NHL Rumor Mill – June 7, 2021
It’s been a week since the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the first round but that hasn’t stopped speculation over their offseason plans. Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos believes the clock is ticking for the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup hopes with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner under contract. Matthews’ current deal expires in 2024, Marner’s the following year.
If things go sideways, the pair can depart via the unrestricted free agent market. Traikos doubts the pair will want to endure another five years of disappointment, much less a decade.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Traikos feels the Leafs have three seasons to either win the Cup or make significant progress toward doing so to convince those two to stay. A lot can happen over that time. What Dubas does over the next three years will determine the futures of Matthews, Marner and the Leafs.
Terry Koshan believes Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas could find it difficult to bolster the roster with limited cap space this summer. They have roughly $67.8 million invested in next season’s cap payroll, leaving little room under the $81.5 million cap.
With Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan adamant that high-paid forwards Matthews, Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander aren’t going anywhere, the Leafs will have to look elsewhere to free up payroll.
Dubas could avoid potentially losing Morgan Rielly to free agency next summer by trading him now. It would free up $5 million in cap room but also leave a big hole on their blueline, one Rasmus Sandin could eventually fill. If Alex Kerfoot is taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, it’ll free up $3.5 million.
Koshan considers re-signing Zach Hyman a seemingly insurmountable challenge. He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 28 and the Leafs lack the money to re-sign him. It’s believed the 28-year-old winger could get multiyear offers between $5 million and $6 million annually on the open market. With other holes in the roster to address, the Leafs can’t afford that even if they lose Kerfoot’s cap hit to the Kraken.
Hyman’s agent dismissed a rumor claiming the Leafs had already offered a deal worth $5 million annually.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hyman is a Toronto native. He could accept a “hometown discount” to stay with the Leafs, especially if he thinks he won’t get better offers in the free-agent market under a flattened salary cap. However, this is also his best opportunity to land a lucrative long-term deal. There will be teams willing to pay between $5 million and $6 million for his services on the open market despite the flat cap.
Even if Hyman accepts a lesser deal of, say, $4 million annually, that’s still going to take a big bite out of the Leafs’ cap space. That could force Dubas to consider a bigger move this summer.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox believes the Leafs must make a decision soon on Rielly. Do they keep him for next season as an “own rental” for one last shot at the Cup with the Leafs, do they trade him, or attempt to negotiate a contract extension starting on July 28? His trade value, combined with his affordable $5 million cap hit, might never be higher than it is now.
TORONTO STAR: Kevin McGran believes trading Rielly should be on the table if the Leafs are committed to Sandin taking over his role. He points out they got a first-round pick and promising prospect Filip Hallander by trading Kasperi Kapanen last year to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rielly would be worth at least that much, and freeing up his $5 million cap hit would give the Leafs room to bring in a couple of affordable bottom-six forwards.
While Dubas and Shanahan said they’re not trading Marner, McGran wondered if they would listen if it was talent-for-talent. Perhaps they’d listen if the Columbus Blue Jackets offered defenseman Seth Jones, or the Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, or the Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk or Johnny Gaudreau.
McGran admits it would get tricky trying to move Marner. He expects Dubas won’t change his approach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Trading Rielly is a more realistic scenario than moving Marner. Yes, the latter could happen if the Leafs got a terrific offer. But Rielly’s affordable cap hit for next season is easier for other clubs to absorb than Marner’s $10.9 million through 2024-25.
The question is, will Dubas make that move? As The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel observed last week, the Leafs better make sure they have a suitable replacement lined up. Siegel doesn’t consider Sandin ready yet for a full-time top-four role. If Dubas shares that view, Rielly could return for at least next season unless he can find an appropriate substitution in the trade or free-agent market.
Mark Zwolinski examined the Leafs’ options for a backup goaltender for Jack Campbell next season. One option is bringing back Frederik Andersen if he accepted a pay cut in the $2 million range. Free-agent options could include Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Colorado’s Devan Dubnyk or Edmonton’s Mike Smith.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Andersen has played his last for the Leafs. He did his best and was often overworked and underappreciated, but Campbell has taken over the starter’s job now.
I don’t see Rinne leave Nashville if he still wants to play one more season. The Oilers have already indicated they’re bringing back Smith. Dubnyk’s performance has really declined over the last two years. Other free-agent options include former Leafs James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier or the Hurricanes’ Petr Mrazek.