchie hurt Boston in the playoffs. Untimely penalties and reckless play has Boston fans pushing for his departure. 

Sounds like a former Leaf we know. A guy that went to another team and found great playoff success. 

I wonder if the Leafs could flip the script? 

Josh Anderson 

Another quick hit, because I don’t think Josh Anderson will truly be available. 

He was kept out of the playoffs and most of the season due to injury, but it’s expected that he’ll be ready to go when next season rolls around. 

In the same vein as Nick Ritchie and Lawson Crouse, Josh Anderson plays a big mans game. He scores in tight and will stick up for his teammates. This Burlington boy would be a welcome addition to the club, and, I must admit, I have dreams about him and Lawson Crouse flanking a playmaking centre that could simply bounce pucks off of them and into the net as they drive to the blue paint. 

Honourable Mentions 

Lets face it, the bottom six group on the Leafs isn’t much better than the top. Save for Kyle Clifford it was a skilled group with more flash than fortitude. This was two lines that literally contributed nothing in the series against Columbus except for rest for the guys at the top and a single goal by Nick Robertson. There didn’t appear to be any chemistry or purpose among them. Some changes there are necessary. We can assume Nicholas Robertson will start the year as the 3rd line LW and if Dubas is smart he’ll have Jason Spezza in the mix as well, but outside of that it’s wide open. Some players that could bring different elements, leadership, determination, and passion to the group in one form or another include Joe Thornton, Mikko Koivu (especially if former coach Boudreau joins the bench), Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons, Carl Soderberg, and Sam Bennett. Only Sam Bennett will cost assets to add, so it’s wide open for Kyle Dubas if he can blow open some spots on the roster. 

For the sake of the fans I hope he does, because watching another season of roll-over-and-play-dead hockey, like we did this year, shouldn’t be an option.