Off-season changes could see multiple Leafs leave as free agents

James-van-Riemsdyk

Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk. (Nick Wass/AP)

TORONTO – James van Riemsdyk has seen both ends of the spectrum during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That’s why it would so difficult to say goodbye now that the Leafs are at their best since he arrived – and seemingly only getting better.

“You have lots of those emotions running through your head knowing that I have enjoyed everything as much as I have here,” he said.

van Riemsdyk is one of six pending unrestricted free agents along with longtime forwards Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Trade deadline acquisition Tomas Plekanec and veterans Dominic Moore and Roman Polak – two players on one-year deals – are the others.

The former No. 2 overall pick – acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for Luke Schenn in June 2012 – led the team with 36 goals. He did that despite receiving the lowest amount of ice time (14:54) in Mike Babcock’s three years behind the bench.

That decrease in playing time did allow him to become one of the most prolific scorers in the NHL. He netted 1.79 goals per 60 minutes, third in the league behind Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews.

“You’d like to think you’re part of helping get things back on track and getting this franchise to their standing they should be within the league,” van Riemsdyk said. “You take some pride in that because you know how much the franchise means to all its fans and the city.”

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Although the salary cap is expected to increase – perhaps as high as $82 million from the current $75 million – the Leafs have to be cognizant of future spending.

William Nylander needs a new contract over the summer. Regular season and playoff leading scorer Mitch Marner and Matthews, the 2017 Calder Trophy winner, are heading into the final years of their entry-level deals. They were the team’s three leading scorers – each cracked the 60-point barrier – and are obviously due for big raises.

Plus, the blue line is seen as an area of weakness and any upgrades will come at a price.

van Riemsdyk just completed a six-year, $25.5-million deal he signed with Philadelphia, which carries a $4.25 cap hit. He could command as much as $6 million per season over six years.

So, despite a career season, Leafs management hasn’t talked to van Riemsdyk about a new contract.

“Knowing how things work within the salary cap, you know it’s not cut and dried,” said van Riemsdyk, who turns 29 next week.

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van Riemsdyk has experienced the infamous 2013 Game 7 collapse in Boston and was on a Toronto team that finished last in the NHL just two years ago. Now the Leafs are equipped with a budding roster that established a franchise record for wins (49) and points (105).

Bozak, too, has seen all that. Although you can add three more years to his Leafs resume.

Bozak represents the longest-serving member of the group, signed as a college free agent in April 2009 out of the University of Denver.

“It would be tough. It’s no secret that I love it here,” he said. “It’s a place that I’d want to stay for sure.”

However, this season was the worst for the 32-year-old statistically with 43 points, good for ninth in team scoring. His 11 goals were the lowest since his rookie season of 2009-10 when he only spent 37 games in the NHL.

Bozak is coming off a five-year, $21-million deal he signed in July 2013. Carrying a $4.2-million cap hit, there have been no talks with management about a new contract, Bozak said.

“Who knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s out of my control now.”

For his part, Komarov said he hasn’t thought about his status in much detail this season.

The 31-year-old was in the final year of a four-year, $11.8-million deal the Leafs signed him to in July 2014 to lure him back from a one-year hiatus in the KHL.

Drafted in the sixth round, 80th overall, in 2006, Komarov’s fifth season with the Leafs was his worst. He recorded seven goals and 19 points in 74 games despite playing on both special teams. He posted just a 6.1 shooting percentage.

Like Bozak and van Riemsdyk, the 15:47 of ice time he averaged was his lowest total under Babcock. Komarov said he wouldn’t rule out a return to the KHL.

Komarov also has the added agony that perhaps his final game as a Leaf was spent wearing a suit.

He left Game 2 of the Boston series after a collision with Bruins defenceman Kevan Miller. Komarov confirmed Friday that the injury to his left knee was the same one he endured during a game in Buffalo in March.

Despite being deemed healthy enough to play in Game 7, Komarov was scratched so winger Andreas Johnsson could remain in the lineup.

“You want to play, but if you’re not ready for 100 per cent – the boys were doing really good,” he said.

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That is an indictor that change is likely on the horizon.

Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said he would “absolutely” welcome each player back at the right price, yet he encouraged them to take advantage of their statuses as free agents and test the market.

Babcock agreed with the latter sentiment. However, he was more effusive in his praise.

Babcock said van Riemsdyk and Bozak had their best season in Toronto since he’s been the coach. He credited Komarov for his professionalism and – much like Polak – can’t be solely judged by the numbers.

He called all three important parts of the team. “But at the same time, business is business and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Lamoriello added the roster is in the “best shape it could be in.”

It doesn’t seem to have a place for three of the most veteran Leafs. It’s something van Riemsdyk seems to be coming to grips with.

“There’s definitely a wide array of emotions for sure, having that uncertainty and not really knowing what’s next,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed everything about playing here. I’ve made that clear the whole time.

“It’s definitely a weird feeling knowing this is the last time you could be walking out of this locker room as a member of this team. I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

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