Heres a quick rundown on the Leafs moves and picks from the entry draft:
The Mrazek Trade
This is still one of the biggest discussions amongst Leafs fans, so, in case you missed it, here is the trade:
The Leafs moved back 13 spots in the draft and rid themselves of 2 more years of having to pay and play Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek’s time in Toronto was bumpy to say the least. He was injured early and often and when he did play the results were beyond poor. Due to this, two things can be true when we talk about this trade. First, only having to move back 13 spots in the draft to unload $8.6M in salary and 3.8M in capspace is a tidy bit of business. That capspace will go a long way towards re-signing Jack Campbell (that’s my prediction), or trading for a starter from elsewhere. Second, that price should have never had to have been paid. Mrazek played just 12 games the season prior, so if the team wanted to get an injury prone goaltender with mixed results they could have gone after players such as James Reimer (that was my choice at the time) or Antti Raanta, who signed for far less than Mrazek and ended the year with much better results. Call it revisionist history if you’d like, but I was on the fence about signing Mrazek from the start.
Currently, we can just be happy that’s he gone to Chicago, where he’ll be sure to enjoy a ton of success.
The New Prospects
There was some draft pick movement after the Mrazek trade, which resulted in the Leafs making 5 selections. Considering they entered the day with just 3 selections, that could be considered a win I guess. I’ll start from the later rounds and move towards the earlier rounds:
Brandon Lisowsky (7th round, #218, LW)
Lisowsky is a 5’8″ 170lb winger from the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. Like most 7th round picks, he’s a long shot to make the NHL. However, he had 33 goals in 68 games last season and followed that up with 3 goals, 5pts in 5 playoff games. He likes to score goals and he’s good at it.
Nikita Grebenkin (5th round, #135, RW)
Grebenkin is a 6’2″ play making winger with good puck skills and speed. This could be a good year to pick Russian prospects, as the war in the Ukraine leaves a lot of uncertainty about their future, which, in turn, means they slipped down the draft board.
Dennis Hildeby (4th round, #122, G)
The Leafs scouts must have loved this player, as they traded a 4th in 2023 to the Nashville Predators for this pick, and chose the 6’6″ 234lb Swedish goaltender. He played in 12 games for his Jr. team, where he posted a 2.80GAA and 0.931SV%, but also played in 7 games for Farjestad of the SHL, where he posted a 1.93GAA and, again, a 0.931SV%. It’s a small sample size, but those SHL numbers are impressive. He’s 20 years old and was passed over in the draft twice before, so he’s further along in his development than most in this draft, but, in my opinion, if you’re going to select an overager it should be done with a goaltender. They take a long time to develop and even the good ones don’t often hit the NHL until their mid 20s, give or take a year or two. If you were making a prediction, you could easily see Hildeby playing AHL hockey during the 2023/24 season and NHL hockey in 2025/26.
Nick Moldenhauer (3rd round, #95, RW)
Another forward that doesn’t have a lot of size, but he does bring a ton of upside. This 5’11, 170lb centre/winger grew up a Leafs fan in Mississauga and was obviously delighted to be selected by his favourite team. He played hockey for the Chicago Steel of the USHL last season, scoring 18 goals and 43 points in 41 games. We’re just talking stats and numbers though, the real story here is how his year began:
After fighting through injuries he returned to have a terrific year. You can see some of his skill here:
The team traded back from pick #79 (the pick they obtained from the Travis Dermott trade) for this pick and the pick that was used to select Nikita Grebenkin. Essentially, they traded Dermott for Moldenhauer and Grebenkin, so we’ll see how that works out in the years to come.
Fraser Minten (2nd round, #38, C)
Last but not least is centre Fraser Minten of the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. A two-way centre that plays with an edge to his game, Minten has the potential to be a 2C in the NHL, but if you want to temper expectations his likely landing spot is that of a checking line 3C that brings some offense to the table, which is solid value for a 2nd round selection. There’s not much to hate about this pick, as the Leafs haven’t been picking players lately that can be described as having an “engine” or “drive” to their game, which can certainly be said about Minten. With last years selection of Matthew Knies and the team taking Minten this year, those of us that have been making fun of the undersized/high skill players that were being selected for a few years will have to start finding new jokes.
Those jokes may very well revolve around the team having garbage goaltending, but I don’t like that because it’s too real and goaltending is too important to real success in the NHL. Or, perhaps, it will involve their poor blueline, which appears to be a continual work in progress and, after picking 4 forwards and 1 goalie in this draft, may need to be helped from other routes later on down the road.
Which brings us to the next portion of the Leafs’ offseason.
Free Agency and Qualifying Offers
The Leafs have 3 RFA’s on the roster and 7 total in the organization to make decisions on. They are:
Pierre Engvall (F)
Ondrej Kase (F)
Rasmus Sandin (D)
Joseph Duszak (D)
Chad Krys (D)
Kristians Rubins (D)
Ian Scott (G)
Kyle Dubas confirmed that they will tender a qualifying offer to Pierre Engvall, but that Ondrej Kase is still up for debate. Kase had trouble staying healthy this season (as he has in years previous), but when he was healthy he played well for the team. He managed 14 goals and 27pts in 50 games in the regular season, backing that up with 3 assists in 7 games played in the playoffs. He was largely a non-factor in the post season, but most assume that he wasn’t truly ready to return from injury, which limited his effectiveness and role. The issue with Kase is that he has arbitration rights, so while he would be a nice piece in a depth role, if he did choose to go the arbitration route he could get a reward that is beyond what the Leafs would want to pay. Also, considering how easily he was concussed, it may be easier to allow him to go to another team with the plan to replace him with somebody that is healthier and could be more effective come playoff time.
