Chris Johnston alludes to the Leafs pursuing a mystery player

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Chris Johnston made a recent appearance on the Steve Dangle Podcast to dissect what exactly went wrong for the Leafs in the playoffs this year. There is absolutely no shortage of right answers to that question, but if you (like many of us) believe that at least part of the problem is personnel based, he offered a glimmer of hope that help is on the way.

Chris Johnston is one of the best in the business and one of the most connected journalists to the Leafs, so in the closing moments of the podcast for him to drop the line that “there’s going to be like one player on this roster on opening night that is going to get everyone excited. I’m talking like a big name, a big promise player and no ones gonna see it coming,” well, that’s going to get us wondering about who it could be.

The hints that Johnston provided, given that he does have a player in mind, are that they are from a team that missed the playoffs, they are an American based team, and they’ve got multiple years on their contract. So that’s a lot of intrigue. No hints at who is going, no timeline on when we could see this, and just those facts and the knowledge that while Chris Johnston is one of the best in the business, a lot can change and the Leafs targeting someone doesn’t mean they have a deal in place for them.

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The name that seems to be floating around the most is Travis Konecny. You might remember him as the guy the Leafs could have drafted instead of trading down for Dermott and picking up Bracco in the process. (There’s some salt for the wound.)

Konecny is 24, so the promise that Johnston spoke to is still there, he’s got four years remaining at $5.5M on his deal he signed with the Flyers, and while a big name, who had a 61 point in 66 game season over a year ago, he produced only 34 points in 50 games this season, and found himself sitting in the press box a couple of times for his lack of production. So seemingly the Flyers could want to move on from him, and while his salary is on the higher side of things, the Leafs could make it work depending on who goes the other way and if Zach Hyman is moving on from the Leafs.

Of course it’s nothing but internet speculation at this point about Konecny, and further research is required to form your own wish list of under contract, non-playoff team name brand players.

Also from CJ…

Johnston doesn’t believe the Leafs will trade one of the big four forwards (meaning Marner), and while he doesn’t think that Shanahan or Dubas are going to put all their cards on the table during a locker room cleanout day press conference, he thinks they will hold true to their word and the band will stay together for one more go.

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Personally, I thought this year was supposed to be the one more go of it, but pretty sure Kyle Dubas doesn’t live his life by my interpretation of his timelines.

The commitment to not changing where the change could be most impactful doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of fresh hope for next season, but that’s why we led with the mystery player thing. The rest of this post, depending on how much you want the team to stay intact is decidedly less hopeful.

There was also mention that Morgan Rielly won’t be on the move, which is interesting because that is setting the Leafs up for yet another year where they hang on to an expiring free agent they likely won’t be bringing back. Maybe it’s different with Morgan, but if he doesn’t have a contract going into next season I think we can guess how this will play out. Probably very similar to what we’re seeing with Hyman and Andersen.

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Speaking of Hyman, Johnston projects his contract will be north of $5M a year, and if the Leafs want to keep him around it’s going to be a deal similar to the 7 years, $5.5M/yr deal that Josh Anderson got from the Canadiens. To that I say I wish Zach Hyman all the best in his new home. For the age and injury reasons that Chris Johnston mentioned on the podcast, it’s not ideal to invest in Hyman even if he’s been outstanding during his career as a Leaf.

Johnston also notes that a hometown discount isn’t going to do much more than shave a couple of hundred thousand off Hyman’s deal. He’s not staying in Toronto for $4M, and while that would be lovely if he did that, I’m not sure why he’s trying to say Bell and Rogers money.

When it came to the expansion draft conversation, Johnston mentions a rumoured interest in Kerfoot from Seattle, and if the Leafs opt for a 4F/4D protection, he’s likely the player who will be gone. Justin Holl would be the likely candidate if the Leafs go the 7F/3D route, and Travis Dermott remains a possibility because of his age and the opportunity he’d have in Seattle, though it seems like it’s the first two that are being looked at. (My $.02, I can live with either outcome, though Holl is harder to replace with less of a cap benefit.)

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Chris Johnston also mentions that the Leafs will address their goaltending situation likely through a trade, which means I don’t need to invest a lot of time in learning about Chris Driedger or Petr Mrazek, but opens up the field.

My guess, given the Leafs love of Columbus goaltending, they might do some pre-expansion draft shopping there, or possibly wait and trade with Seattle if they’ve selected a number of capable netminders.

Finally, since we want to leave on a high note, Chris does mention that you can’t rule out the Leafs being interested in Dougie Hamilton, and puts his potential cap hit in the $8M/yr range. That certainly would go a long ways to make Leafs fans feel better about next season, and hopefully they get a mystery forward as well.