Breaking down all contracts for the 2020-21 Maple Leafs roster

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) and right wing Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Matthews goal with teammate left wing Zach Hyman (11). (Cole Burston/CP)

Roster construction was a popular point of criticism when the Toronto Maple Leafs lost their fourth consecutive elimination series this summer.

No team invests more money in their top four forwards. As a consequence, general manager Kyle Dubas scrimped and saved on the blue line and, for the bulk of the past season, at the backup goalie position.

By breaking the off-season ice with Jim Rutherford and trading away a significant asset in Kasperi Kapanen, Dubas freed some cap space and signaled that a reshaping of the personnel he’ll bring into 2020-21 is already underway.

The rumours around his potential free agent and trade targets are flying, and the buzz says the GM isn’t quite finished dealing from the list below.

Before more dominoes begin to tumble, here is a thorough look at the contract situation of the entire Maple Leafs roster as we sprint toward free agency, the draft, arbitration and what is sure to be an active trade market.

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FORWARDS

Alexander Barabanov

Age: 26
Contract status: Signed for one season

AAV: $925,000

A sought-after KHL free agent, Barabanov projects to be a third-line NHLer and much more kind to the cap than Kapanen was. He’s not flying across the Atlantic with dreams of being a Marlie. Barabanov fits the Dubas mould in that he’s not exactly the largest body on the ice (five-foot-10, 191 pounds) but makes up for his slight build in oversized skill and determination.

“He’s a very strong winger. Tremendous play-making ability, skill level in tight. But one of the other things that we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks when people come after him, and (he) uses his strength to be able to do that,” Dubas said.

Kyle Clifford

Age: 29
Contract status: UFA

Clifford’s minutes went down and hits per minute went up after his February trade to Toronto. The Leafs are craving sandpaper. And while coach Sheldon Keefe was still tinkering with his bottom-six upon elimination, Clifford’s intangibles had a tangible effect. Toronto and the pending UFA have declared mutual interest in an extension.

“He’s been fantastic for us,” club president Brendan Shanahan told Hockey Central at Noon. “He’s made a tremendous difference to our group. I think he was just starting to get comfortable as well.” How much of a hometown discount would Clifford be willing to take?

Pierre Engvall

Age: 24
Contract status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $1.25 million

As far as seventh-round picks and mid-season call-ups go, Engvall was a success. “The Gazelle” (as Mason Marchment affectionately dubbed him) killed penalties, chipped in with eight goals in 48 games, drove possession while starting most shifts in the D-zone, and earned a reasonable two-year extension for his efforts. He’s versatile enough to play centre and wing and, at age 24, should only improve with more big-league shifts. That said, Engvall underwhelmed in the post-season and is not indispensable. If not traded, he’s a likely candidate to be exposed in the 2021 expansion draft.

Frederik Gauthier

Age: 25
Contract status: RFA (with arbitration rights)

The Goat set career-highs in faceoff win percentage (54.7) and goals (seven), but his role became less secure once Keefe took over for Mike Babcock. He’s a gentle giant you wish wasn’t so darn gentle. The six-foot-five, 239-pounder — every night! — remains a project, and Dubas must decide whether to offer the 2013 first-rounder another deal to help his centre depth or cut ties. Much more than the league minimum would be a surprise.

Zach Hyman

Age: 28
Contract status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $2.25 million

Toronto’s best bargain — for 82 more games. He’s the poster child for work ethic and consistency on a roster that has been criticized for needing more of both. Hyman has not only figured out how to stick in the NHL, he’s now the guy all the big-money, big-talent players want on their line. One of the greatest forecheckers in hockey made recovering from knee surgery look like a breeze, piling up 21 goals in 51 games. They call him the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5, and he’s the Maple Leafs’ Masterton nominee. Dubas must re-sign Hyman at some point, but it appears likely the sides won’t rush.

