Latest Leafs Speculation – April 27, 2018
A roundup of media speculation over the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason plans. Enjoy!
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman speculates over possible changes for the Toronto Maple Leafs. General manager Lou Lamoriello is completing a three-year contract but has a provision allowing him to remain in an advisory role for two more years. His decision could affect the status of assistant GMs Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas. If Lamoriello departs, Friedman wonders if he’d join his son Chris with the New York Islanders.
Pending free-agent winger James van Riemsdyk loves Toronto and wants to stay but Friedman said it’s hard to see how a new contract will fit. He also anticipates the Leafs will look at upgrading their blueline, noting they “kicked tires” on some in-season options such as Ryan McDonagh and Chris Tanev, though they were never really close on anything at the time.
Friedman’s colleague Damien Cox believes the Leafs should consider bolstering their goaltending depth. While acknowledging starter Frederik Andersen’s heavy workload, he feels the Leafs need to upgrade between the pipes if they’re to improve. Among his suggested options are promoting Garrett Sparks, giving backup Curtis McElhinney more work or bring in a goalie via trade or free agency to compete with starter Frederik Andersen.
TORONTO STAR: Kevin McGran considers signing New York Islanders pending free-agent center John Tavares a long-shot bet for the Leafs, suggesting they offer up a one-year, $16-million contract. If landing Tavares isn’t possible, he proposes short-term options such as San Jose’s Joe Thornton (depending upon his recovery from knee surgery) or New Jersey’s Michael Grabner.
McGran believes they must bring in a top-flight mobile defenseman. Acquiring big-ticket blueliners such as Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty or Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (who are both eligible for UFA status in 2019) would be expensive. He suggests pending UFAs such as Washington’s John Carlson or Detroit’s Mike Green could be targets.
McGran also wondered about Lamoriello’s future with the Leafs, as well as what type of contract restricted free agent forward William Nylander might get. He also thinks the Leafs would be wise to open contract extensions talks with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who have a year remaining on their entry-level deals. He expects UFAs such as van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Tomas Plekanec and Dominic Moore won’t be back, but perhaps Mike Babcock favorites Leo Komarov and Roman Polak might be retained.
NATIONAL POST: Michael Traikos feels the Leafs need better defensemen if they hope to contend for the Stanley Cup, even if that means trading someone like William Nylander to get one. He points out the Leafs have considerable depth at forward but it’s a different story on the blueline, “with (Jake) Gardiner, Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev playing too high in the line-up.” While they could pursue a UFA such as John Carlson or Mike Green, Traikos suggests better options, such as Vancouver’s Chris Tanev or Calgary’s T.J. Brodie, could be available via the trade market, or perhaps Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson or Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty. Pursuing a quality defenseman, however, could cost someone such as Nylander, Connor Brown or Kasperi Kapanen.
THE ATHLETIC: In addition to musing over the futures of Lamoriello and the notable UFAs, the possibility of signing Tavares and new contracts for Matthews, Marner and Nylander, Jonas Siegel also noted the Leafs need to bolster their blueline, especially on the right side. If Washington’s John Carlson is unavailable, Siegel wonders if the Leafs will circle back on Vancouver’s Chris Tanev in the trade market. However, he feels trading William Nylander for a defenseman “should be a definite no-go.” That will make it tricky to determine who or what the Leafs can give up to get that blueliner.
TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan believes “there’s a real possibility that not one of the Leafs’ six players headed for unrestricted free agency — forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore and Plekanec and defenceman Roman Polak — will be re-signed.” He doesn’t think van Riemsdyk will accept a hometown discount to stay in Toronto.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expect plenty of media speculation over the Leafs’ offseason plans in the coming weeks, especially when the 2018 NHL Draft weekend (June 22-23) draws near. It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether Lamoriello returns as GM or if Hunter or Dubas takes over. Newsday’s Andrew Gross said there’s no indication the Islanders are interested in Lamoriello, though he acknowledged his ties to the organization through his son.
The Leafs’ priority must be improving their defense corps. They gave up too many shots-against and scoring chances, blew too many leads and relied too much on Andersen to bail them out. As per Cap Friendly, the Leafs have less than $50 million invested in 16 players once the all-but-retired Nathan Horton’s cap hit is placed on long-term injured reserve at the start of next season. That’s more than enough to address their blueline needs via free agency or trade. They could also make one or two affordable additions without eating up too much of their long-term cap room.
If Carlson hits the free-agent market, the Leafs should definitely pursue him. If he’s unavailable, Green might make a decent short-term addition that won’t break the bank. If there’s a chance of acquiring a superstar such as Doughty or Karlsson, they should at least look into it to determine the cost of return and salary. If they can find more affordable trade options, they must do it. As Traikos observes, it could cost them a good young forward but such a move could be addition via subtraction if it improves the defense.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times since last summer: the Leafs don’t need John Tavares. They already have a first-line center in Matthews, whose best days are still ahead of him. Nazem Kadri is a good fit on the second line. If they keep Nylander they can put him into the third-line role. Blowing their brains out for Tavares on a long-term contract will take up valuable cap space that would be better used plugging the gaping holes on their blueline. Even if he accepts a one-year deal for the 20 percent maximum salary, it would still be a waste of money that won’t address their defensive needs.
I concur with Koshan’s take on the Leafs’ UFAs. While I understand the wish of Leafs fans to keep JVR in the fold, that might not be possible if he won’t accept an offer that’s less than what he’d get on the open market. There could be more cost-effective short-term options via trade or free agency as they develop their promising young forwards.
Andersen faced more shots this season than any other NHL goaltender. To be a reliable playoff starter, the Leafs must reduce his workload. They’ll likely look to within to address that issue for next season.