April 29, 2018 | 11:20pm ET
BY DAVID PAGNOTTA, The Fourth Period
TIME FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS TO GET CREATIVE
TORONTO, ON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs have a very interesting summer ahead.
They continued to take the right steps this season in reestablishing themselves as a legitimate and consistent powerhouse in the NHL.
Mitch Marner and William Nylander proved they can carry the load if Auston Matthews is hit with an ailment, and Morgan Rielly has solidified his position as a top-pair defenceman.
But there is still work to be done, at both ends of the ice.
The Maple Leafs have at least $25 million in available salary cap space to work with for the 2018-19 season – taking into account Nathan Horton’s $5.3 million cap hit returning to LTIR – and even with big contracts looming, that gives management plenty of room to be creative this summer.
That figure will rise, keep in mind, as the salary cap is expected to increase by an additional $3 million to $7 million for next season.
Pending unrestricted free agents Roman Polak, Dominic Moore, Leo Komarov and Tomas Plekanec are not expected to be brought back next season, while just one of James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak may be re-signed.
With the emergence of youngsters Kasperi Kapanen, Travis Dermott and Andreas Johnsson this season, and winger Josh Leivo waiting (somewhat) patiently for a regular bottom-six role – he may still end up being moved this summer – not to mention some of the prospects they have in the AHL, the Leafs have the luxury replacing some of the veteran players heading for the exits.
Among the team’s pending restricted free agents – Nylander, Johnsson and defenceman Connor Carrick – Nylander is due for a significant contract, which will eat away at some of the $25M + in cap space.
But assuming he makes between $6 million and $7 million next season, with the cap going up, the Leafs will still have around $20 million to play with.
Some of that money will likely be used to try and re-sign Bozak to solidify the team’s third line centre position.
Bozak, 32, made $4 million this season, though his cap hit was $4.2 million, and could see his salary hover between $4 million and $5 million on a new deal.
With future contracts to Matthews and Marner in the offing – roughly $20 million will be allocated right there – van Riemsdyk is more likely to sign a large contract outside of Toronto. And who can blame him?
JVR has loved his time in Toronto, but the writing is on the wall. Even with the cap going up, the only major money coming off the books next summer is the $3 million to Ron Hainsey and the $4.05 million to Jake Gardiner, providing he’s even around by then – for the record, I’m a Gardiner fan; offensively he showed it this season, but he has to be paired with a defensive stalwart, otherwise he’s too risky of a player on a championship-caliber team. While that frees up $7.05 million, that money will go to the blueline, not van Riemsdyk.
Yes, the Leafs will have to be very creative next summer and almost as creative this summer. That means no JVR. It might also mean no Bozak, which would result in the team looking for a cheaper third-line centre somewhere else.
But Bozak, like van Riemsdyk, loves Toronto and if the Leafs can add more term to his contract, I believe he’d be willing to give them a bit of a hometown discount on an AAV.
As for the blueline, that’s got to be a priority – with locking up Nylander, and Matthews and Marner to extensions, also atop the list.
Defensively, the Leafs aren’t nearly where they need to be. The D corps needs work and their overall defensive system needs just as much. It’s one thing to go out and sign and/or acquire upgrades on the blueline, but the team’s young forwards need to be more responsible without the puck if they plan on competing for a Stanley Cup next season.
With Rielly, Gardiner, Dermott, Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev securing five of the six spots in the backend, that leaves Toronto with one major hole to fill, presuming they don’t look to trade someone, and that’s entirely possible.
John Carlson is the prized defenseman of this July’s free agent class, providing he doesn’t re-sign with the Washington Capitals. He’s going to cash in, and while the Maple Leafs would certainly love to get their mitts on him, I’m not sure they can afford him.
Granted, it’ll take some future maneuvering, and as I said before, with $7.05M coming off the books next summer, it’s possible Toronto takes that chance, but management will have to be certain he’s worth the team’s cap headache down the road.
If Carlson isn’t on their radar, the Leafs will go the trade route, and no, I am not convinced they have much interest in trading Nylander, let alone Marner, especially not for a No.1 defenceman who isn’t signed long-term. So who does that leave?
Expect to hear Gardiner and Kapanen’s names pop up the most, but they aren’t enough to secure a No.1. Packaged together with a little extra? Maybe. Who knows, perhaps the Leafs include their first-round pick and a team looking to retool bites. Failing that, the team needs an upgrade.
Edmonton entertained calls on Oscar Klefbom this season, as we first reported – he would certainly strengthen Toronto’s backend, and the Leafs have two things the Oilers want: a puck-mover (Gardiner) and a right winger (Kapanen). The Leafs expressed interest in Colorado’s Tyson Barrie last summer and he could be a target again this off-season. The Carolina Hurricanes have plenty of defensive depth and teams have kicked the tires on Justin Faulk, someone the Maple Leafs have been linked to. Arizona needs to figure out if Oliver Ekman-Larsson plans on signing a long-term deal with the club and if not, you can be sure the Leafs will be first in line. The Los Angeles Kings want to improve their secondary scoring and could swap out Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez.
Whatever happens, the Leafs want an upgrade on the blueline and it’s got to happen at some point.
