NHL Rumor Mill – August 10, 2020
Reaction to the Maple Leafs’ elimination from the qualifying round in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston believes a seismic change is needed for the Toronto Maple Leafs following their elimination from the qualifying round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Their disappointing loss and a stagnant salary-cap could force management to make some difficult decisions.
Johnston considers the Leafs defense to be second-rate and took a big blow after losing Jake Muzzin in Game 2. Secondary scoring was an issue after Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe put Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner on the same line in Game 5.
Except for Matthews, Johnston expects one of the Leafs core players (Tavares, Marner, William Nylander, Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly) will be sacrificed as part of wider changes before next season. “Everything else must be up for consideration, pending the forces at play in the marketplace.”
If the Leafs win tonight’s draft lottery, Johnston suggests selecting left wing Alexis Lafreniere, trade away one of the high-priced, high-impact forwards, and use the savings to address their blueline needs.
TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos believes it’s time for Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to trade William Nylander for defensive help. He pointed out the Blue Jackets did the same thing several years ago, shipping center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for blueline stud Seth Jones. “Maybe Nylander can get the Leafs a Seth Jones or, at the very least, a Josh Manson or Brett Pesce.”
THE SCORE: John Matisz listed John Tavares, Frederik Andersen, and Kaspari Kapanen among those on the hot seat heading into the off-season.
Matisz wondered how Tavares will be perceived following his inconsistent play against the Jackets, especially carrying an $11 million annual average value for the next five years.
Replacing a goaltender of Andersen’s caliber won’t be easy, as he’s usually top-10 caliber during the regular season. While he’s undoubtedly safe, he will face increasing pressure heading into his contract year
If a shake-up is coming, Matisz believes Kapanen (and perhaps Andreas Johnsson) could become a trade chip. He carries an affordable contract ($3.2 million AAV for the next two years), had a decent scoring touch and skates like the wind.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll see and hear a lot more speculation about the Leafs’ off-season plans in the coming weeks. No one should be surprised. The Leafs are top-heavy offensively and lack sufficient blueline depth. They can get by with that during the regular season, but it’s their undoing in playoff or qualifying-round series.
Dubas, with the blessing of Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, approved that hefty contract for Tavares two years ago, bringing in a player they didn’t need. That’s not to disparage Tavares. I don’t blame him for taking the big bucks to play for his hometown club. He didn’t pressure the Leafs to sign him, and he’s played well for them.
However, the Leafs’ defensive shortcomings were obvious two years ago. They were coming off a season where they were among the top-five in scoring but also in shots-against per game. Andersen’s goaltending was the only reason they finished 12th in goals-against per game (2.80).
But the Leafs front office got distracted by a shiny thing in the summer of 2018, and Tavares’ $11 million AAV handcuffed them ever since. That’s why they had their contract standoff last season with Nylander, it’s why Dubas and his capologist engaged in salary-cap gymnastics last summer to free up room to re-sign Marner, and it’s why they failed to suitably address their defensive needs.
I praised Dubas’ efforts last summer because he hadn’t made the team any worse. However, it’s clear he didn’t make them any better. And now, he faces a daunting challenge of addressing those weaknesses with even less cap room.
So who gets moved? I agree it won’t be Matthews. It also won’t be Rielly. Trading their best defenseman for defensive help would be ridiculous.
They could move Andersen, but the cost of a replacement will be expensive via trade or free agency. That’s a move likely to be kicked down the road a year. They could move Marner but that’s unlikely after all those moves last summer to accommodate his new salary. Tavares has a full no-movement clause. Even if he agrees to waive it, good luck trying to move that contract in the current economic environment.
That leaves Nylander, who Dubas reportedly promised wouldn’t be moved as long as he was the general manager. The youngster could find out that sometimes general managers break their promises for the good of the team.
Nylander had a breakout performance this season, carries a reasonable $6.962 million AAV, and lacks no-trade protection. Teams in the market for a scoring winger will definitely be interested if he becomes available. The Leafs could also move Kapanen, but he won’t fetch the type of return the Leafs need.
Dubas and company could shock us by moving someone else, but I think it’s got to be Nylander.
What do you think, Leafs fans? Let me know in the comments section below.