NHL Rumor Mill – June 1, 2021
The Leafs face an interesting summer after another first-round exit plus the latest Seth Jones speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE LEAFS?
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski believes Toronto Maple Leafs management shouldn’t panic and make any rash moves following yet another first-round playoff exit. He points to how the Washington Capitals got sent into “a philosophical crisis” for several seasons after falling to another underdog Montreal Canadiens squad in 2010.
Wyshynski feels the Leafs’ window of opportunity remains wide open. He suggests they rethink their supporting cast by opting instead for players with speed, rather than bring in those with experience as they did this season. He also proposes they look to this summer’s trade and free-agent markets for someone to share the goalie duties with Jack Campbell.
Of their eight unrestricted free agents, Wyshynski believes they’ll bring back Zach Hyman given his contributions to the first line.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox wondered where the Leafs go from here. He thinks forwards Hyman and Jason Spezza are worth re-signing, as well as defenseman Zach Bogosian if he’d accept another one-year, $1 million contract. They could lose center Alex Kerfoot to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
If the affordable Campbell ($1.65 million) remains their starting goalie, Fox believes general manager Kyle Dubas will have sufficient cap space to assemble a new supporting cast around their star players.
THE ATHLETIC: Jonas Siegel doesn’t see the Leafs trading Auston Matthews. John Tavares’ no-movement clause takes him off the table as well. That leaves Mitch Marner and William Nylander. While both would fetch considerable returns, they would be difficult to replace on the roster.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: Brian Witt wonders what the future holds for former San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton after his quest to win the Stanley Cup this year with the Leafs fell short. Thornton turns 42 on July 2 and becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Witt wonders if he’ll retire or return for a 24th NHL season. If he can’t land with another Cup contender, perhaps he’d consider returning to the Sharks if they approached him.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I concur with Wyshynski. Leafs management must avoid overreacting in this situation. They still have a talented core of mostly young talent to reload around and try again next season. They should build up the speed and skill among their forwards and defense, and bring in a reliable backup for Campbell.
Cap Friendly indicates the Leafs have almost $69 million invested in 14 players next season. They’ll get an additional $3.5 million if Kerfoot is selected by the Kraken. Should re-sign Hyman, Spezza and Bogosian to affordable deals, they’ll still have to go bargain hunting to address their needs through trades and free agency.
Trading Marner or Nylander could help to address some of the Leafs roster needs. As Siegel pointed out, however, moving either guy will create another roster issue to address.
Thornton has probably played his final NHL game. His lack of speed was apparent against the Canadiens and I don’t think he can be effective over a full 82-game schedule. I understand his desire to win a Stanley Cup, but I don’t see him landing with a contender now. I also doubt the Sharks will bring him back for a last hurrah after seeing how diminished Patrick Marleau was this season.
LATEST SETH JONES SPECULATION
SI.COM/THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin examined several possible trade destinations for Seth Jones after the defenseman informed the Columbus Blue Jackets he intends to test next summer’s free-agent market.
He feels the best hockey fits would be the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, and Winnipeg Jets, with the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils as possible sleepers. The Los Angeles Kings could be the best all-around fit for Jones, though he plays the same side on defense as Drew Doughty.
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline reports two clubs reached out to Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen after the news broke over the weekend of Jones’ intentions. He expects Kekalainen to receive a flood of calls this week from other clubs. The Kings could be the early favorite. Portzline expects the Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens could be major players.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: An elite defenseman available in the trade market doesn’t happen every summer. Jones will draw plenty of interest but it’ll come down to which teams have the depth in tradeable assets and the cap space to potentially sign him to a new contract. Indeed, Jones’ willingness to sign an extension with the acquiring club could be the key factor determining his trade destination.
The Kings certainly seem the best fit in that regard but they could prefer adding a top-four left-side defenseman unless Doughty or Jones is willing to play second-pairing minutes. The Blackhawks would have the cap room once they work out the long-term injury reserve gymnastics for all-but-retired Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw.
The Canadiens have plenty of draft picks, prospects and promising youngsters to draw upon for trade bait but I don’t see them pursuing him unless he commits to a long-term extension. With over $69 million invested in 18 players, they can afford his current $5.4 million cap hit but it would leave them overcrowded on the right side with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry already there.