Toronto’s potential blue line trade and free-agent targets abound. The Maple Leafs begin searching for Paul McFarland’s replacement. A look at the likely repercussions of losing a best-of-five to Columbus and missing the playoffs. Someone named Fred throws down a Game 1 lineup challenge. And much more.
It’s the 10th edition of the Maple Leafs Mailbag. Let’s go.
Handicap the chances the leafs bring in another blue liner for next season. Who seems like the most likely candidate?
— Jordan Maresky (@jordan_maresky) June 18, 2020
Let’s go with 1/2 odds.
Yes, GM Kyle Dubas has already signed free agent Mikko Lehtonen out of the KHL, and entry-level defenders Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren will be given ample chance to stick with the big club out of camp.
But with right shots Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci expected to walk in free agency, more depth — particularly experienced, penalty-killing depth — is needed. The 2020-21 regular season provided a harsh reminder that, as is, the Leafs’ blue line will struggle in event of injury.
The free-agent budget will be ultra-tight, so landing a whopper like Alex Pietrangelo feels like a pipe dream. But an impending UFA like Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev, Sami Vatanen or Radkos Gudas would look good in blue and white.
When Dubas trades, he prefers targets with term. On the high end, righties Matt Dumba, Rasmus Ristolainen, David Savard, Brett Pesce, Colin Miller, Adam Larsson and Josh Manson fit that bill.
Less-known and less-experienced (i.e., more affordable) depth targets could include Troy Stetcher (RFA 2020), Matt Roy (RFA 2021), Matthew Benning (RFA 2020) and Ilya Lyubushkin (RFA 2020).
Have the Leafs conducted any interviews to fill the soon to be vacant assistant coaching position on the team? Is Bruce Boudreau a candidate? (please say yes, I love Brucey). #LEAFSFOREVER
— Marco – Black Lives Matter / Covid Edition (@WTFMAN999) June 12, 2020
Yes, the search is on and interviews have begun. So, get those resumes submitted pronto.
While assistant coach Paul McFarland is heading back to the OHL in 2020-21, when he’ll start running the bench for the Kingston Frontenacs, Toronto and McFarland have agreed that the power-play strategist will stick with the Maple Leafs throughout the 24-team tournament — even if that means joining Kingston late.
As for Boudreau, it’s believed the Toronto native, who has kept a close eye on the Maple Leafs throughout his NHL tour, would prefer a head gig. He’s been an NHL head coach for parts of 13 straight seasons and has only once missed the dance when guiding the same team for a full campaign.
I’m with you: Gabby is a beauty and a hockey lifer. The game needs him.
If the Leafs lose the play in round are major roster moves the next step after already playing the change the coach card?
— Bleed The Blue and White (@JaymeeKitch8) June 19, 2020
Depends what you consider “major,” Jaymee.
My belief is that, regardless of what happens this summer, Sheldon Keefe gets at least one full season to make the horses run. The way Dubas has preached patience, breaking up the core — Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Frederik Andersen — this off-season would shock me.
Expect tweaks on the fringes of the roster, however, to accommodate a stagnant salary cap. By dealing Nazem Kadri last summer, Dubas has shown a willingness to shake things up. And if a trade of significance does happen, it must be done to address Toronto’s thin right side of its blue line.
Okay Cool Hand Luke. Here’s a challenge.
Predict the Leafs Game 1 lines and d pairing. We’ll revisit this in 5 weeks.
I predict you get 3 wrong.
— fred (@fredkalist1) June 18, 2020
I accept your challenge, Fred. But only because you asked with such kindness.
Hey, I might be more surprised than you if I get them all correct. Nick Robertson is a wild card that could make me look foolish.
Freddie is UFA in a year. Will they seek to resign him? Can they even afford him? Or is Campbell a possible late-blooming No. 1 a la Kuemper and Markstrom?
— Patrick Maloney (@PatatLFPress) June 18, 2020
This decision should be kicked down the road. Andersen will be 32 when he starts the 2021-22 season, wherever that may be. Dubas should see how Andersen — 0-3 in playoff series for Toronto — responds to the pressure cooker of this summer’s return to play and how the veteran No. 1 performs next season, with a legitimate No. 2 goalie in Jack Campbell pushing him.
You’re right. Affording Andersen could be an issue, especially with Hyman due for a nice raise that same off-season, which absolutely cracks a small window of opportunity for Campbell, who is signed through 2021-22 at a pandemic-friendly $1.65-million cap hit.
Campbell, 28, has never played more than 53 games in any season, but goalies often peak late. His passion and work ethic are off the charts. Kyle Clifford says Campbell is more than “just a backup.”
Next season the netminder should be given some rope to prove his teammate correct.
Could we expect to see a shorter term deal or maybe a bridge deal for Travis Dermott over the offseason and should it be a Leafs top priority to bring him back?
— NHL Puck Zone (@realnhlpuckzone) June 18, 2020
To me, Dermott’s skating ability, ankle-breaking quick-twitch, and boundless enthusiasm paint him as a keeper for the Keefe era.
“I think we’re really using our speed more now, which is pretty awesome,” Dermott said of the coaching change.
That Dermott — a lefty on a roster loaded with them — is willing to play his weak side and saw more ice time than any player in the Leafs’ most recent game (a 2-1 victory over Tampa on March 10) are positive signs.
The 23-year-old doesn’t have arbitration rights and, recovering from shoulder surgery, failed to have the type of breakout winter that commands a big-money, big-term extension.
While it’s possible Dubas dangles Dermott in a trade to land a more established defender with term, I think the smart play is to re-sign him.
Dermott loves it here. His best shifts are ahead. Plus, a flat salary cap won’t do much for Dermott’s negotiating leverage.
You’re right. This one has bridge deal written all over it.
What are the Leafs off-season plans with Mikheyev?
— AO (@AdnacOil) June 18, 2020
My bet is they re-sign him to a bridge deal at a modest raise before the case reaches arbitration. There is mutual love between player and club, and the Leafs aren’t crazy deep on left-shot wingers. Ilya Mikheyev’s wrist injury stunted his rookie campaign at 39 games, which should help keep a short-term extension reasonable.
He’s a jolt of energy, a heckuva penalty killer, and the fact he’s skating alongside Tavares and Marner as part of a Phase 2 practice group indicates the Leafs see top-six potential.
The couple KHL signings (Barabonov and Lehtonen) Leafs made can you confirm if either player is eligible to play in the playoffs?
— LadiesTalkinLeafs (@LTL1917) June 18, 2020
No, they are not.
Unlike, say, prospect Nick Robertson, Alexander Barabanov and Mikko Lehtonen weren’t on the Maple Leafs’ reserve list by the Feb. 24, 2020, trade deadline, so they’re ineligible to participate in the playoffs.
We’ll have to wait till 2020-21 to see if these free agents’ European success translates to the NHL.