They haven’t played in weeks but Toronto Maple Leafs injuries are still piling up. Enough so that they’ll have to plan this off-season around more than Mitch Marner‘s contract. They’ll have to plan around being short-handed, possibly until American Thanksgiving.
Toronto Maple Leafs Injuries
It started before the playoffs even began. Jake Gardiner missed time with a back injury. Then Travis Dermott was out with a separated shoulder. They were both back in time for the Maple Leafs’ first-round series against the Boston Bruins, but they weren’t the same players. It turns out Zack Hyman was playing against Boston with a torn ACL too. With Boston advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, it makes you wonder what could have been for the Maple Leafs. They took Boston to seven games and looked good doing it. That’s not something the Columbus Blue Jackets or Carolina Hurricanes can say.
Instead of playing the what-if game, Toronto is focusing on next season. The biggest story to their offseason so far is around the team’s injuries and how they will affect the start of the 2019-20 season.
Injured or not, the Maple Leafs are not likely to have Gardiner with them next season. As a UFA he’s set to command top dollar for his services, something the Maple Leafs just can’t afford. There is talk they would like to re-sign him. That he’s a player they covet, but much of that is lip service. For one, they are already stacked on the left side with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Dermott. Gardiner’s money would be better spent on Marner or re-signing Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
If Kyle Dubas miraculously finds a way to scrape enough money together to sign Gardiner, one has to wonder if the back injuries he’s had will scare Dubas away. Back injuries are unpredictable. Hopefully, Gardiner recovers fully and plays a long time, wherever he ends up, but that’s not always the case. It’s a buyer beware situation, which may affect his next contract. Enough to allow the Maple Leafs re-signing him as doubtful. This injury may be the straw on top of the straw that took the Maple Leafs out of the running for Gardiner’s services long ago.
Dermott had a shoulder surgery on May 10th and is expected to be out for around six months. That puts him out till around mid-November. He’ll likely miss somewhere around 20 games. It will depend on how the players come out of training camp, but those 20 games could be filled by one of the Maple Leafs younger defensemen.
Rasmus Sandin, who is a left-handed shot, could get a look on the third pairing. It boils down to on who the team has on the right side to pair with him. Ron Hainsey may have played his last game with the Maple Leafs, but if he re-signs to play on the third pairing, he would be a good partner for any rookie. Another option may be to try out Toronto Marlies teammate Timothy Liljegren as his partner.
It’s also possible Mike Babcock and Dubas will think Sandin and Liljegren need more seasoning in the AHL. In which case the team may be looking to add depth from the free agent pool or players like Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman. Both of them have NHL experience and could end up being permanent players with the Maple Leafs. Mac Hollowell is another young defenseman that’s been interesting to watch. He could be a surprise addition next season.
There’s some talk Dubas would trade Hyman to re-allocate his cap dollars to Marner. Don’t bet on that. Hyman is a Babcock favourite and 20-goal scorers making only $2.25 million a season are hard to find. Hyman went under the knife on April 29th and will also miss about six months. That puts him back around the end of October. He’ll likely miss at least 10 games.
Hyman was stuck with Marner and John Tavares for the bulk of last season. As one of the better defenders in the league, twice cracking the top 25 in Selke voting, it will be interesting to see whom the Maple Leafs replace him with for the first month of the season. Andreas Johnsson is a potential fit if the team is able to re-sign him.
Another player that could get a chance to prove himself with Tavares and Marner is newly signed winger Ilya Mikheyev. He’s been touted as a defensive forward that can score, but he’s a little slow. Sounds similar to Tavares. He also brings size to the team, which is something they’ve been lacking. With Hyman out for October, it stands to reason that as long as Mikheyev is good enough at training camp, he’ll be Hyman’s primary replacement. Or at least Hyman’s injury will get him an extended audition.
Tavares sustained an oblique injury while practicing with Team Canada ahead of the IIHF World Championships. He’s expected to miss about a month of his off-season training. It will likely have no impact on his play with the Maple Leafs next season, nor will it likely become a reoccurring issue for Tavares. Oblique injuries are more common in baseball where both the pitching movement and the swinging of the bat puts a lot of exertion on the side muscles.
Nazem Kadri Will Not Be Traded
There are rumours Nazem Kadri will be traded this off-season. It’s not likely to happen, not unless Dubas can get a considerable return. While Kadri’s $4.5 million would help Dubas re-sign his players, Kadri is still an integral part of the Maple Leafs. Losing him would create a crater in the team’s centre depth, which is an area already in need of help on the fourth line. There are better contracts to move to free up cap space.
If the Maple Leafs do trade Kadri, it certainly won’t be out of spite because of his playoff suspensions in back to back seasons. His value would be low if other teams felt the Maple Leafs were looking to dump him. If Kadri goes, the team would need to be getting a top-four right-handed defenseman in return, and that’s just not likely. He’ll be needed even more if the Toronto Maple Leafs injuries continue to pile up.