When the team you cheer for doesn’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you have a lot of time to ponder every teeny tiny aspect of the team. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about Matthews and Stamkos on the Leafs, which is amazing because neither is actually member of the team (yet).
I’ve heard a lot of talk about William Nylander and Mitch Marner’s respective roles on next year’s Leafs team, meanwhile they have 22 combined NHL games between them — zero of which belong to Marner.
The Leafs have a lot of things to be excited about, but there are still many players with unclear futures in the Leafs organization, many of whom are prospects.
Let’s take a look at some of the players deeper in the Leafs organization and what I think will happen to them based on conversations I’ve had as well as some of my own opinions.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Peter Holland: Probably gone
I’ve said this for a while now and while I haven’t liked saying it, the writing appeared to be on the wall toward the end of the season: Holland, who is a restricted free agent, is probably done with the Leafs.
He often found himself bumped from centre to the wing at the end of the season on a last-place team full of rookies.
He was a nice story when he arrived. He went from not playing much on the Anaheim Ducks to the Leafs’ default No. 1 centreman due to injuries (and that ill-advised Joe Colborne trade). Multiple sources have told me Mike Babcock isn’t Holland’s biggest fan and on a team with a clear direction and limited roster spots available, that might mean goodbye.
In fairness, it could also just mean he’ll stick around but has some work to do. Holland also seems to appear at almost anything community-related involving the Leafs.
I highly doubt the Leafs just let Holland, who at 25 is still youngish and a decent offensive contributor in a depth role, just walk. My guess is they try to flip him for a pick — maybe a third — at the upcoming draft in Buffalo.
Martin Marincin: Staying
Marincin went from Edmonton Oilers cast-off to Leafs 6/7 defender, to first-pairing moonlighter in the span of about nine months. Sometimes he’s an analytics darling, other times he’s a seldom offensive contributor who gives the puck away for a game-winning goal against.
He’s a polarizing figure, but more importantly he’s a decent, youngish, affordable option for a rebuilding team on a cap crunch.
Frank Corrado: Staying
Take my Marincin paragraph and swap “Vancouver Canucks” in for “Edmonton Oilers” and you basically have Frankie Corrado. His departure from Vancouver was bizarre, the Leafs said they had a plan, and he finally made the team regularly after months of waiting. He’s an affordable 23-year-old right-handed defender with decent upside. You don’t let that walk. I mean, unless you’re the Canucks.
Garret Sparks: Probably staying
This guy is everything: An AHL backup, AHL starter, NHL backup, ECHL goalie, NHL tandem goalie, AHL tandem goalie, AHL backup again, the best story of last season, and the quickest drop-off. Sparks played backup to Antoine Bibeau during most of the Calder Cup Playoffs and his final appearance of the season saw him fed to the wolves (technically the Hershey Bears) to allow four goals on 11 shots after Bibeau was pulled. Something about that night made me think he might be done with the Leafs.
Really though, he’s a 22-year-old RFA. He got too much NHL responsibility too early, pinged around way too much, and all the while battled injuries. That’s not a goalie you have to give up on and that’s not a goalie you’re going to get much for if you trade him, anyway. My bet is he stays and the roller-coaster ride continues.
Stuart Percy: Wildcard
Percy is very hard to get a read on. The Marlies seem to like him. He often wears an “A” and plays on special teams. He’s not a mind-blowing player, but he’s a steady decision-maker. Whenever I talk to people about him coming back, I hear about how the Leafs have guys ready to pass him on the depth chart or that he’s from the Brian Burke era and the old regime. That last part is true, but that doesn’t have to mean anything. Connor Brown is a Burke pick, too, and that doesn’t mean he’s getting traded.
Stuart Percy is a decent player with value. At 23-years-old, he’s definitely approaching that “what is this guy?” stage where you have to decide on what a prospect has to give. I could see him getting traded at the draft. I could also see him staying with the Marlies, being one of the first call-ups, or hey, maybe even finding a way to stay with the big team out of camp. He’s a wildcard.
Josh Leivo: Wildcard
At 23-years-old, Josh Leivo finds himself in a similar boat to Percy, but for wingers. He’s an AHL All-Star and can snipe in the minors no problem. He even proved he can score in the NHL with five goals in 12 games this past season. So what do you have?