As for the rest, we know that Rasmus Sandin will be tendered an offer, while it’s assumed that Chad Krys and Kristians Rubins will get offers, but the same can’t be said for Joseph Duszak and Ian Scott. Duszak requested a trade last season, which sounds worse than it is. He hasn’t played a game in the NHL yet and is 24 years old, which means his opportunity to make it to the big leagues is beginning to run out. He produced 52pts in 61 games for the Toronto Marlies, which would normally be enough to justify a look in an NHL lineup. If I put myself in his shoes and don’t see opportunities coming with the Leafs, then I’d likely want to look around to see if another organization could help my career as well. Ian Scott, on the other hand, simply hasn’t had any luck when it comes to avoiding injury. Over the past 3 seasons he has played in a total of 7 games. He missed the entirety of the 2019/20 season, registered 6GP during the 2020/21 season and managed just 1 appearance during the 2021/22 season. I feel terrible for the 23 year old, who was drafted in the 4th round by the Leafs in 2017 and looked to be on track to land in the NHL by now. His draft +2 year was especially good, where he played in 49 games for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, where he posted a gaudy 1.83GAA and 0.932SV%. He followed up that tremendous regular season by playing in 23 playoff games, where he registered a 1.96GAA and 0.925SV%. This is a loss for Leafs Nation for sure, but seeing a guy continuously work hard to try to make a return, only to get injured again is heartbreaking. My expectation is that the Leafs will not tender a qualifying offer to Scott and my hope is that we hear his name 5-7 years from now, after he figures out his health and develops into an NHL goaltender.
After the offers are tendered the team will get to free agency and, if I’m being honest, I don’t even care about it.
The Leafs don’t have the capspace to sign any big name players. They need to figure out their goaltending in a hurry and, unfortunately, there are none available on the open market that make sense for the Leafs, in my opinion. Jack Campbell is my guess in terms of the teams starting goalie next season, but if not him there is only Darcy Kuemper on the market and he’ll cost more than he should due to the sheer lack of options and having just won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
I could profile a ton of players here but some names to look out for are P.K. Subban as a depth defense addition, Max Domi as a middle 6 forward and Eric Comrie as a backup that could potentially have a break out season. My hope is that they find a way to add a player with some spark to their game, such as Mason Marchment, but that would involve moving on from Alex Kerfoot or Justin Holl in order to open up more capspace, which I assume would have happened at the draft if the team intended to trade them.
There’s talk amongst fans of Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik as possible additions, but I just don’t see where the Leafs will get the capspace to add all of these players after they pay a starting goaltender, Pierre Engvall and Rasmus Sandin.
According to capfriendly.com, the team has 11.8M to spend with this roster:
Bunting Matthews Marner
Kerfoot Tavares Nylander
After the Red Wings signed Ville Husso to a 4.75M contract, it’s tough to think that the Leafs will be able to get Campbell for less than that. After the Mrazek fiasco they may want to avoid risks as well, so going with literally any other free agent after Campbell or Kuemper might not be their plan. This would leave the trade market, but with so many teams looking for goaltending the price to acquire a goalie may be high and, again, they may avoid risks such as Matt Murray or Philip Grubauer, both of whom have had success in the past but turned in poor showings this past season.
They may be forced to pay Campbell the 5M he has been reported to be asking for, which digs into nearly half of their expected capspace. That would leave 3 forwards, Pierre Engvall and Rasmus Sandin left to sign with approximately 6.8M in capspace. From there you have to consider that players that compare to Engvall often get 2M or more, while Sandin doesn’t seem content to settle for the 1.4M that fellow countryman, Timothy Liljegren, signed for. Now the question becomes just how much is left after the Leafs sign their own.
We could talk about ideal scenarios instead. One such scenario would involve the Leafs signing/trading for one of the younger goalies in the league and having that goalie run with the starters job. Eric Comrie (FA), Jeremy Swaymon (BOS), Dan Vladar (CGY) and Logan Thompson (VGK) all fit the bill. Trading for a player like that, as well as adding a veteran backup such as James Reimer (SJ) or Braden Holtby (FA) would keep the caphit of your goaltending down, which would allow the team to add more depth at the forward position.
Another ideal scenario would be looking to a reclamation project and actually having that project work out. MacKenzie Blackwood and the aforementioned Matt Murray would fit the bill. It’s reported that the Senators are willing to retain salary to facilitate a trade involving Murray. If they retain the maximum 50%, his caphit would be $3.175M, which is palatable for the Leafs. MacKenzie Blackwood comes with a $2.8M caphit, which is also within the Leafs wheelhouse.
I do believe that the team will bring back Campbell. His teammates love him and he costs nothing but capspace. If not him then I’m at a loss to even guess who they will go after. Options are disappearing quickly though, so they need to shit or get off the pot.
The next few days should see a lot of action around the NHL. If nothing else there will be something to talk about when it comes to other teams, because if I’m right and they bring back Campbell, re-sign Engvall and Sandin and fail to move on from Kerfoot and/or Holl, then there won’t be many moves this season and virtually no change to the roster that just lost in 7 games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.