It’s go time, Toronto.
The mentors — Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter — have left the building, the one-round-and-bounce grace period is over, and the final vets lingering from two management groups ago (James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov… heck, even Joffrey Lupul’s LTIR payments) have paved a path for more Marlies graduates and freed up precious cap dollars to spend on defencemen and centres.
As anointed and empowered by the decisive Brendan Shanahan, 32-year-old GM Kyle Dubas — whose Marlies are on the brink of snapping five decades of pro hockey championship futility in Toronto — promoted cap whiz Brendon Pridham and hired ex-Canucks exec Laurence Gilman to help him boost this group from a jog to a sprint.
Turnover should spill beyond the front office this summer as franchise face Auston Matthews is eligible for an eight-year commitment that could hit nine figures, RFA William Nylander needs a juicy raise and a determination of whether he’ll transition from wing to centre, and fans are clamouring for a personnel upgrade on the blue line.
The Maple Leafs are young, exciting, and coming off their best regular-season performance in history. Wonderful.
Now is when they must start shaping into a real, complete Stanley Cup contender.
Salary Cap Space: $22.34 million
James van Riemsdyk, left wing, $4.25 million
Tyler Bozak, centre, $4.2 million
Leo Komarov, left wing, $2.95 million
Tomas Plekanec, centre, $6 million
Dominic Moore, centre, $1 million
Roman Polak, defence, $1.1 million
William Nylander, $894,000
Connor Carrick, $750,000
Andreas Johnsson, $750,833
Miro Aaltonen, $925,000
Justin Holl, $650,000
Calvin Pickard, $1 million
Martin Marincin, $1.25 million
Frederik Gauthier, $863,000
2018 draft picks: 1st, 2nd (SJ), 3rd (SJ), 4th, 5th, 7th (own), 7th (ANA)
Biggest off-season need
DEE-FENCE! Clap. Clap. DEE-FENCE!
Chant it like a basketball fan.
The offensively rich Maple Leafs can score with the best of ’em. Starter Frederik Andersen is one of the world’s top 10 goaltenders when he’s healthy and in the groove (and with three years and $15 million remaining on his deal, he isn’t going anywhere soon). So it’s no secret that Toronto’s greatest deficiency rests on the blue line — and that’s despite rolling out two 52-point D-men in their prime, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.
The Leafs ranked 12th in goals allowed in 2017-18 (2.8 per game), and that number swelled to an ugly four per outing during their seven-game playoff ouster by the Boston Bruins.
When you consider the Leafs’ penalty kill was about average and their 33.9 shots allowed per game ranked them 28th overall, and that no team giving up more shots even made the post-season, you realize how many mistakes Andersen (and backup Curtis McElhinney) masked.
Ron Hainsey’s 37-year-old legs can’t sustain all the weight in the defensive zone, and the only right-side defenceman Toronto has under contract for 2018-19 is Nikita Zaitsev, who, thus far, has failed to take the type of progressive stride his $31.5-million contract extension demands.
Trouble is, most of the minutes-munching, stay-at-home defenders available on the UFA market —Jack Johnson, Dan Hamhuis, John Moore, Nick Holden, Ian Cole, Calvin De Haan, Brandon Manning — are lefties who don’t exactly scream “Top pair!”
Dubas would have to cripple his cap for the best right shot out there, John Carlson, if the Washington QB is even interested in a move to Canada.
Thus, we’re thinking trade.
Possible Off-Season targets
Drew Doughty: A Norris champion and obvious game-changer. The Kings should offer Doughty, an Ontario native, a blank cheque to stay in L.A. before he hits free agency in 2019. But does Doughty, a Babcock favourite, look at the sluggish Kings’ Round 1 sweep by Vegas as a speed bump or a sign that his club’s championship window has shut?
Of course, we’re talking blockbuster here, and a proven performer like William Nylander or Kasperi Kapanen (plus more) would have to go.
Chris Tanev: The Toronto native plays a brand of selfless, gutsy defence the Leafs sorely need more of. New Leafs AGM Gillman knows the Vancouver player well. Tanev, 28, still has two years on his cap-friendly deal and holds a modified no-trade clause, but if the rebuilding Canucks are concerned they might ultimately lose Tanev, or that he’s becoming too injury-prone, they may be tempted to swap him for a package that includes one or two of the Leafs’ many young wing prospects or future picks. Vancouver needs more scorers.