As the NHL All-Star break is just around the corner and the NHL trade deadline soon to follow, Toronto Maple Leafs management has some tough decisions to make when it comes to Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov. These three players are all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. The biggest question facing the Leafs is should these players be traded at the deadline to acquire future assets; or should the Leafs keep all three forwards in order to prepare for what seems to be a 2nd consecutive playoff run this season? Inevitably, regardless of the Leafs decision, Bozak, van Riemsdyk, and Komarov will all have the option to test free agency in the summer. Of course, they also have the option to ink an extension in Toronto.
5 Reasons the Toronto Maple Leafs Management Will Not Move Pending UFAs
Should the Leafs decide to pass on the opportunity to acquire draft picks and/or prospects, allowing Bozak, JVR and Komarov to test free agency at the end of the season, they will alleviate north of $11.4 million in cap space alone. This is a trade all on its own. How many times have we seen trades where a team is vulnerable because they need to dump cap? Often, in order for another team to take on a player with a high salary, a high draft pick is packaged to make a deal go through. This money not only gives the Leafs flexibility, but it can also be utilized in a number of different ways. With a defensive core locked up for at least one more season, the Leafs will use some of their available salary cap space to re-sign restricted free agent William Nylander.
Treat as Rentals
If the Leafs organization considers Bozak, JVR, and Komorov as rentals, it’s a win-win for everyone. The Leafs will get the opportunity to compete in the playoffs. They will bring in at least two games of playoff revenue. All three players will have the opportunity to increase their value before they hit the market. Now, it obviously helps that the Leafs farm system and prospect pool is loaded with talent – all you have to do is look at the Toronto Marlies success this season to determine that. Right now, it is quality over quantity. The Leafs are in a position where they do not necessarily need more draft picks.
Possibility to Re-Sign
The belief in Toronto is, that all three forwards will test free agency once the 2017/18 season concludes. There is still a possibility that the Leafs could re-sign one or two of the UFAs before July 1st. That said, re-signing any of the Leafs UFAs will be dependent on where the Leafs want to allocate their resources. With Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s contracts expiring in a season and a half, and recently noted William Nylander set to become an RFA at the end of the season, the option to re-sign current UFAs seems bleak.
Gaps in the Lineup
By trading any of the Leafs upcoming UFAs, the Leafs would leave large holes in their lineup. James van Riemsdyk is on pace for 54 points while averaging only 14:40 of ice time this season. This is the least amount of minutes JVR has had since his rookie year in 2009. One can only assume that if given more minutes, van Riemsdyk would produce more. Replacing a 20+ goal scorer is difficult. While Leaf fans want to see more of Josh Leivo or Kasperi Kapanen, it is unlikely that either player is ready to replace JVR’s production.
Tyler Bozak is the Leafs third line centre, behind Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri. Although on pace for fewer points than last year, Bozak is one of the Leafs most consistent players. He has registered four 40+ point seasons. Bozak would have another 40+ season in 2015-16 had he not sustained a lower-body injury. Bozak has logged in 633 face-offs while playing just over 15:00 per game this season. He is a key contributor to defensive zone face-offs. Bozak is also used to set-up the Leafs second power-play unit. Unless a trade offer sending a top prospect and a draft pick shows up on the Leafs doorstep, it is unlikely the Leafs deal Bozak at the trade deadline.
Leo Komarov may not have an impressive point total (11). However, Komarov averages 16:44 minutes per game. He is heavily relied on for Toronto’s penalty kill. Glued to Nazem Kadri’s hip, Komarov’s is a shutdown forward playing against the leagues top lines. Every team needs a role player, and that is what Komarov is. Despite an above average season during the lockout-shortened season, Komarov has never been known as a scorer. The Leafs do not expect him to be. Komarov serves a purpose on this team. His role will be even more significant come playoff time.
Opportunities Next Season
Let’s hypothetically skip forward. It’s July 1st, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, and Leo Komarov have all decided to test the free agent market. Where does this leave Toronto? Well, although a large hole in the Leafs lineup, this also creates an opportunity for Leafs players who have spent the last few seasons developing in the American Hockey League. Players such as Nikita Soshnikov, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo, Carl Grundström, Miro Aaltonen, Frederik Gauthier, Andreas Johnsson and even Jeremy Bracco will all be given an opportunity to make the Maple Leafs roster out of camp.
The Maple Leafs organization has been preparing for this day all along. This does not necessarily mean that the Leafs will be able to replace JVR’s point production. However, opportunities such as this would be a great stepping stone for some of these players to really find out what the Leafs have and what these players can potentially end up being.
Main Photo by Terry Lee / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.