NHL Rumor Mill – May 3, 2019
A roundup of recent Toronto Maple Leafs speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC: Jonas Siegel lists re-signing Mitch Marner to be the Toronto Maple Leafs top priority this summer. The 21-year-old right wing is a restricted free agent and due for a substantial raise. However, the Leafs have limited salary-cap space and that will affect how much the Leafs can pay him. It’s possible he could sign an offer sheet after July 1 if he hasn’t re-signed with the Leafs by then.
Siegel also believes the Leafs must upgrade their blueline. He wondered if center Nazem Kadri becomes trade bait to land a defenseman or if general manager Kyle Dubas can re-sign unrestricted free agent Jake Gardiner. He also feels they should attempt to shed the burdensome contracts of Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev.
James Mirtle considers Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev as the players most likely to be traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer. He noted the Edmonton Oilers are among the teams interested in Brown, who carries an annual average value of $2.1 million. Zaitsev’s contract is awful ($4.5-million annually through 2023-24) but there are teams badly in need of a right-shot defenseman.
Regarding Mitch Marner’s upcoming contract negotiations, Mirtle acknowledges they could be difficult. He doesn’t rule out a trade or an offer sheet if a new contract isn’t hammered out by July 1.
Mirtle also believes the Leafs have big decisions to make with left wing Patrick Marleau and center Nazem Kadri. Marleau’s no-movement clause, $6.25-million cap hit and declining production affects his trade value.
Kadri’s playoff suspension may have helped him stay with the Leafs, as they struggled without him in the lineup against the Boston Bruins in the opening round. Replacing him will be difficult.
He also believes unrestricted free agents Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey, and Tyler Ennis will likely depart this summer.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox recently looked at several ways for the Leafs to free up salary-cap space this summer. One way is letting their UFAs walk. Another is trading a roster player signed through next season like William Nylander, Marleau, Kadri, Brown or Zaitsev.
They could bridge offer Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, or they could trade or allow one of them to be signed away via offer sheet. Another is attempting to package the rights of permanently sidelined winger Nathan Horton ($5.3 million AAV) with a draft pick or prospect to a team in need of reaching the salary-cap minimum.
TSN: Earlier this week, Darren Dreger reported Leafs defenseman Igor Ozhiganov could return to the KHL after one season in the NHL.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As noted here and elsewhere earlier this week, the Marner negotiations will determine what happens with the rest of the Leafs roster. As per Cap Friendly, the Leafs have over $74.2 million tied up in 17 players for 2019-20. Assuming Marner accepts a hometown discount (and there’s no indication he will), his new contract will push the Leafs over next season’s projected $83 million salary cap.
Dubas has to shed salary-cap space to accommodate Marner’s new contract and create room to re-sign Kapanen and Johnsson and re-sign or replace Gardiner and Hainsey. Bundling Horton’s rights with a draft pick or prospect is a possibility but there’s not a lot of budget teams in dire need of reaching the cap minimum.
Moving Marleau and Zaitsev are other obvious options but easier said than done. At this stage in his career, Marleau might not be keen to move his family again other than perhaps back to California. I’ve seen it suggested he would waive his clause to return to San Jose but I doubt he fits into the Sharks plans now. The lengthy of Zaitsev’s contract could be a deal breaker unless Dubas includes a helluva sweetener.
Despite his playoff suspensions, Kadri would be an attractive trade chip. If Dubas were to move him, however, I don’t think it’ll be as a salary dump. He’ll want something significant, like a top-four right-shot defenseman, in return.
We all know Dubas supposedly promised Nylander he wouldn’t trade him as long as he was the general manager. I feel he was sincere but he might have to face breaking that promise for the greater good.
If Dubas can’t free up sufficient salary, he won’t be able to adequately replace Gardiner or re-sign Hainsey if he’s willing to accept a pay cut. He’ll also risk losing Kapanen or Johnsson to an offer sheet or being forced to trade one of them.
No wonder there’s some suggestion Marner could be traded or allowed to be signed away via offer sheet this summer. Dubas will do all he can to get Marner to stay and I believe they’ll get a deal done. But if they don’t, we can’t dismiss the possibility of Dubas looking to move him before July 1.
Dubas could re-sign Marner to a hometown discount, shed salary by shipping out Horton, Marleau, and Zaitsev, retain Kadri and Nylander, re-sign Kapanen and Johnsson, find suitable replacements for Hainsey and Gardiner and still manage to land a top-four right-shot rearguard. Given his cap constraints, however, I doubt he’ll be able to pull it off.