The NHL offseason is about to hit turbo mode with the expansion draft, entry draft, and unrestricted free agency all set to occur before the end of July. For the Maple Leafs, after yet another disappointing and premature playoff exit, change is on the horizon. Not only do the Leafs have a couple of long-term Leafs in Zach Hyman and Frederik Andersen set to hit free agency on July 28th, but team management have to decide whether this team’s core as it is presently constructed is worth another roll of the dice, or if a bold shake-up has to occur.
Fan dissatisfaction is at an all-time high in the Auston Matthews Era, and just tinkering around the edges may not be well received by large factions of fans. The Leafs have around $9.4M to play around with this offseason according to PuckPedia, notwithstanding the loss of Alexander Kerfoot (+$3.5M), Justin Holl ($2.0M), Travis Dermott ($1.5M), or Other Player (~$0.8M) to Seattle in the expansion draft. There’s cap space here to work with, and the Leafs could use an injection of new blood to hopefully counteract the stench left behind by their disastrous collapse to Montreal in this year’s first round.
Thankfully our latest big hire for The Nation Network, Frank Seravalli, has posted his top 25 “names in play” this offseason, so let’s go through the list and determine if they would be good / realistic adds for the Leafs.
Center, Buffalo Sabres / Age: 24 / Contract: 5 years remaining at $10 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Who in the league wouldn’t be interested in adding a top-10 talent like Eichel? While his injury issues may cause some GM’s to pause, Eichel is a game-breaking talent that seldom ever becomes available on the trade market. That $10M annual salary would be hard to fit onto the Leafs, so the only way this happens is if one of the Leafs’ other 8-digit contracts is going the other way (and it wouldn’t be Auston or JT). The Leafs would also need to think about shifting one of Eichel or Tavares to the wing so as to not bury anyone on the third line. Lastly, Buffalo would need to be okay with trading him within the division to one of their rivals. This is probably too complicated to happen.
Right Defense, Columbus Blue Jackets / Age: 26 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $5.4 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? What if I told you Seth Jones is not as good as you think he is? Members of the analytics community have been saying for a while now that Jones’ reputation may be outsized relative to his overall contributions. Jones has been rumoured to Philadelphia for a while, but talks seem to have stalled with Jones being reluctant to sign an extension at the moment. It feels like Jones is going to free agency next summer unless he finds himself in a perfect situation with a new team. The Leafs probably could not afford the raise he will command next summer, so this would be a rental situation for them most likely.
Right Wing, St. Louis Blues / Age: 29 / Contract: 2 years remaining at $7.5 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? The Leafs are stacked at RW with Marner and Nylander in the fold, and Tarasenko brings with him some concerns about injury, having only played 34 games over the last two (shortened) seasons. The Leafs would have to move out considerable salary to make this deal work from a balance sheet perspective, and I cannot see them parting with the assets that would help facilitate a trade.
Center, Washington Capitals / Age: 29 / Contract: 4 years remaining at $7.8 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? I think the Leafs steer clear of Kuznetsov and his off-ice baggage. Positionally, culturally, and financially, it’s not a fit.
Right Wing, Arizona Coyotes / Age: 25 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? Absolutely. Being called ‘the engine of the Coyotes’ is not the most glamourous of titles, but the late-blooming Garland has a scorer’s touch, having won back to back scoring titles in the CHL in 2014-15 and 2015-16. We know the Leafs were interested in acquiring Garland at this year’s trade deadline, but then pivoted to Nick Foligno once it was clear Garland wasn’t going to be moved. Garland was especially enticing as an in-season acquisition as he was only making $775k, making him one of the better value contracts in the league. But now that he’s an RFA and due for a big raise somewhere in the $4-5M per year range, the Leafs may not be as interested. Another wrinkle? He’s a right winger, so the Leafs would need to be okay with paying him market value to be their 3RW. Seravalli reported that the Coyotes have basically ghosted Garland after he presented two contract offers earlier in the year, so his days in the desert look to be numbered.
Right Wing, Vegas Golden Knights / Age: 30 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $5 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Reilly Smith has played a lot of winning hockey as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights over the last four seasons, but he took a clear step back offensively this season and his contract is probably a bit too rich for the Leafs to swallow. Why pay Reilly Smith $5M for 30 points next season when Jason Spezza will do it for league minimum?
Center, Buffalo Sabres / Age: 25 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? Sam Reinhart is a very talented player who stepped up in Jack Eichel’s absence this season and emerged as a star for Buffalo. Sam Reinhart also is due for a huge raise as an arbitration-eligible RFA, and is not better than Auston Matthews or John Tavares. Maybe in another life, but there isn’t a fit here.
Right Wing, New York Rangers / Age: 26 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? Buchnevich had an excellent season playing shotgun to Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin in New York, and is about to get PAID this summer for his efforts. With a high acquisition cost, high future earnings, and the Leafs’ depth on the right side, I don’t see a fit.
Right Wing, San Jose Sharks / Age: 29 / Contract: 4 years remaining at $7 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? The acquisition cost for Kane may not be very high and he would bring elements to the Leafs that they lack, but the Leafs aren’t looking to add a $7M 3RW this offseason. Ask someone else to solve your cap issues, Doug Wilson.
