The list of players that may not be with the Toronto Maple Leafs next season could be considered lengthy. The disappointment of yet another first-round exit, at the hands of the Boston Bruins no less, may trigger Kyle Dubas to make significant changes to the roster. Even if Dubas has a relatively low-key summer, it will still come with at least a handful of players that aren’t with the club as the 2019-20 season begins.
Gone From The Toronto Maple Leafs Next Season
Reports indicate Igor Ozhiganov will be returning to the KHL. Ozhiganov wasn’t bad for the Maple Leafs. He’s a right-handed defenseman, which the club lacks, but he was mostly utilized as a depth player in Toronto. His lack of ice time is likely what drove him to decide to return to the KHL where he’ll have a more prominent role. The Maple Leafs may find a way to bring him back, but with the team needing to re-sign Mitch Marner, it’s likely Dubas won’t want to pay much more than the $925,000 he was paying Ozhiganov for a depth defenseman. Ozhiganov is probably looking for more money as well as more ice time, neither appear to be in the cards for him in Toronto.
Connor Brown is another player that wasn’t bad last season. He wasn’t great either. After scoring 20 goals in his rookie campaign, Brown has scored 14 and eight in his last two seasons respectively. He’s a serviceable third-liner although he’s better suited for fourth line duty. Toronto will likely move him to save the $2.1 million he’s owed next season. It’s not a huge cap saving for the team, but the Maple Leafs are going to need all the cap space they can get next season. There have been rumours that the Edmonton Oilers showed interest in Brown at the trade deadline. Whether it’s Edmonton or someplace else, Dubas won’t have trouble moving Brown.
Frederik Gauthier is a big guy (6’5″, 235lbs) that doesn’t really play very big. Not that the Maple Leafs are looking for size these days. Gauthier makes only $625,000 a year. It’s not his salary that’s the problem here. It’s his play. His possession numbers are terrible. He has a career Corsi For of 45 percent and a relative Corsi of -7.3. He’s also pretty slow. The Maple Leafs have other players that could fill Gauthier’s role in Nic Petan or Toronto Marlies centre, Pierre Engvall. Both make more than Gauthier though.
Toronto would love to have Jake Gardiner back, but there’s little chance they could afford him. Even if he were to take a sizable ‘home town’ discount, the Maple Leafs still probably couldn’t afford him. Dubas appears to have already conceded the loss of Gardiner. There’s no other way to explain the acquisition of Jake Muzzin. Both are left-handed shots when the team needs someone for the right side. The Maple Leafs still have Morgan Rielly, Muzzin, and Travis Dermott to fill the left side. If the Maple Leafs do figure out a way to afford Gardiner, they’d be better suited to invest that money on the other side of the ice anyway.
Martin Marincin hasn’t played in more than 25 games for the Maple Leafs in the past three seasons. If he was going to stick with the club, we would have done it by now.
There’s no way the Maple Leafs are re-signing Ron Hainsey to anything close to the $3 million he made last season, but he could re-sign at a lower cost if Dubas agrees to play him less. It will be interesting to see what happens with Hainsey, who is a Mike Babcock favourite despite the fact that Hainsey is 38-years-old and clearly slowing down. Dubas could simply not re-sign Hainsey, but if he does, will Babcock continue to pair him with Rielly? Hainsey is, apparently, also one of the few players the Maple Leafs have that can play the right side even though he’s a left-handed shot. Toronto is already weak on the right side and they may lose (get rid of) what they currently have there. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hainsey back next season.
Nikita Zaitsev was better in the playoffs than he was the regular season. He’s a fine third pairing player that can spend some time on the second pairing in a pinch. It’s his contract that’s the problem. He’s making $4.5 million per year. That’s too much for a player of his calibre. That’s especially true for next season. If the Maple Leafs can make it through next year without losing any key players, Zaitsev’s contract becomes easier to swallow. With Marner potentially getting a contract north of $10 million this offseason, something’s got to give and Zaitsev may be it.
It’s not because of his stupid play in Game 1 that got him suspended for the rest of the series against Boston. Nazem Kadri may be traded because he’s worth more on the market than he is to the Maple Leafs. He is valuable on the ice for Toronto for sure, but his $4.5 million cap hit could be what it takes to get Marner under contract. Unlike Zaitsev or Patrick Marleau, the Maple Leafs would get something of value back for Kadri.
One of Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen may need to be traded or lost to an offer sheet. Depending on how Dubas does with the Marner contract (or if he can shed some salary somewhere), the Maple Leafs may not be able to afford both of these players. If it comes down to losing one over the other, the Maple Leafs would prefer to keep Kapanen. The return for Kapanen will likely be much better than the return for Johnsson in a trade.
Ridding themselves of the Marleau contract would be the best thing the Maple Leafs can do to solve their cap woes. He makes an outstanding $6.25 million per year and he’s not the player he once was. He’s arguably a fourth-line player at best. The problem is his no-movement clause and his desire to play another season; although due to him signing his contract at 37-years-old, retirement won’t help the Maple Leafs cap issues either.
“So, it’s an opportunity to come back next year and prove that I still have it, and I feel confident in my abilities to do that,” said Marleau after the Maple Leafs were defeated by the Bruins.
There’s little to no chance the Maple Leafs move William Nylander. Dubas said so himself. It would help the team with their cap troubles, but the biggest argument to trade Nylander isn’t his cap hit or even the fact he scored only seven goals in 54 games last year. He’s a good trade piece that could be used to get a top pairing right-handed defenseman. The position that’s been the Maple Leafs weakest point for a while now.
The Toronto Maple Leafs next season will depend as much on who leaves the team as who is added.