Leafs Nation Post Mortem | Who To Sign, And Who To Drop
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
What do the Leafs have to do to win?
Was it not enough signing three of the best players in the League?
Sigh... Another year, another disappointment in Leafs Nation.
Leafs Fans know the ritual. Now that the blue tears have been shed, it is time to pick up the pieces and perform the annual blue blood-letting. There's always next year. And that next year is here already.
Does the core on this team have what it takes to win?
This is the question we should be asking ourselves. Is it only a matter of time before the inevitable break though to success? Or, will it soon be time to blow it all up?
Fall Season is almost upon us all. Maybe now would be a good time to start raking up the Leafs.
There has been a lot of speculation in Toronto following their agonizing defeat in Game #5 against the Blue Jackets.
Were they not tough enough? Is Frederick Andersen not consistent enough? Is having $30 Million tied up in only three players necessarily a good idea?
These questions were among the many asked of the Leafs this season. Unfortunately, the answers aren’t entirely encouraging.
The truth is, this brief postseason, the Leafs looked like they were playing not to lose. They didn't take the play to the Jackets, they never imposed their will. They never seemed sure of themselves.
This whole postseason it didn't feel like Leaf hockey. It felt like Jacket hockey.
It felt like the Leafs listened to the doubters, tried to tighten up on D, and ended up playing right into the waiting hands of the Jackets.
It was like watching the Charge Of The Light Brigade.
Despite the doom and gloom, the Leafs actually played fairly well. They just ran right into a trap, and they didn't have a response. It happens sometimes.
It just seems to happen to the Leafs more often.
Hopefully they will learn from this. But you never know. These are the Leafs after all.
What should the Leafs do in the off season?
The Leafs have 8 expiring contracts: Clifford, Mikheyev, Malgin, Spezza, Gauthier, Ceci, Barrie, Dermott. Yikes.
And with only $4.5 Million total to do it all. Where do you even begin? Dubas and company are going to have to be busy this off season.
Players To Keep
Clifford brings “truculence” and Stanley Cup experience, he’s worth holding on to.
Mikheyev showed some real promising signs of development and consistency throughout the season, he’s probably a keeper.
Jason Spezza played his guts out this season, and was even one of the better Leafs in their ill-fated pre-playoff ‘run’. He brings experience and leadership, and fits perfectly with this team. I would imagine the Leafs’ brass will make re-signing Spezza a priority.
All three of these players had value, and brought something to the table. They could all easily be signed again, and if the Leafs are able to make them all fit in for around $4-5 Million, they probably all should be signed again.
These would be good depth players to sign, but it isn't a essential for the success of this team.
If all of this happened, it would leave us with around $6-$7 Million for everyone else. It's getting to be slim pickings.
Players To Drop
Tyson Barrie obviously has to be the first name on this list. He does not fit on this team, and for reasons which are not entirely obvious either.
He seems like the smooth-skating free-wheeling D-man who would be perfect for the Leafs rolling offence; yet, it doesn’t seem to match.
It’s like Brangelina. They seem made for each other, but it just doesn’t work out.
Sometimes that’s life.
Barrie could probably get anywhere between $4-6 Million on another team, and that’s probably just fine for the Leafs, who should probably let him walk at that price tag.
With Barrie likely on the way out, the Leafs have a few holes on D which will need to be addressed at some point.
Dubas should probably try to keep Travis Dermott. At 23 years old and making the League minimum, he has potential to prove himself with a "show me" two year bridge contract. Dermott grew with confidence as the season went well, and played some valuable minutes.
Cody Ceci is a bit of a question mark. He seemed to eat a lot of minutes when he played, but didn't really seem to stand out in any meaningful way. A +7 on the year, and rather pedestrian stats, he doesn't really seem to be worth the $4.5 Million he made last season.
In all likelihood, Ceci is on his way out. It would kind of be unfortunate as Ceci is the type of stay-at-home defensive minded defencemen the Leafs seem to lack. But only if they could get him down to $3-$3.5 Million range. And it's doubtful Ceci will want to go that route. He'll most likely test the free agent waters.
With Barrie and Ceci likely on the way out, that leaves quite a few holes on Defence for Leafs Nation.
Things get interesting for the Leafs when we start looking at their prospect pool. There are in fact three really interesting names coming up for the Leafs. If even just one of these connects, it will be a huge boost for the Buds.