Andreas Johnsson

Age: 25
Contract status: Signed for three more seasons
AAV: $3.4 million

So much was expected of Johnsson this season, the seventh-round gem’s first under his juicy new $13.6-million contract. The feisty left winger was given a top-six opportunity and did contribute 21 points in 43 appearances, but he never caught fire. A December leg injury halted any building momentum, and February’s season-snuffing knee surgery put it to rest. Because it was front-loaded, Johnsson’s contract will hold some value on the trade market. Just because Kapanen was dealt doesn’t necessarily mean Mango is safe.

Alexander Kerfoot

Age: 26
Contract status: Signed for three more seasons
AAV: $3.5 million

Kerfoot was the first to admit that his transition to Toronto was a challenge. Originally asked to drive the third line up the middle, he’s perhaps better suited to the wing — where he was deployed in Colorado. He’s no Nazem Kadri, and that’s fine. Kerfoot is a responsible third-liner who ends most shifts in the O-zone and whom coaches trust.

Surely the organization and the player were hoping for more production than the nine goals and 19 assists he yielded over 65 games. Like Johnsson, Kerfoot’s chunky cap hit makes him a trade candidate — but how many forwards can a GM deal away before depth becomes an issue?

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Denis Malgin

Age: 23
Contract status: RFA (with arbitration rights)

Granted the sample size is small and the acquisition cost was minimal, but in his eight games as a Maple Leaf, Malgin’s impact was inconsequential. He was a minus-3 with no points and three shots on net. Does any NHL organization own the rights to more small, twenty-something bottom-six wingers who can tread water? A two-way deal for the minimum perhaps?

Mitchell Marner

Age: 23
Contract status: Signed for five more seasons
AAV: $10.89 million

You rank 15th overall in points per game (1.14) while killing penalties, ranking top-10 in takeaways and rebounding from a nasty ankle injury. Yet your game frequently falls under scrutiny because your 2019-20 salary ($16 million) was higher than that of anyone who plays the same sport. You are Mitch Marner, trying not to change as the perception of you does. The good news? Your GM guarantees you will not be traded.

Auston Matthews

Age: 22
Contract status: Signed for four more seasons
AAV: $11.63 million

Last time Matthews played a full season, he won a major NHL trophy (the Calder). Healthy for the first time in three years, the Leafs’ leading scorer had a fantastic shot at another one (the Rocket), erupting for 47 goals and 80 points over 70 games. Matthews added a lethal one-timer to his quiver, started making better use of his big frame, earned tougher matchups, and ranked second overall in takeaways (78, tied with Mark Stone). AM34 was the Leafs’ post-season MVP and shouldn’t go anywhere before 2024, minimum.

Ilya Mikheyev

Age: 25
Contract status: RFA (with arbitration rights)

Frustration with the Leafs’ lack of depth scoring coincided with Soupman’s trip to long-term injured reserve — the result of a horrific skate cut to the wrist. In the 39 games the rookie did play, the Russian endeared himself to fans, teammates and coaches alike with his quick feet and excellent vision. Despite getting mostly D-zone starts and no power-play time, “Mickey” ranked among the freshmen’s leading scorers (23 points in 39 games) until having his campaign cut short. A mediocre series against the Blue Jackets won’t prevent Dubas from re-signing him.

William Nylander

Age: 24
Contract status: Signed for four more seasons
AAV: $6.96 million

From bust to bargain, Nylander discovered a new love for driving to the crease while maintaining his status as a zone-entry monster. He crushed a family high in goals (31), besting dad Michael’s most productive season, and made good on his vow to dominate in the regular season. And yet… if or when Dubas does decide to break up the Core 4 and spend a greater sum on his blue line, Nylander is the most likely star forward to be traded. A major reason: More teams could accommodate his contract, which is lighter on actual dollars than cap-hit dollars.