Leivo can be a cheap depth-scoring option in the NHL. You can also decide that you’d rather give his spot to the likes of Marner, Brown, Nikita Soshnikov, or some other younger prospect in the Leafs organization, and trade him for a pick. Either way, Levio has value.
Sam Carrick: Probably gone
Carrick often wears an “A” for the Marlies, seems liked by his teammates, and brings pesky, high-octane energy to every game he plays in. He’s also buried behind many players in a Leafs system filled with talent up front. I could see him staying to play in the AHL, but I just think of the Michael Grabner and Dion Phaneuf deals that showed how much the Leafs value open spots, and can’t help but feel like this guy might be done.
Connor Carrick: Staying
The Leafs got a 2nd-rounder out of the Washington Capitals in the Daniel Winnik–Brooks Laich deal. They also got their leading scorer in the AHL playoffs. Carrick looked solid in a brief stint with the Leafs and was an amazing blue line contributor for the Marlies all the way up to their dying breath in Round 3.
His performance in Game 3 of the first round against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers was Disney Movie-esque. This guy will play in the NHL next season.
Colin Smith: Wildcard
The Leafs got Smith in the seldom-discussed Shawn Matthias trade. He’s in an interesting position. When I spoke to Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe he seemed very impressed with Smith’s performance and used him in many situations. That said, he’s a smaller player, speedy, offensively gifted, he’ll be 23 by the draft, and his NHL future is unclear.
I wouldn’t read too much into a player getting drafted by a KHL team because that happens every year. However CSKA Moscow traded for Smith’s rights shortly after the draft. Maybe they know something we don’t. He definitely fits the prototype of a North American player who could have a lucrative and successful career overseas. Is that what he wants though?
Scott Harrington: Staying
People would tweet me every now and then throughout the season: “Whatever happened to Scott Harrington?” After coming over from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Phil Kessel deal, Harrington played 15 games with the Leafs and 17 with the Marlies before shutting it down due to injuries. The shame of it is Harrington was a regular on the Leafs before injuries got in the way. If I had to bet, he’ll be back.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Mark Arcobello – Already gone
This isn’t a shock. Arcobello signed a two-year deal in Switzerland and he’s the perfect candidate. He had a hard time cracking the last-place Leafs but was an offensive juggernaut in the AHL. That has European payday written all over it.
T.J. Brennan: Supposedly gone
For the second time, it looks like the T.J. Brennan era is over in Toronto.
This is similar to Arcobello’s situation, except with a defender. His offensive performance in the AHL was incredible, his (limited) NHL performances weren’t as great, particularly defensively, and rather than take another chance at playing on a one-way NHL deal in the minors, it looks like he’ll get a nice KHL payday.
Rich Clune: Staying
For an organization skewing younger, this probably seems like a weird pick. He’s a 29-year-old winger known more for banging and crashing than scoring goals. That said, Clune was on the Leafs and Marlies this past season for a reason.
Assistant GM Kyle Dubas made Clune an early-July priority last summer and signed him to an AHL deal. That later turned into an NHL deal and even an NHL call-up. Dubas has raved about Clune, Clune’s Marlies teammates rave about him, and Clune is always talking about how much of a dream it is to play for the Leafs in Toronto.
More importantly, Clune seems to be all-in on the rebuild. There were two things I’ve noticed Clune bring up, unprompted, on multiple occasions. The first was the bright future that the Leafs have and the development of his young teammates. The second I noticed was that he spoke about Mike Babcock’s systems within the context of a Marlies interview on multiple occasions. If you want to have a few more experienced guys deeper in your organization who keep the young guys grounded and focused, Clune probably fits the bill.
Out of the final six Leafs with expiring deals — Brad Boyes, Grabner, Raffi Torres, Alex Stalock, and P.A. Parenteau — only Parenteau has had any real rumours about renewal attached to his name. For what it’s worth, I think Ben Smith could still earn an NHL deal somewhere, too.
The point is that the Leafs already have a lot of decisions to make — and that’s before they even get to the draft or free agency.
Fans suffered through a Leafs team that finished dead last. The off-season is the fun part.