Mikko Lehtonen, a 26-year-old, was just signed from the KHL, where he was the leading scorer among defencemen last season. He seems like a Barrie-type smooth-skating defenceman, and could fill in on the Second PP if necessary.
Rasmus Sandin. We had flashes of the Sandman this season as the 20-year-old played in 28 games for the Leafs last season. He’s got a clapper from the point, and knows how to run a power play. He has shown he’s NHL ready, and should be a solid contributor as he gets older.
Mac Hollowell. The ‘Mac’ Attack was part of that Soo Greyhound Team which featured budding stars Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton. Hollowell was the go-to D man and finished the season with 77 Points in 64 Games. Those are fantastic numbers for a D. The question remains however if he can elevate his game to the NHL level. He might have that chance next season.
Expect to hear about at least two of these three next season. The first two already come with enough fanfare, and should get a crack at it.
At least one of them should see ice time as one of the Top 4. It feels like much of the pressure for next season will rest squarely on the shoulders of one of these three players.
Frederick Andersen is signed at $5 Million until the end of next season. This is a superb deal; he will most certainly command a higher salary when his contract comes up.
Jack Campbell is the perfect back-up goalie to Andersen. He can come in and play long stretches if he has to. He’s a solid veteran presence who has played in all types of situations across many different leagues. He’s signed at $1.65 Million until the end of 2023.
There are two Goalie Prospects worth noting here: Ian Scott and Joseph Woll.
Ian Scott went 38-8-2 last season with a .932 Save Percentage last season in the WHL.
Joseph Woll had a tougher season as sort of the 1a Goalie for the Marlies. He was slightly outplayed it seems by improbably named Kasimir Kaskisuo, but nevertheless seems to come highly touted, and might be a name to remember a few years from now.
The Leafs seem pretty committed to their Goalies for next year.
The key point to remember here is Andersen’s contract expires at the end of next season.
It is for this reason many people believe next season will be this group's “last chance” together.
If they fail to advance or go deep next season, we might expect to see a big shuffling of the cards for this team.
Overall Cap Situation
While the crunch on the top-end of Leafs’ talent is a little bit uncomfortable for the Cap Situation, it isn’t insurmountable. Due to some interesting prospects, the Leafs can manage to plug the holes with hungry youthful talent.
The problem with this of course, will be in the lack of depth. This Team won’t always have such a deep talent pool to pick from, and injuries might really make this team vulnerable over the course of a season.
That lack of depth was very evident during these playoffs when Coach Keefe stacked the Big Line with Marner-Matthews-Tavares. When that line was on, it dominated. When it was not, the Leafs got dominated. This is not a great way to win games. This is definitely not a good way to win a Series.
It really underlines the lack of depth on this team. If we stack that Big Line, who are we looking to for secondary scoring?
William Nylander has his moments, but if he’s on his own it doesn’t really work.
Zach Hyman is a great digger, and he’s worked well with Matthews in the past. Putting those two together might help to spread out the scoring a little.
Alex Kerfoot had a very inconsistent season, and is rather inconsequential to this team. Sort of like Tyson Barrie, Kerfoot never really seemed to fit in with this team. His performance doesn't really match his $3.5 Million Dollar price tag. If they Leafs can find a way to unload his contract in the off season, that might be a wise decision.
Kasperi Kapanen, Peter Engvall and Jason Spezza all did what they could, and perhaps even surpassed expectations.
But ultimately if this is the “Cavalry”, you’re going to have a hard time in a long playoff series.
Lack Of Depth
It all comes down to lack of depth for the Leafs. The top-heavy contracts automatically means either relying on untested prospects or swan-song veterans.
The Leafs have a smattering of both; but they don’t have a scoring threat on the Third or Fourth Line to scare anyone. Nor do these players bring muscle or intimidation.
If you look at the Third and Fourth Line on other teams, you'll see a theme: Either they can skate, or they can intimidate. The current Leafs Third and Fourth Lines don't really seem to have any purpose.
The overall problem with the Leafs right now is in their lack of depth. And, with contracts the way they are, there isn’t much to be done.
Still, there does seem to be some room here to sign at least on Enforcer. Either a heavy D on the backend, or a hard-hitting 'Matt Martin Type' Winger.
In any event, it appears as though much of the Fate of this Team has already been decided. They will go at it one more time with this Team; one more kick at the can. Hopefully one of the Leaf Prospects will work out.
If that doesn’t work, then by this time next year we’ll start talking about blowing it up.
Until then Leafs Nation, there's always next year.
Fortunately this time, the lay off should be a lot shorter.