And an x-factor here is last summer’s first-round selection Timothy Liljegren, a right-handed defenceman whom the Leafs are extremely high on. He could challenge for a roster spot in September and if he shows them enough, that would certainly ease any headaches management may have. But that’s a big ask and it’s more of a bonus if he does make the team out of camp.
For now, the Leafs know big money is coming Matthews, Marner and Nylander’s way. But $20 million to play with this summer, assuming my guesstimate on Nylanders’s next deal is in the ballpark, makes for a very interesting summer, indeed. Because who’s to say Toronto won’t toss $10 million Carlson’s way on a one-year deal? Lou Lamoriello might, or Brendan Shanahan. But with a one-year window because things really get tight, it could be worth a shot. Remember, the Leafs did fire an offer over to Joe Thornton last summer, too.
DOUGH-TY, NOT DOTY
One guy Leafs fans need to stop dreaming about is Drew Doughty.
The London (Ontario) kid, who gets married this August, absolutely loves playing for Los Angeles and living by the ocean in South Bay, I can assure you his priority is to sign an eight-year extension with the Kings. And the feeling it mutual. But like everything, it’s going to come down to dollars.
Kings GM Rob Blake and Doughty’s agents, Mark Guy and Don Meehan, will get the ball rolling this summer.
Doughty cannot officially sign an extension until July 1, but you can be sure the two sides will want to figure things out sooner than later.
Kings captain Anze Kopitar, who is a finalist for both the Selke Trophy and the Hart Trophy this season, is currently the Kings’ highest paid playing with $10 million cap hit. Expect Doughty to surpass that figure.
Nashville Predators star P.K. Subban is the NHL’s highest paid defenceman with a $9 million salary cap hit. Doughty believes he’s more valuable than Subban and will be after a higher AAV. I suspect he’ll pursue a deal around $12 million per season. I think the Kings will fight for closer to $11 million per year.
Edmonton’s Connor McDavid currently owns the highest cap hit next season at $12.5 million – he, along with Montreal’s Carey Price, will each make a league-high $15 million in salary next season.
MONTREAL ACTUALLY WON SOMETHING
Everyone in Montreal happy? Instead of drafting fourth-overall – or really fifth-overall after Carolina jumped into the Top 3 – the Canadiens are picking third.
I know Habs GM Marc Bergevin and his staff are pretty excited. Montreal will likely end up selecting highly-skilled offensive weapon Filip Zadina on June 22 in Dallas and that should tickle a lot of fans in the right way.
No, he doesn’t play centre. But as much as the Canadiens need a star up the middle – not sure breaking the bank on John Tavares is the way to go, but they’ll try if given the chance – they need guys who can score just as badly.
Zadina, or forward Andrei Svechnikov if the Carolina Hurricanes somehow don’t take him at No.2, is a ridiculously dynamic offensive winger who can score and pass, and depending on who you talk to, he can play either wing, though he’s a left-handed shooter. Oh, and their scouts really like the kid, too.
With the Habs set to draft a very good winger in about eight weeks, that gives them a lot of skill on the wing heading into next season, presuming whomever they select at No.3 cracks the lineup.
Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Nikita Scherbak, Zadina (for argument’s sake) and Jonathan Drouin gives Montreal some pretty damn darn good options for its top three lines. That is, of course, if all of these guys are on the team come October.
And yes, among those who strongly believe Drouin is better served on the wing. But if the Habs fail, again, to add a top-line centre this summer, putting him in between Galchenyuk and Zadina wouldn’t be that horrible. But I digress...
Over these next two months, we’ll undoubtedly here more trade speculation involving Galchenyuk and Pacioretty. Neither guy wants to be traded, not if they’re given the reigns they deserve.
The captain wants to stay, even with all the crappy media attention he received this season, and the Habs will do their due diligence and get an understanding of what type of contract extension he wants moving forward. Pacioretty has one-year left on his team-friendly deal and it’s management’s responsibility to figure out if they can lock him up to this summer. If not, that’s more PR ammunition they can use if they ultimately trade him.
Galchenyuk, meanwhile, wants to play top-six minutes and he wants to do it in Montreal. He’s a top-six winger and while he had an extremely frustrating season, especially in the first half of the campaign, he stepped it up and tallied a career-high 32 assists and finished with his the second 50+ point season (51) of his young career.
Moving the 24-year-old – Montreal’s only other third-overall selection since 1969 – makes zero sense to me, even with the team in need of a true centre.
With Andrew Shaw and Paul Byron out until October-ish, that would presumably leave Pacioretty, or maybe Gallagher, who is coming off of a career-year, as the team’s main trade bait up front.
But don’t stress about that now, or the fact the team also needs to upgrade its blueline. Celebrate. The Habs have the third-overall pick in the draft.
- Apr. 15, 2018 - Seguin a priority for Dallas
- Feb. 21, 2018 - Uneasy in Ottawa
- Feb. 09, 2018 - As Deadline nears, Predators are All-In
- Feb. 01, 2018 - Islanders’ Snow facing tough decisions
- Jan. 22, 2018 - Weaknesses evident in Maple Leafs play of late
- Dec. 04, 2017 - Seattle takes next step towards joining NHL