2021 Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Primer

Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason
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As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Toronto Maple Leafs offseason.

2021 Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Primer

The Toronto Maple Leafs offseason will be interesting after yet another disappointing playoff performance. The Leafs strayed away from their “team identity” of high flying offence to add defensive accountability, leadership and grit. It didn’t work out. Now the team needs to get back to their roots by adding offence. It’s not defence or lack of physicality that cost them during this most recent series. It wasn’t the fact that they “don’t know how to win” either. This year it was a lack of scoring and a power play that was ice cold that cost them. Overall, there was an over-reliance on the top-six to generate offence.

NHL free agent frenzy

The Leafs lost players like Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen that were key parts of their offensive depth during the 2020 off-season, and when John Tavares went down, the lack of scoring depth became quite apparent.

Pending Free Agents

The main free agent is, of course, Zach Hyman. He has become a fan favourite over the years because of his strong work ethic. It seems over the past two seasons his on-ice results finally reflect the hard work he puts in. Other notable free agents include Travis Dermott being an RFA and Alex Galchenyuk being a UFA. Both have been successful in their roles with the Leafs. Dermott was effective in a bottom-pairing role and can likely move up to a second pair role if there was ever room, and despite Galchenyuk’s costly defensive errors in the playoffs, he fitted in nicely as a complementary winger for John Tavares and William Nylander this season. Zach Bogosian is also an upcoming UFA. While I had my gripes with the signing at the time, Bogosian really proved his usefulness as a bottom pairing defenceman alongside Dermott and saw a good deal of success in that role.

Frederik Andersen is also an upcoming UFA. He struggled throughout the season, but he has been a significant piece of Toronto’s core for quite some time now. While he lost the starting role to Jack Campbell, he could potentially still provide value to a team provided he’s healthy again and he’s in a lesser role.

Rental players the Leafs brought in such as Ben Hutton, Nick Foligno, Riley Nash, and David Rittich are all UFAs too. Foligno is the most significant aspect of this group. The Leafs needed to get him 75% retained to fit him under the cap at the deadline and gave up a first-round pick in the process. He’s a player that you’d want to bring back if he was willing to be very cheap, but that scenario is unlikely.

Salary Cap Outlook

People say the Leafs are in salary cap hell. I’d argue they aren’t. Sure they’re tight against the cap, but they’re a good team. Despite what people’s feelings on them might be, they have a good roster that was able to win the North Division and have the reigning Rocket Richard winner and a Hart nominee on the team to boot. There are clear flaws that need to be addressed, but ‘salary cap hell’ is a term I like to reserve for bad teams up against the cap.

The Leafs have approximately 10 million dollars in cap space this off-season. They need to continue to fill out their depth, but they don’t have any major free agents like in years past. Their core pieces are all locked up, with some depth players like Spezza, Kerfoot, and Mikheyev locked up too.

So that 10 million is to be used to re-sign some expiring guys while going out and getting other depth players to round out the roster.

Major Likely Departures

Zach Hyman

With what has been rumoured, it seems like Hyman has played his final game in a Leafs’ uniform. The Leafs need him to come back for only slightly more than he made last season, but based on his performance, he can go out and get a much bigger raise if he so desires. Hyman is a good winger, and a great piece to slide up and down the lineup. He plays well with Matthews and Marner, but can also drive his own line in the middle-six. However, he’s the type of player that can’t be making Milan Lucic or Loui Eriksson money.

Nick Foligno

I like Foligno. I didn’t like the price the Leafs gave up for him. I’d be happy if the Leafs brought him back, but only under the condition that he takes a contract that makes me go “wow, that’s a great contract”. If he’s even looking for fair value, the Leafs need to accept their mistake with this trade and move on.

Frederik Andersen

Toronto’s goalie since the big turnaround of 16-17: he’s been automatically assumed to be the Leafs starter every year he’s been with the franchise, and only recently lost that starting role. Freddy Andersen’s next deal will be an interesting one, because he’s been a great goalie for the majority of his contract in Toronto, but hasn’t been able to make a high danger save over the past season and a half. It’ll be the first time in a long time the Leafs will go into a season without Andersen on the roster.

Major Likely Re-Signings

Travis Dermott

Dermott is obvious. He’s a good player and only an RFA. If Seattle doesn’t select him in the expansion draft, the Leafs will re-sign him and he’ll likely continue to play a depth role. That said he does have the potential to move up to the second pair. He’s a good player defensively and in transition, and if the Leafs manage to keep him from Seattle, he’ll continue to be effective in Toronto.

Alex Galchenyuk

Galchenyuk should be an inexpensive re-signing. Despite having more success in Toronto than in previous organizations, he doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage with the Leafs to command a lot more on a contract. He was really good on Tavares and Nylander’s wing, and it’d be great to bring him back.

Zach Bogosian

Bogosian really made me look foolish. He was a really good bottom pair defenceman this season. This is a player I could see going either way, and I think will be dependent on the expansion draft, so I’ll just put him in the re-sign category for now. On the one hand, the Leafs need to make room for Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren at some point. But on the other, Bogosian was really good on the third pair last year. There are a lot of factors at play here, but if the Leafs still need a guy to sign, and Bogosian doesn’t want too much of a raise, he’s a good option.

Ben Hutton

Like I said before, the situation on the blue line is weird and expansion draft dependent. But the Leafs have liked Hutton in the past and tried to sign him last off-season before finally trading for him. He’s a really good penalty killer and could serve as an inexpensive 7th option on defence.

Potential Free Agent Additions

As I stated previously, the Leafs need to get back to their scoring ways. A player that could help with this is Brandon Pirri. He should be close to a league-minimum deal, and from 2017-2021 Pirri has the 18th highest ixG/60 and 37th highest G/60 according to Evolving Hockey in all situations. He’s a really efficient goal scorer. He isn’t in the NHL too often, and he doesn’t get a whole lot of minutes when he is in the NHL, but he can score. He scores at the AHL level, he scores at the NHL level. He’s a really overlooked player and one I think the Toronto Maple Leafs should capitalize on this offseason.

The Leafs will also need a backup goalie. Either Chris Driedger or, as funny as it sounds, Jonathan Bernier are both fantastic options to come in as either a backup or a 1B type goalie. Campbell was great last year, but health was an issue at points. The Leafs need a goalie that can come in and be competent in the backup role.

Mikael Granlund could also be a potential signing for the Leafs. They were supposedly in on him around the deadline but since Nashville joined the playoff hunt, nothing panned out. Although, now he’s a UFA and could potentially be a target once again.

 

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