Monday Maple Leafs Mailbag! It’s becoming a fun little quarantine tradition, and a much-welcome idea-generator in these content-starved times.
This week we tackle Morgan Rielly’s impending raise, the most underrated unrestricted free agents of 2020, the likelihood of a Frederik Andersen trade, how Toronto’s LTIR situation will change in 2020-21, and Mats Sundin’s all-time ranking.
Have a question for next week? Fire it my way @lukefoxjukebox.
I’ve got my letter-opener ready. Let’s go.
How much and how long @mriles4 will cost ?
— knight (@sule114) April 29, 2020
Frankly, it’s difficult for the crystal ball to see that far ahead. Morgan Rielly won’t be an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2022, and another key Maple Leafs left-shot defenceman, Rasmus Sandin (RFA), will likely be looking for a significant pay bump at the same time.
Two years from now, the NHL — and its cap — may still be recovering from the pandemic. On the flip side, the league might be back on the come-up, with revenue boosts from Seattle’s expansion, the new U.S. TV deal and gambling money.
Reilly will be 28 if he hits UFA status. A leader. A No. 1 defenceman. A lifelong Leaf and power-play quarterback. For our money, the best comparable — cap staying relatively flat — is the extension Oliver Ekman-Larsson inked in Arizona: eight years, $66 million, for an $8.25 million AAV. (Toronto, new CBA permitted, could frontload the deal with signing bonuses and give Rielly big chunks up front.)
That said, let’s see how aggressively Rielly’s agent uses the Leafs’ inflated internal cap against the organization. And pay attention to what happens with Torey Krug and Boston this off-season. Could be another comparable.
Most underrated UFA for the summer of 2020?
— GuentzyGoesShelf (@GuentzyS) April 29, 2020
I like this question, but there’s a minor problem. With the NHL’s impending schedule pushback, expect these underrated UFAs to hit in the market in the fall, not the summer. Let’s highlight one for every position.
Forward: That Colorado was able to rent Vladimir Namestnikov from Ottawa for the small price of a fourth-round draft pick is evidence that the league has underrated this middle-six forward. The 27-year-old Russian was tracking his second 20-goal campaign and fitting in lovely in Denver when the pandemic hit. Namestnikov has proven a nice source of secondary scoring who can improve your PK as well. He won’t break the bank.
Defence: Radkos Gudas is known for his (sometimes line-breaching) hits. But the Capitals defender actually chopped down on his infractions in 2019-20 — a career-low 0.64 PIMs per game — while delivering positive possession metrics and a career-best plus-15 rating despite starting most shifts in his own zone and never getting power-play looks. He’s an experienced right shot with edge, who’s happy to do the grunt work. Good for 17 minutes a night, and good for most teams’ bluelines.
Goaltender: Anton Khudobin is to Ben Bishop what Jaroslav Halak is to Tuukka Rask. Happy to play second fiddle in Dallas, the 34-year-old enjoyed another superb season in the shadows, posting a sparkling 16-8 record and .930 save percentage. Dependable backups capable of starting several games in a row are tough to find (that’s why Boston re-upped Halak last week), and Khudobin deserves more credit for his contributions in Big D.
What are your thoughts on the probability of what Mirtle and Siegel suggested that the leafs trade Andersen and sign Murray or Lehner?
— Jordan Maresky (@jordan_maresky) April 29, 2020
I’m not sold that Matt Murray (fighting for his own job in Pittsburgh and a potential Jim Rutherford trade chip this off-season) or Robin Lehner are an upgrade from Frederik Andersen. They might not have looked as sharp playing behind the Leafs’ offence-first approach.
Yes, Andersen had an off year, but he’s a competitor adored in that Toronto room, and the workhorse has probably benefitted greatly from all this extra time to heal.
With all the uncertainty around the crease the past couple seasons, I’d be surprised if Kyle Dubas messes with the Andersen—Jack Campbell tandem in 2020-21. The devil that you know and all that.
What should change is Andersen’s workload and security as the No. 1. Especially in what should be a truncated schedule, I’d guess the younger, more cap-friendly Campbell, who is signed through 2022, gets a decent share of starts and at least an opportunity to prove he can be an NHL starter.
If Campbell doesn’t look up to the task of a No. 1, there will be another round of UFAs in 2021 to consider: Re-sign Andersen? Take a run at local stud Jordan Binnington? Philipp Grubauer, David Rittich, Jake Allen, Petr Mrazek… who knows what the goalie landscape will look like in a year’s time.
Is it possible the leafs could acquire a player that probably won’t play again (Kesler, Hossa), leave them on LTIR, and use their relief to sign Pietrangelo?
— Jordan Maresky (@jordan_maresky) April 29, 2020
The second rule of Fight Club is: Do not underestimate Brandon Pridham. If there is a way to stickhandle around the salary-cap rules and maximize a dollar, the Maple Leafs math whiz will find a way.
Now, the Leafs’ LTIR situation will be vastly different in 2020-21 than it was in 2019-20. That’s because both Nathan Horton and David Clarkson are coming off the books, and Andreas Johnsson should be healthy by the time next season kicks off (scuttlebutt says December).
Yes, Toronto would love to have Alex Pietrangelo. No free agent better suits the Leafs’ needs. But it’s the player’s choice, and we’re not yet convinced the captain wants to move his triplets out of St. Louis. A hunch: Dubas seeks a defenceman via trade instead, the way he did with Jake Muzzin, Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie.
Paying Ryan Kesler or Marian Hossa to not play hockey won’t help Toronto land Petro. Paying Kesler might, in theory, help Dubas acquire a Josh Manson plus a draft pick from Anaheim in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen.
If the season returns does Nick Robertson squeeze into lineup?
— Jason Gray (@jasongr31964761) April 21, 2020
“Come training camp, we’ll give him every opportunity to potentially make the team and put the ball in his court,” Dubas says of the OHL’s top sniper. I dive into the Robertson conversation in more depth here, but with an extended off-season to bulk up, nothing left to prove in junior and a cheap entry-level cap hit, I like Robertson’s odds of leaping to the show.
My opinion might be skewed, however, because Robertson is an awesome interview subject who brings a contagious joy to the rink and doesn’t talk in hockey clichés. A reporter’s dream.
Where do you personally rank Mats Sundin on the all time leafs? I just keep imagining him if he had a winger or two to play with. Would have been even more amazing
— stbatman (@stb37245522) April 21, 2020
Mats Sundin is the most reliable Maple Leaf I’ve ever had the privilege of watching live. The greatest Maple Leaf with the thinnest supporting cast. Sundin holds the franchise records for goals (420), points (987) and game-winning goals (79). He had 12(!) 70-point seasons in a row. Ridiculous.
In 2016, the Leafs themselves unveiled their franchise top 100 and ranked Sundin fifth. In 2014, Sportsnet did a similar list and rated Sundin 10th. Too low, in my humble opinion.
Often these sorts of rankings (over?)value Stanley Cups. If Sundin had more wingers — or played in a six-team era — his legend would be even greater.
Let’s put Sundin top three… and make sure he keeps an eye on Auston Matthews in his rear-view mirror.
I never saw Keon or Apps or Kennedy with my own eyes, but I did see Sundin score an OT winner from the nose-bleeds when I took my daughter to her first game.
And I do remember turning to her before that overtime started and saying: “Mats Sundin is the only guy who can end it.”