The NHL offseason officially hit full throttle this July 1st. No team made a bigger splash than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Getting started even before the UFA signing period began, the Leafs were dealing with serious cap challenges coming out of the 2018-19 season. The major issue is signing RFA Mitch Marner to a contract. Toronto spent the opening days of the offseason dumping the cap hits of Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev. They followed it up with a blockbuster trade, dealing Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. The moves have quickly changed the complexion of the Leafs roster. The question is: did Kyle Dubas put the Leafs in a better position to win?
Kyle Dubas is focused on winning a Stanley Cup in Toronto but there are still a lot of questions remaining for the Leafs new squad entering next season.
Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Analysis
The Leafs Didn’t Lose Any Trades
The motivating force behind most of these deals was about one thing, re-signing Mitch Marner. If Marner ends up with a reasonable contract that keeps him in Toronto for five more years, they win. In none of the trades did the Leafs flat out lose, and it will likely mean they get to keep a great player around for a long time.
In dealing for Barrie and Kerfoot, the Leafs made a move to address the need for another top-pairing defenseman. Barrie should slot in beside Morgan Rielly on the Leafs top pairing. Another option could be paring him with Jake Muzzin on the second pairing. A Muzzin-Barrie paring would be among the best second pairs in the NHL. This would give the Leafs two sets of very good scoring defenseman, similar to what they had with Jake Gardiner.
The biggest loss from the trade is a lack of depth up the middle. Assuming William Nylander begins the season on Auston Matthews wing, Jason Spezza is a significant downgrade from Kadri. The only special team’s team play he will receive will likely be on the second powerplay and doesn’t bring the production or physical ability Kadri possesses. An element to the Leafs Mike Babcock clearly desires. Lucky for the Leafs, they have two of the NHL’s premier centreman locked up for the next five seasons.
The trades also leave Toronto with a very makeshift group of penalty killers. Connor Brown may not have been a giant loss in the grand scheme, but he provided valuable minutes in the bottom-six and on the penalty kill. He is just one of the top four players that led the Leafs in shorthanded time on ice last season that will either not be returning or missing a significant chunk of 2019-20.
Kyle Dubas Is Likely Done Dealing for the Offseason
With the flurry of moves made by Dubas over the past two weeks or so, the roster looks very different. Specifically, it looks a lot thinner. With the contracts of John Tavares, Matthews, and soon to be Marner being so high, has forced the Leafs to squeeze their depth players. Of Toronto’s bottom-six forwards and bottom-two defensemen, at least six players have a cap hit of under $1,000,000 this upcoming season.
However, depth could be a big problem for the Leafs down the road. Locking up Marner would secure the Leafs core for at least the next two season (three if you don’t count Frederik Andersen). It also means they are going to have to use untraditional methods to fill out the roster. Outside to Rielly, every defender projected to make Leafs roster in October does not have a contract going into the 2020-21 season.
It would be hard for the Leafs to strike another deal after moving so many pieces already. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible but it’s highly unlikely. The next move the Leafs could make is for some forward or defence depth. Though the Leafs could use the help, Toronto is hoping that some of their prospects are ready to make the jump.
The Moves Heavily Shape Marner’s Contract Talks
With Marner watching the Leafs swap multiple players in order to create cap space, both parties are now forced to reevaluate where they stand on a new contract. Kyle Dubas has a precise dollar amount he can work with in regards to Marner, and Marner is watching as some of the other RFAs in this class are rewarded by their respective clubs.
The first big RFA chip fell when the Carolina Hurricanes Sebastian Aho signed an offer sheet from the Montreal Canadians. The contract was a five year(s)/$ 42.27 million contract which the Hurricanes matched. The average annual value of $8.545 million on Aho’s contract bodes well for Dubas. Many had speculated Marner’s range would be closer to Matthews $11.6 million AAV than what Aho received on July 1st. Despite that, the two players are very comparable statistics wise. While Marner registered 11 more points than Aho this season, the Hurricanes winger scored one more goal on an offence with significantly less firepower. The two also finished similarly in Selke voting — Marner coming in 14th and Aho coming 12th.
Aho’s new contract now gives Dubas significantly more ground to negotiate on. Marner and Aho score at similar rates, have similar two-way games and are basically the exact same age. Nikita Kucherov‘s $9.5 million AAV was likely the comparable Dubas was using to get a realistic number for Marner but now the market has shown a current day statue. Aho’s deal could now place Marner’s eventual salary closer to an AAV of $9 million as opposed to $10 million from the perspective of Leafs management.
Kyle Dubas and the Leafs made all these trades for one reason: to keep Marner. In the chaos, they managed to upgrade their defence and cleared a number of bad contracts out from under them. It’s hard to say whether Toronto has improved their team at this point in offseason but they are definitely trying to become a Cup contender at all costs.
Assuming Marner is locked up by Dubas in the coming months, the Leafs are looking the strongest they have since they assembled their current core.
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