Nicholas Robertson

Age: 18
Contract status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $850,000

In order to contend in a cap world, you need exciting young talent overachieving on their entry-level contracts. For the Maple Leafs up front, Robertson is that guy. The OHL graduate got his taste this summer against Columbus, scoring his first NHL goal. The well-publicized teenage phenom will arrive at training camp champing at the bit to become an everyday top-nine NHLer in this city.

Evan Rodrigues

Age: 27
Contract status: RFA (with arbitration rights)

Acquired from Pittsburgh during the Kapanen deal, the Toronto native is a versatile depth piece who can move around the bottom six. Whether he signs with the Maple Leafs is another story. Rodrigues needs a qualifying offer of $2 million, but his 2019-20 output (six goals, 10 points) suggests he’s not worth that to Toronto under a flat cap. If he’s willing to take less, he has a shot to stay.

Jason Spezza

Age: 37
Contract status: UFA

Despite playing just 58 games, Spezza’s nine goals topped the eight he put up in each of his previous two years in Dallas. And while Babcock didn’t believe he was a fit, Keefe flipped that narrative and “Vintage” has become a valuable voice and versatile tool on the bench. He wants to keep playing in Toronto. Our vote (we don’t actually get one) is to re-up the local legend for one more go. He’s not in this for the money any longer.

John Tavares

Age: 29
Contract status: Signed for five more seasons
AAV: $11 million

The captain’s second winter in Toronto was not as smooth as his first. A puck busted his finger. His chemistry with Marner and Hyman was interrupted by injuries and line juggles. At times he’s looked a little off. Fighting it. And yet, he’s put his head down and grinded out his 11th consecutive season with 24 (or more) goals and 10th straight season with 60 points.

“It seems like you can never break him. His intensity and his drive out there, he never gives up, and it’s one thing I admire about him,” Dylan Larkin said recently. “He’s definitely the rock of a team that has a lot of skill, but he plays the right way and leads in that department.”

DEFENCEMEN

Tyson Barrie

Age: 29
Contract status: UFA

A tale of two Barries. Under Babcock, Barrie failed to find a niche or the net with his second NHL team. Under Keefe, he rediscovered his offensive groove — thanks, in large part, to a role quarterbacking the top power-play unit. Defensively, Barrie endured some rough nights, and the fact Dubas explored trading him mid-season ensured his fate as a one-year rental. Barrie won’t have the bargaining power he once expected as a UFA, but he could shine if sheltered in an offensive role.

Cody Ceci

Age: 26
Contract status: UFA

While it’s difficult, especially for fans, to judge Ceci’s work without thinking about his $4.5-million price tag, the fact is, the Leafs’ blue line was better off with him in the lineup than out. Ceci contributed little offensively but was one of few veterans on the back end capable of eating minutes on the right side, starting most shifts in the D-zone and still being on the ice for more goals for than goals against. That said, Toronto’s defence was a disappointment, and Ceci is expected to seek his money elsewhere.

Travis Dermott

Age: 23
Contract status: RFA (no arbitration rights)

The opportunity for Dermott to catapult into Jake Gardiner’s old role as a top-four puck-mover was stymied by the 23-year-old’s shoulder injury and a confidence that has been slow to build. While he didn’t exactly knock his platform season out the park, the good news is that Dermott was on the plus side of the ledger (plus-14) and looked great late, as the Muzzin and Rielly injuries necessitated a sharp increase in minutes and responsibility. Dubas said Dermott will be back, and he shouldn’t break the bank. We predict a prove-it bridge deal.

Justin Holl

Age: 28
Contract status: Signed for three more seasons
AAV: $2 million

The rise of late-blooming Holl, 28, from permanent bench-warmer to shutdown pairing guy makes for one of the best individual stories of the Leafs’ season. Few contract extensions in these parts have been harder to earn. Holl is the only NHL right-shot defenceman under contract with the Leafs for 2020-21. He’s not going anywhere.

