The Toronto Maple Leafs are done with significant offseason moves. There were two schools of thought after the conclusion of the Leafs’ most recent first-round exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After leading most of the series, before succumbing to the proven Lightning in seven games, many thought management should run it back with few changes to the roster.
On the other hand, many followers were tired of the same old results. Following a sixth successive first-round exit it was time to make impactful changes to the team. The playoff departures were not always the same, but they involved many common core players who didn’t take charge in key moments of the series.
Immediately following the loss to the Lightning, general manager Kyle Dubas made it clear that he believed in his roster. He was prepared to give them another chance. Whether you agree or disagree, you have to admire his conviction toward his players. He did make big changes to the team’s goaltending, but the mainstays from the forward and defence units are still there. For a variety of reasons, that is likely the end of significant offseason moves for the Leafs.
Leafs Have Few Options for Major Change
The Leafs have committed to their key players. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are not going anywhere. As infuriating as William Nylander can be, he is a top goal scorer on a reasonable deal. Morgan Rielly just recently signed an extension with the team at a fair price. His combination of talent, class and team ambassador will see him in blue and white for many more years. Any team would welcome the person and player that is John Tavares, but not on his current contract.
The next tier of impact players is Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie, Alexander Kerfoot, and Justin Holl. Muzzin should not be moved. Yes, he has struggled with injuries in recent years, but he brings sandpaper and leadership to the Leafs defence. Also, the team’s group of defencemen is the deepest it has been in years. Moving Muzzin or Brodie would be counterproductive, especially with the turnover to the team’s goaltending.
That leaves Kerfoot and Holl. At the start of the offseason, it seemed a foregone conclusion they would be moved. Training camp is fast approaching, they are still Leafs, and they should be kept on the roster.
Kerfoot and Holl Should Stay
With the Leafs tight, and now over the salary cap, moving Kerfoot or Holl for cap flexibility has been a popular opinion. Kerfoot has an average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 million. The Leafs already lost Ilya Mikheyev from last year’s forward group. Moving Kerfoot just creates another hole to fill. He brings more flexibility and production than most with comparable salaries on other teams. Plus, other teams are not parting with a younger, cheaper player with similar production. Kerfoot can move in and out of various lines and play wing or centre. He also kills penalties.
Holl has an AAV of $2 million. For a third-pairing defenceman, this is not a burdensome salary. Plus, the Leafs have an abundance of left-handed shooting defencemen. Among their top eight options, only Holl and Timothy Liljegren shoot from the right side. Deal Holl and Keefe has even fewer right-handers to play that side. Moving Holl would mean limited salary cap savings, and bringing in a defenceman that is unfamiliar with the team’s systems. Trading Kerfoot, Holl, or Nylander would be lateral moves at best. Change for the sake of change, but not necessarily improving the team.
Leafs Are Done With Significant Moves
With the Leafs currently over the salary cap, more moves will need to be made. Getting restricted free agent Rasmus Sandin under contract is a priority. Training camp battles and preseason injuries will determine the opening night roster. Capologist Brandon Pridham will be asked to perform his usual salary cap magic.
Dubas made his biggest offseason moves when he acquired goalies, Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. All that is left is to determine line combinations and defence pairings during the preseason. During the previous offseason, Dubas hit with acquisitions like Michael Bunting and David Kampf. Come fall fans of the Maple Leafs can only hope that he hits again with his goaltending gamble.
“I think we’ve got a great team, great group and I think the future is really bright here.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 7, 2020