TORONTO — And then there was one.
After re-signing forward Zach Hyman last week to a four-year, $9-million deal, the Toronto Maple Leafs have just one restricted free agent in search of employment for the 2017-18 season.
Connor Brown, who served as a guest coach at Leafs Hockey School at the club’s Etobicoke practice facility Tuesday, assured reporters that he’s confident he’ll be decked out in blue and white for this fall’s training camp.
“I’m just going to take care of what I can take care of and just be patient. Put it on the backburner,” Brown told reporters.
General manager Lou Lamoriello has offered no timeline on getting the RFA signed, and the 23-year-old Brown does not hold arbitration rights.
“They’ll be here in October, how’s that?” Lamoriello said on July 1, regarding Hyman and Brown.
Brown wrapped up his entry-level deal ($686,667 cap hit) in fine fashion, scoring 20 goals and adding 16 assists as a rookie and endearing himself to head coach Mike Babcock with his relentless work ethic.
That 17 of Brown’s goals came at even strength is particularly impressive, giving him more five-on-five goals this past season than household names such as Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Seguin.
Babcock sang the praises of Brown and Hyman to the media throughout the season, noticing they were being overshadowed by the productive trio of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander—all of whom earned Calder Trophy votes.
The club submitted a $715,000 qualifying offer to Brown last month and wishes to lock up the Toronto native long term.
But the Leafs are currently under a salary cap crunch.
With less than $500,000 in wiggle room after making a free agency splash for Patrick Marleau, who wears Brown’s No. 12, speculation that the Leafs could trade a forward this off-season has increased.
Veterans James van Riemsdyk (who was offered in a failed swap with the Islanders for the defenceman Travis Hamonic) and Tyler Bozak have popped up in recent rumours — as has Brown.
“I’m staying off Twitter,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to take care of my lane, continue to get stronger and get better in the things I need to do to get better in on the ice, and off the ice will sort itself out.”
Brown preached patience Tuesday and said he is leaving the negotiations in the hands of his agent.
We expect Brown’s next cap hit to fall in the $3 million range, slotting him above Hyman’s $2.25 million and below Nazem Kadri’s $4.5 million in the Maple Leafs’ forward pay scale.