Dougie Hamilton (Rights)
Right Defense, Carolina Hurricanes / Age: 28 / Contract: Pending UFA
Would the Leafs have interest? The Leafs should have interest in a Toronto-born, right-shooting, PP-quarterbacking, 6-foot-6 defenceman with a booming shot and sterling analytics. Hamilton was basically built in a lab for Kyle Dubas. Making this move would almost certainly mean the end of Morgan Rielly as a Leaf, so Dubas has a tough decision to make: pay Dougie Hamilton $8M+ this offseason and trade Morgan Rielly, or don’t sign Hamilton and sign Rielly for ~$7M next offseason.
Left/Right Defense, Vancouver Canucks / Age: 29 / Contract: 4 years remaining at $5.95 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? I don’t get the sense that Schmidt would be much of an upgrade to the Leafs’ current top 4, and especially not at that AAV.
Left Wing, Calgary Flames / Age: 27 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $6.75 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Gaudreau, a.k.a “Western Conference Mitch Marner”, provides excellent value for his contract and plays a position of need for the Leafs. But the acquisition cost would be high, and the Leafs probably could not stomach what he and his agent Darren Ferris would ask for next summer when it comes time for an extension.
Right Wing, Philadelphia Flyers / Age: 31 / Contract: 3 years remaining at $8.25 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Wrong wing, too expensive, in decline. Next.
Left Wing, Detroit Red Wings / Age: 26 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? They should and they do, according to recent reports that Dubas has previously lusted after him. Bertuzzi would fill a position and role of need should the Leafs lose Zach Hyman to free agency in a few weeks. He has experience playing in top-6 roles and being the line’s resident digger in the corners. His acquisition cost is likely dampened by the serious back injury he suffered last season, which presents an opportunity to the Leafs to get a guy they need at a discount. Sometimes these things just feel inevitable.
Left Wing, Boston Bruins / Age: 24 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $3.675 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Young, affordable left wing scorer who possesses a bit of jam? He would fit in well with the Leafs current mix of mid-twenties pieces. DeBrusk was healthy scratched on multiple occasions last year, but Boston does have a history of being hard on their young guys. Not sure if Boston would want to trade with a team that is looking to push them for 2nd place in the division next year, which maybe pours cold water on this idea. Also, screw Jake DeBrusk.
Left Defense, Arizona Coyotes / Age: 29 / Contract: 6 years remaining at $8.25 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? No way. Not at that AAV, even if the Coyotes weren’t asking for much.
Right Wing, Anaheim Ducks / Age: 28 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $3.789 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? We’ve said no to a lot of right wingers already due to the Leafs’ depth on that front, but getting Rakell at that AAV to play on the Leafs’ third line and second powerplay unit? I could see them having some interest in making that happen.
Right Defense, Buffalo Sabres / Age: 26 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $5.4 million AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Not in a million years. Ristolainen is an example of a 6-foot-6 defenceman who was built in Kyle Dubas’ nightmares. Buffalo would only be so lucky as to rid themselves of this boat anchor, who routinely posts some of the worst defensive metrics in the league.
Right Defense, Nashville Predators / Age: 23 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? Why not? Fabbro has first round pedigree from 2016 and was once touted as a future core piece of Nashville’s blueline. Having been jumped over by Alexandre Carrier this season on Nashville’s depth chart, Fabbro could be exposed to Seattle in the expansion draft. Fabbro has good mobility and a booming shot from the blueline and may be worth a flyer to see what the Leafs development staff could do with him. In exchange for a mid-round pick, it may be an under-the-radar move. Of course, acquiring Fabbro before the expansion draft would mean we would be the ones leave him exposed to Seattle’s grubby little hands, so perhaps the best move would be to see how things play out before making a move.
Left Defense, St. Louis Blues / Age: 24 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? Similar to Fabbro, why not? He’s still young, has shown flashes of high-end talent, wouldn’t cost much, and we’re likely to lose Travis Dermott in the expansion draft. Bonus points for being from Mississauga.
Left Wing, Carolina Hurricanes / Age: 25 / Contract: RFA (Arbitration Eligible)
Would the Leafs have interest? Foegele would be an excellent addition to the left side of the Leafs’ forward roster. He’s hard-working, plays with pace, drives play well, and would likely come in around what Kerfoot is making ($3.5M). The Leafs need to add LW’s that are going to push Ilya Mikheyev down the depth chart. If the acquisition price were right, the Leafs should pounce to add a player with these elements to their roster.
Chris Driedger (Rights)
Goalie, Florida Panthers / Age: 27 / Contract: Pending UFA
Would the Leafs have interest? Driedger has divided Leafs fans when it comes to discussing who should back up Jack Campbell for next season. On one hand, he has the best advanced goaltending metrics of any netminders who are available this offseason. On the other hand, he is 27 and has played just 41 games in the NHL. Still, for a team that needs to add as many value contracts as possible to counteract the expensiveness of our core, Driedger may be a good experiment as long as we don’t give him the Scott Darling treatment by giving him long term with a mid-range AAV. All this being said, this move would not happen before the expansion draft and the Leafs may just wait for him to hit free agency rather than spending assets to speak with him for a few weeks.
Left Defense, Winnipeg Jets / Age: 24 / Contract: 1 year remaining at $725,000 AAV
Would the Leafs have interest? Niku, who won AHL Defenceman of the Year in 2017-18 as a 21 year old rookie, still has enough shine on his name that may make him an attractive low-risk buy to some teams. The two knocks on Niku are whether he can withstand the rigours of physical NHL hockey and how in the hell he didn’t crack the Winnipeg Jets’ defence this season.