Mikko Lehtonen

Age: 26
Contract status: Signed for one season
AAV: $925,000

“With regards to Mikko and where he fits in,” Dubas says, “you want to really work toward his strengths and what he does best and fit that into our program.” A puck-moving lefty capable of playing the right side and a prime candidate to run the second power-play unit, Lehtonen has all the potential to upgrade Toronto’s third pairing while helping to lower the club’s cap hit. The KHL Defenceman of the Year is a gamble, sure, but an excellent one.

Timothy Liljegren

Age: 21
Contract status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $863,333

“I believe Timothy Liljegren is ready to become an NHL player, whatever level that’s going to be. I will be surprised if he doesn’t play in the top seven or eight with the Toronto Maple Leafs next year — but he’s gotta hold up his end of the bargain,” Marlies GM Laurence Gilman said this summer. A better idea: The Leafs upgrade the right side of their D corps to the point Liljegren can ripen in the AHL for another winter.

Martin Marincin

Age: 28
Contract status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $700,000

While seldom used, Marincin is a serviceable, stay-at-home defender when called upon. Because he can kill penalties and deliver positive underlying numbers, he earned a low-risk contract extension earlier this year. Marincin is totally fine as a two-way depth piece, but when he’s getting shutdown matchups in elimination series, there’s an issue.

Jake Muzzin

Age: 31
Contract status: Signed for four more seasons
AAV: $5.625 million

The importance of Toronto’s best pure defender and most under-rated leader (believe it or not, Muzzin doesn’t wear a letter on his sweater) might have been best highlighted by the games he didn’t play. When Muzzin went down with a broken foot, Leafs Nation got a sober reminder of how thin its blue line is. Wise move for Dubas to extend the impending free agent on trade deadline day.

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Morgan Rielly

Age: 26
Contract status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $5 million

Try as he might, the longest-serving Maple Leaf couldn’t match his stellar performance in 2019-20. Nagging injuries kept Rielly out of some practices and made him look less than right in games. His 72 points of a year ago got inversed to 27, and a two-month absence due to a broken foot reminded everyone how sparse the back end can look without Rielly. A serious decision looms when Rielly turns UFA in 2022, but Dubas has more pressing issues at hand.

Calle Rosen

Age: 26
Contract status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $750,000

We’re probably being too harsh considering the limited ice time, but Rosen was a minus-2 with two blocked shots and four giveaways in four games. The jury is still out if the 26-year-old can stick in the NHL or if he’s just a really good AHLer.

Rasmus Sandin

Age: 20
Contract status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $894,167

For a teenager, Sandin was fantastic. For a bona fide every-night NHL defenceman, Sandin is still a work in progress. And that’s OK. Sandin’s poise and playmaking is beyond his years, and his willingness to throw the body is admirable. Still, there’s plenty to learn, and no reason to think he won’t. The question is this: Will Toronto’s cap situation force Sandin into too much responsibility too soon?

GOALIES

Frederik Andersen

Age: 30
Contract status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $5 million

The average NHL save percentage in 2019-20 was .910. Andersen’s save percentage in 2019-20 is .909, a career worst for a guy who averages .917. Like the group in front of him, the club’s backbone endured some troubling weeks, but he was rounding into Steady Freddy form at the time of the pause, would’ve cruised to his fourth consecutive 30-win season, and posted a .936 in the postseason. Yet a decision on Andersen’s future with the club must come between today and the beginning of the 2021 off-season. Dubas is listening.

Jack Campbell
Age: 28
Contract status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $1.65 million

A breath of fresh air and a jolt of joy, Campbell made such a significant impact in six starts that it’d be tough to figure out who’s most excited by his acquisition: fans, Dubas, Keefe, the Leafs skaters, or Soupy himself? Wholly embracing his new uniform and role, the ultra-competitive Campbell posted a .915 save percentage and 3-2-1 record in Toronto. He’s cap-friendly and has an eye on an increased workload in 2020-21.


Big tip of the, er, cap to our pals at CapFriendly.com for contract information.

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