Toronto Maple Leafs fans are beside themselves with anger at the moment. They think, and I agree, that the top end players (specifically Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner) on this team didn’t do enough in the playoffs to warrant their respect and loyalty. Due to this they’re calling for heads to roll. I must admit, it’s tough to argue with that sentiment.
However, Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan and Sheldon Keefe took to the stage today and made it clear that those wishes wouldn’t be granted.
It would appear that much of next season’s roster is set if they keep those four forwards. The defense shouldn’t be mistaken for the best in the NHL by any means, but it’s doubtful that any of Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie or Jake Muzzin will change area codes. With the Seattle expansion draft looming it leaves questions regarding Justin Holl and Travis Dermott, as one could be taken off the roster without the Leafs’ consent. But Seattle can only take one, so that means that 4 of Toronto’s blueline spots could already be spoken for. Meanwhile, they still have Rasmus Sandin in the system and he’s poised to play his first full season in the NHL. At the end of the day this all means that 5-6 of the Leafs’ blueline positions are already filled.
As for forwards, it’s a little more tricky. With the Big 4 locked up we know that one third of the forward roster is complete. Beyond that it’s actually unpredictable.
All of the forwards that are signed through next season (Pierre Engvall, Ilya Mikheyev, Alex Kerfoot) are making 1.25M or more and could be moved to create cap flexibility and/or change the look of the forward unit. Meanwhile, the UFAs (Riley Nash, Nick Foligno, Zach Hyman, Alex Galchenyuk, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza) are a mixed bag of players that management may or may not want back.
It’s almost a guarantee that Joe Thornton won’t return. He tailed off in Toronto and wasn’t a factor in the playoffs at all. Riley Nash is much the same, as he played just 2 games for Toronto and didn’t have an impact. It’s possible that with a full season he could settle in as their 4th line centre and PK specialist, but his price tag may be too rich to keep him.
The same could be said for Nick Foligno, Alex Galchenyuk and Wayne Simmonds. While all were effective for the Leafs in one form or another during the regular season, their return could largely be dependant on their asking price and managements desire to bring in new faces with new voices.
This just leaves Zach Hyman and Jason Spezza, both of which I expect to return for another tour of duty. Zach Hyman is a fan favourite and the teams hardest worker. He had a terrific season and the team needs him. The same can be said for Spezza, who has already expressed interest in returning.
If we assume that Spezza and Hyman will be back, as well as the draft exempt Ilya Mikheyev, that means that 7 forward positions are filled and at least 5 defensive positions. That’s not accounting for Alex Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall. If they return as well we’ll basically be watching the same team next season, as they’ll only have a couple of roster positions to fill and little cap space to do so.
All in all, that means doing nothing but Tinkering.
Kyle “Tinker” Dubas, this has gotten old. It just may be time to take one step back in order to take two steps forward.