The Toronto Maple Leafs needs for 2020 are a little different than they were for 2019. They have their coveted right-handed defenceman, for the most part, between Justin Holl and Tyson Barrie. They also have a reliable fourth line. They’re still missing a quality back-up goalie despite back-to-back wins for Michael Hutchinson. The Maple Leafs are better than they were last year at this time, but they could still stand to improve in a few areas.
Toronto Maple Leafs Needs For 2020 And Beyond
Salary Cap Space
The first thing Toronto needs is salary cap space. They’re right up against the cap ceiling these days. The only reason they haven’t had to trade players away or reduce the roster to the bare minimum is that they’ve been plagued with injury so far this season. That trend continued this weekend with injuries to both Ilya Mikheyev, lacerated wrist, and Jake Muzzin, broken foot.
Some cap relief will facilitate the roster moves Kyle Dubas needs to make. Dubas will likely either find the cap room in the same deal he makes to improve the roster, moving dollars for dollars so to speak. Or he’ll make a trade to create space shortly before making a deal for additional depth. The former might mean trading a player like Kasperi Kapanen for a defenceman. The latter may mean trading Cody Ceci in a Patrick Marleau like deal. Marleau you may remember was traded to the Caroline Hurricanes with a first-round pick for a sixth-round pick. Dubas wouldn’t need a first to sweeten a deal for Ceci, but he may need something. Unless he can convince another team Ceci is a quality defender.
The Maple Leafs’ defence is much better than it has been in years past, but it could still stand to be improved. The Maple Leafs are also looking at losing Muzzin, Barrie, and Ceci to free agency next year. Dubas has a few options to replace those players.
Dubas can re-sign one of the above mentioned three or sign equivalent players on the free market. That’s going to be expensive either way. Unless they can work some salary cap magic, it’s not going to happen. Dubas could perhaps re-sign one of his pending UFAs, but even that is unlikely. Muzzin will be 31 in a couple of months and will be looking for a long-term, hefty contract. Someone will give it to him, but it won’t be Dubas. Barrie has come as advertised. He’s the most likely to be re-signed. He’ll only be 29 by the start of next season. The downside of Barrie is his defence is not great, but a lot of that comes from him trying to create offence. Sheldon Keefe appears to have given Barrie the green light on offence so perhaps the team is comfortable re-signing Barrie. Ceci won’t be back next season.
The Maple Leafs call up Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. Liljegren was already called up this weekend to replace Muzzin. How much playing time he’ll see is still to be determined. The Maple Leafs could look to these two to fill any missing voids in 2020. They’ll probably need to use at least one of these players soon. If not this season, then next.
Dubas is surely looking to trade for a quality defenceman this season. Not just a one-year rental but a player that isn’t too expensive, can play top-four minutes, and is singed beyond 2020. That may be a tall order, but Dubas does have the credit to go shopping. For one, Dubas has a plethora of forwards he can use as trade bait. Kapanen, for example, has been asked about by other teams. Trading Kapanen will both provide cap space and a valuable return. Elliotte Friedman also mentioned on Saturday night that the Maple Leafs were shopping a few prospects in Jeremy Bracco, Dmytro Timashov and Ben Harpur.
As we get closer to the trade deadline, teams will be more decided that they are sellers and start looking to trade veterans for youth. Look for the Maple Leafs to be active this year.
Veterans usually come with valuable playoff experience. The Maple Leafs’ kids are slowly getting that experience, but winning at an NHL level is really the key. There are only a couple of players with that deep playoff run experience on the roster. Muzzin, who likely will be gone next season, is one. Jason Spezza is old enough to have some. Frederik Andersen went pretty far in 2015. It dries up a bit after that though. Even John Tavares has only been out of the first round once.
Adding some experience will help this team who will likely be facing a formidable opponent in the first round yet again. The way things are going, it may even be the Tampa Bay Lightning who will be looking to avenge an upset in the first round last year.
Dubas won’t target a player who will add to the team’s toughness, but he probably should. Stanley Cup winners always have a couple of guys that can play rough. Dubas traded the last year’s grittiest player, Nazem Kadri, away. He’s clearly all-in on the skill trumps toughness concept. Granted, Kadri was a bit too gritty, getting suspended in each of the last two playoffs.
The Maple Leafs could easily win a round or two based on skill alone, especially if they match up with a similarly styled team, like Tampa, but the grind of four rounds may be beyond them unless they can add someone that can finish checks consistently and make other teams a little wary.
The Toronto Maple Leafs needs list definitely includes a quality back-up goaltender. Toronto is in a playoff spot at the moment, but they’d be in the conversation for winning the division if the back-up goaltending was better. They’re probably not going to need a back-up frequently in the playoffs, but they may need one to get there.
If they don’t get home-ice advantage in the first round this year and lose that series, much of the talk of what went wrong will be around a lack of a quality back-up.
Toronto Maple Leafs Needs Include A Playoff Win
What the Maple Leafs need most in 2020 is a playoff victory. This season will be considered a failure if they don’t make it out of the first round. A win would stave off the fans, give a little relief to the players and management, and generally do wonders for the franchise and city. There’s no reason it can’t happen, especially if Dubas fills the remaining roster gaps. From the rumours that are coming out of Toronto, he’s trying to do just that.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 27: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs tries to avoid the stick of Dennis Cholowski #21 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period at Little Caesars Arena on November 27, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)