With a crucially important off-season coming up quickly, we look at all of the Toronto Maple Leafs rumours from one of the most recent episodes of the Steve Dangle Podcast. This episode featured Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, who helped divulge a lot of info about what to expect from Toronto over the next few months.
Toronto Maple Leafs Rumours
Rumour: Nazem Kadri has realized that he’s entering, “Brad Marchand territory,” following his suspension for cross-checking Jake DeBrusk. “He was emotional, he was regretful… he said he has to deal with some personal stuff.”
Analysis: Johnston says that Kadri was showing a lot more regret and remorse after receiving a complete series suspension for an incident in Game Two. He told Johnston that he thought the Leafs had a good chance of winning if he hadn’t gotten suspended and takes full blame for the incident.
The NHL came down hard on Kadri for this incident. The league said on their decision, “This is not a hockey play. Instead, this is a player retaliating against an opponent by using his stick as a weapon.”
They also said that Kadri’s poor track record was a big factor in their final ruling. This has resonated with Kadri. He knows he has to change his reputation. With all of that said, Kadri also told Johnston that he feels like he is a good spot with the team and isn’t worried about a trade. Johnston wasn’t as confident in this though. He said, “I don’t know if he’s coming back, that’s a tricky one.” Part of this is the Leafs cap-struggles, part of this is his track record.
Rumour: Johnston claimed that it looks like Toronto captaincy issues might be soon to come to an end. He says that he thinks the team will name Auston Matthews as the franchise’s 18 team captain.
Analysis: The Leafs hasn’t had a captain since the 2015-16 season when Dion Phaneuf wore the ‘C’. Reporters have hammered the team with questions about their plans to name a captain. Now, the rumour is that Matthews will soon put an end to these questions. Johnston said that Matthews is the perfect candidate for the job. “He’s the franchise.”
Johnston says that the “kids are grown up now,” with Matthews and (potentially) Marner making north of $10 million, and Nylander sitting at $7 million. It’s about time that they are treated as such. It’s time that the keys to the team, and all of the responsibilities of a captain, finally get designated to one man’s shoulders. Matthews is the obvious choice: the standout leader on a very young team.
Rumour: During locker-cleanout day, there was a clear difference in how Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock addressed the press. While Dubas accepted all blame for the loss, Babcock seemed to have no regrets for his actions during the playoffs. This, combined with Dubas not clearly stating that Babcock would be returning next year, made Johnston skeptical.
Analysis: A good chunk of Leafs fans are calling for Babcock’s head after he lost yet another playoff series with Toronto. As mentioned in the podcast, there is a clear sense that nothing has changed since last season’s disappointing end. They say, “nothing has changed, so something has to change.”
"We had 100 points and we went to Game 7 against the Bruins in the first round, so it’s tough to say that it was tangible progress."
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 26, 2019
There’s a good possibility that ‘something’ is the team’s head coach. According to Johnston, Dubas had a clear opportunity to tell the media that Babcock is still the man-for-the-job and still held the reigns in Toronto during locker-cleanout day. He didn’t.
This lack of praise for Babcock is worrisome. There’s a clear controversy in Toronto. While Babcock is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in NHL history, he also hasn’t been able to lead a team past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2012-13. He also hasn’t bypassed the second round since 2008-09. So, yes Babcock is a great coach, but there’s something that’s holding him back during the post-season. With such a star-studded Leafs roster that’s quickly approaching their prime, there’s not much time for the team to wait around and find out what this issue is.
The whole situation left Johnston confused. He says he doesn’t know what will happen with Babcock and that, “the fact that I can’t come out of [locker-cleanout-day] and say that Babcock is ‘the guy’ next season surprises me.”
Rumour: The upcoming summer is the headline of the Toronto Maple Leafs rumours. With that said, there seems to be a strong feeling that Patrick Marleau will be returning next season. Marner still remains questionable though. There is a sense that the decision involving Marner is sooner rather than later.
Analysis: Marleau has said he plans to play next season. Johnston says there’s a 90 percent chance this is with Toronto. This is no surprise. As they say on the podcast, Marleau moved four kids to Toronto to play for the Leafs. His contract included a no-movement clause to assure that he didn’t have any chance of leaving once he got to Toronto. It doesn’t seem any of that will change next year, although the team might have that discussion with him.
Johnston did say that there is a real scenario where Marner isn’t going to be a Leaf next season. He thinks the team will have to sit down with Marner’s party in the next few weeks and offer an ultimatum. They’ll try to reason with Marner, citing the cap struggles they’re facing, but if he declines the deal then there’s not much more they can do. That’ll be when they have to start pursuing a trade. If a trade isn’t possible, then accepting an offer sheet (which would give the Leafs four first-round picks) and pursuing another star free-agent like Artemi Panarin might not be a bad option for the Leafs.
Rumour: The Leafs had a much more active trade deadline than was publicly known. Connor Brown was very close to going to the Oilers and Adam Larsson was a name that could’ve come to the Leafs, although in a separate package.
Analysis: There was supposedly a deal in the works around the NHL trade deadline that would’ve sent Brown to Edmonton. In return, the Oilers were offering up Matt Benning. While the addition of Benning wouldn’t have been terrible, the Leafs also wanted to receive Jujhar Khaira. This was too much for the Oilers and they backed out of the deal. Now,
However, there have been talks of another trade involving the two teams. While still very young, there’s a clear feeling that the Oilers will be parting ways with Larsson this summer to help open up their cap space. There’s no telling if he’ll be coming to the Leafs or not but, as Johnston says, there’s a clear fit for him in Toronto.
With that said, it’s all speculation. There’s are a lot of options for the Leafs moving into this summer, as long as Dubas stays smart. Johnston discusses how a lot of teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, are poised to make questionable trades after such a disappointing end to their season. If the Leafs can stay diligent, they have pieces to make exciting moves this summer.