Rosen extension prime example of Maple Leafs’ plan to juggle around stars

Chris Johnston weighs in on the struggles of the St. Louis Blues, and the Toronto Maple Leafs recent signing of Calle Rosen.

Here we find the answer to a question that has been asked in various forms during this ‘Year of the Contract’ in Toronto: How can the Maple Leafs afford to sign all of their young stars and continue to compete?

May we introduce Calle Rosen.

Not so much Rosen, individually, but what the $1.5-million, two-year extension the Leafs gave him Monday represents in the larger picture.

The 24-year-old, left-shot defenceman is a player the organization has come to value. The fact he was handed a one-way deal for both 2019-20 and 2020-21 after playing just four career NHL games is a reflection of that.

Rosen came over from Sweden as a free agent prior to last season and has more or less been a mainstay in the American Hockey League ever since. As a member of the Marlies he’s shown an ability to skate and distribute the puck, while growing more comfortable with the defensive zone battles found in the North American game, and reached a point where management sees everyday NHLer upside in him.

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Rosen is a classic late bloomer and the type of player who stands to benefit from the constraints of a salary cap system. It’s no secret that the Leafs will feel the pinch when new deals for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner kick in next season, joining John Tavares and William Nylander as part of a $40-million-plus Core Four, and so they’re already looking for other areas of the roster where they might find relief.

Having a potential third-pairing defenceman earning $750,000 — just $50,000 above league minimum — is a pretty good start.

The Leafs bought insurance on a couple fronts by getting the Rosen extension done now.

In the event they’re unable to retain pending unrestricted free agent Jake Gardiner, which seems increasingly unlikely given how little room they’ll have to work under a projected $83-million cap, they have another left shot option ready in the queue to play behind Morgan Rielly and Travis Dermott.

There is also very little risk for the Leafs with this contract since it won’t count against the cap if they decided to send Rosen back to the AHL at any point in the next two seasons.

That probably won’t be necessary given how well he played in helping the Marlies win the Calder Cup last spring and with the growth he’s shown since returning in the fall. Rosen is logging major minutes and has produced 19 points in 24 AHL games this season.

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If it all goes to plan, he will be a prime example of how the Leafs look to populate their roster when they’re paying big bucks to all of the offensive stars.

They need to establish a continuous pipeline of replacement-level players to fill in around the margins — either those on entry-level contracts or affordable deals like Rosen’s. It will likely continue to take them to Europe in search of free agents, a practice that former general manager Lou Lamoriello pursued aggressively.

He signed Rosen and Andreas Borgman on the same day in May 2017, winning out a sweepstakes involving 15 NHL teams on Rosen in large part because both he and head coach Mike Babcock phoned the player directly to make their pitch.

That gave the Leafs a chance to work with him and get to know him over the last season and a half while paying him very little on an ELC. It also gave new GM Kyle Dubas the ability to identify Rosen as a solution to a looming organizational problem and produced the one-way contract he signed Monday afternoon.

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