By Cole Parkinson
The Toronto Maple Leafs live rent-free in my brain. And I think that’s the truth for the vast majority of Leaf fans.
It’s nearing the end of July — far from hockey season — yet the Maple Leafs continue to dominate most of my brain. The recent expansion draft and entry draft were held just a few days ago, and while the hockey world has seen plenty of movement, the Maple Leafs have yet to make any major moves. And it doesn’t sound like anything drastic is coming.
For better or worse, the Leafs’ core is likely to be the same as it was last season. The obvious changes around the team include Zach Hyman departing, Freddie Andersen all but out the door, and Zach Bogosian leaving for another team. Losing Hyman was all but inevitable due to his bump in salary and with all signs pointing to Edmonton signing him for $5.5 for seven years — all I can say is good for Hyman. The dude works his ass off every single shift he’s on the ice.
Will Oiler fans hate that contact by the last two or three years? Absolutely. Players like Hyman don’t age well, but they are a team that needs to go for it with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s prime years wasting away.
Andersen looked, well not good, for the vast majority of last season, and with the emergence of Jack Campbell, the Leafs can’t afford Andersen unless he wants less money than what his current contract paid. But with many teams needing goalies, there’s no way a team can’t offer him more money and term.
Bogosian would have been nice to resign, but the Leafs have Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren who should be able to provide some minutes.
The defence heading into next season really isn’t a massive concern compared to most years.
So far the top four of Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, and Justin Holl are all returning, which is great.
They all performed well last season, so while another depth d-man or two could be on the Leafs’ radar, it’s not priority number one.
All signs point to priority one to be acquiring another goaltender.
Darcy Kuemper has been rumoured for several months, but it sounds like Arizona wants a lot of capital from any team looking to acquire him.
Kuemper would be a great fit, but the Leafs should not be overpaying for him. He had a pretty mediocre season last year (a .907 save percentage), but his previous seasons were much better. The question is — which Kuemper are you acquiring?
The Leafs’ cupboards in terms of draft picks are already bare and you have to think the rebuilding Coyotes would be looking for exactly that.
On the free-agent market, interesting names include Jaroslav Halak, Linus Ullmark, James Reimer or Petr Mrazek. Of those names listed, Ullmark would be my primary target, though his cap hit will likely be the largest. Halak has been a great 1B option for the Bruins the previous few seasons, but he’s also 36 years old.
Mrazek is likely going to get a decent-sized contract and was injured a lot last season.
Reimer, a former Maple Leaf, is interesting, though he’s also in his thirties. At 33, can Reimer be a 1B to Jack Campbell? I honestly don’t know if he can.
There’s also Antti Raanta available who could slot in as the backup.
The Leafs also have some holes upfront.
With the Seattle Kraken selecting Jared McCann from the Leafs, that means Kerfoot will more than likely be back in the blue and white. I don’t hate that, honestly. He had a great playoff series against Montreal, and if the Leafs can use him in the top six as a winger, that’s pretty good. I’d prefer they find a third-line centre instead of using Kerfoot there, and there are some names in free agency that could potentially provide exactly that.
Phillip Danault would be the dream third-line centre for the Buds, but his salary would be much too rich. Nick Foligno could be brought back if he wants another chance to play for Toronto, and he could play some centre and wing. Nick Bonino is another centre that could bring some reliability as a third-line centre. He may not be the player he once was, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t provide the Leafs with decent value at a lower cap hit. Erik Haula is another player that the Leafs have had an interest in previously and he could be had for fairly cheap, one would think.
Otherwise, there’s plenty of wingers available including Michael Bunting, Brandon Saad, Kyle Palmieri or Gabriel Landeskog, though he would likely command way too much salary for it to work in Toronto. Resigning winger Alex Galchenyuk wouldn’t be a bad thing either, as long as the hit cap hit was around the $1 million mark as it was last year. The Leafs also have Nick Robertson, who may crack the lineup in the top nine.
Kyle Dubas has already stated he believes in the core that has been put together and if the team fails once again to make it past the first round, that likely signals the end of the Dubas era. And despite the talk of additions to the roster, the success of this team falls on Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and Jack Campbell. If Matthews and Marner disappear in the playoffs again, it doesn’t matter who they bring in during the offseason or at the trade deadline. Toronto shouldn’t need another expensive winger to play with the big boys -— they’re being paid to be the best players on the ice already.
It’s going to be an interesting season in Leafland, probably more so than in previous years. If the team once again disappoints, it’s time to shake things up in a major way. But that’s still so far ahead of us, there’s still a full 82-game schedule ahead of us. This year will certainly be hard to believe anything about this team, good or bad, because the regular season really means nothing. If they make the playoffs — that’s what they were supposed to do and now they need to prove it in the playoffs. If they miss the playoffs…lookout.
For better or worse, it’s never a dull moment being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, is it?