With the Toronto Raptors only one win away from an NBA Championship few people are paying attention to the local hockey team. Just as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs June will be about as quiet as a June can get. Things will pick up quickly on July 1st as signing bonuses kick in and the free agent market opens up though.
Toronto Maple Leafs June
There are rumours abound in Maple Leafs land. There’s also no doubt Kyle Dubas is in the middle of a very busy June, but little will be done officially. Not until a few pieces fall into place.
There will be trades. Both Nikita Zaitsev and Patrick Marleau have requested trades. Both have signing bonuses that kick in on July 1st. Zaitsev’s is $3 million and Marleau’s is actually only $1.5 million on July 1st. The other $1.5 million doesn’t get paid out until December.
The Maple Leafs have a huge advantage over most of the other teams in the NHL in that they have a lot of money and they’re willing to use it. They’d be more than willing to spend it on players if it weren’t for the Salary Cap. Since they can’t do that, they’ve found other creative ways of flexing their cash muscle. They front-load contracts and give huge signing bonuses to give players their money up front. That is a financial bonus for the player who can invest the money and earn a percentage on it.
In the case of Zaitsev and Marleau, the Maple Leafs are happy to wait until July 1st, pay the combined $4.5 million in bonuses and then trade them. That makes both players a little more valuable to whomever Dubas is going to trade them to. It also means neither player is likely to be traded in June.
The NHL Entry Draft is in June. That could be exciting. Toronto doesn’t own its first-round pick though. The Los Angeles Kings have it as part of the return they got for Jake Muzzin. The Maple Leafs have six picks this year. The first is 53rd overall. Whomever the Maple Leafs draft at 53rd may turn into a good player, that will be something to look forward to in a few years.
Normally, teams would do a lot of wheeling and dealing at the draft, and maybe that will happen, but Dubas will be a little handcuffed this year. He’ll presumably have pending trades for Zaitsev and Marleau that need to wait till July. That would complicate making trades at the draft. He’ll likely have not signed Mitch Marner yet either. That will complicate things further. He’s already stated that the Maple Leafs need Marner to sign so they know where they stand. There will be too many question marks at the draft for Dubas to be comfortable swinging something major. He may do something like trade the 53rd pick for the 59th and 74th pick. That will be fun.
Speaking of Marner. Darren Dreger reported that Marner will be visiting teams as an RFA once he’s allowed to on June 26th. That means he almost definitely won’t sign prior to then and probably won’t until after July 1st. It’s possible he visits other teams and they’re all unwilling to offer him more than $10.5 million. That’s how much the Maple Leafs could let him walk for and get four first-round picks. They would at least have to consider the picks if that happens. If no one is willing to part with four first-round picks, it’s a good bet Marner will sign in Toronto for something around $10 – $10.5 million. Whatever happens, it won’t happen by the draft, so Dubas won’t be able to make decisions knowing the outcome of the Marner situation.
Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are the other two RFAs of note. Both will be easy to sign once Zaitsev and Marleau are gone. That won’t happen till July. They’ll both be easy to sign in the unlikely event that Marner leaves the team as well. That also wouldn’t happen till July. If for some reason the Maple Leafs are unable to free up cap space and Marner does re-sign, they may need to trade one of these young forwards. That wouldn’t be the end of the world. In fact, it may be a good thing for Dubas to consider, but it won’t happen till July either way.
One or both could be traded for a defenseman anyway. Even if the Maple Leafs trade Zaitsev and Marleau, sign Marner for something that’s not outlandish, it may still be a good idea to trade Kapanen or Johnsson. The Maple Leafs defense needs improvement and they’re stacked in the forward position. It only makes sense to trade away some superfluous strengths to improve an area of weakness. Kapanen, and to a lesser extent Johnsson, could return a defender that can play top minutes with Morgan Rielly.
A Couple UFAs
It’s still possible the Maple Leafs re-sign Jake Gardiner. That’s another decision that will need to wait for July though. He’ll want to test the market and the Maple Leafs won’t know if they can re-sign him until July. There’s also talk the Maple Leafs could re-sign Ron Hainsey for the third pairing. He’ll likely want to wait until July too.
It’s going to be an interesting summer for Toronto, but the first domino is July 1st. Expect little from the Maple Leafs until then, but then keep your phones close as the news begins to steadily pour in. A Toronto Maple Leafs June with no news won’t be so bad. Hopefully, Toronto will be too busy celebrating their first NBA Championship all month anyway.
Main Photo: DALLAS, TX – JUNE 22: General manager Kyle Dubas of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)