“As of this moment, yes, I expect him to be the starting goalie for our team… whenever we get going here,” general manager Kyle Dubas asserted Monday during his pre-draft conference call.
The noise around Andersen’s future with the club swelled upon Andersen and the Maple Leafs’ fourth consecutive post-season series loss, to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Word leaked that Dubas had fielded calls exploring the possibility of trading Andersen, 31, prior to the final season of his five-year, $25-million contract with the club.
Dubas was reportedly seeking a top-four defenceman in return for trading away his workhorse netminder.
“I know where the Fred speculation started and comes from, and rather than address it publicly or be hostile about it, I just addressed it directly with Fred,” said Dubas, who was irked that info went public.
“So, he and I have had many discussions over the last month or so about that. So, he knows where we stand directly.”
Naturally, questions around the No. 1 goalie’s future will linger until Andersen re-signs with Toronto or is dealt elsewhere.
The Leafs have already paid Andersen a $4-million signing bonus for 2020-21, so the actual salary remaining on his deal ($1 million) could make him an even more coveted goaltender, particularly among the more cash-conscious clubs.
The goaltending market is currently flooded with a variety of NHL-calibre options both via trade (Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury) and free agency (Jacob Markstrom, Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin, Henrik Lundqvist, et al).
“There’s a lot of great goalies out there. It’s going to be a competitive landscape,” Robin Lehner told Hockey Central at Noon Monday, surprised how many of his peers are looking for a chair. “There’s only so many spots.”
For his part, Andersen is, at least publicly, focused on controlling what he can control, training to rebound from an uneven 2019-20 campaign. Andersen went 29-13-7 with a .909 save percentage in the regular season but turned in a solid .939 save percentage in the Columbus series.
“Whatever’s gonna happen, happens,” Andersen said, regarding his next contract, upon season’s end.
All options on the table for Leafs’ first-round pick
When Dubas acquired the 15th-overall pick from Pittsburgh as the key ingredient to the Kasperi Kapanen trade, the GM made it clear he’d entertain offers to flip it. Plenty of trade discussion ensued, but no offers escalated too far beyond the tire-kicking stage.
“That said, things can change at any minute,” Dubas said.
Toronto’s brass will hunker down between now and Round 1 Tuesday evening and consider all options for its first-rounder: trade up, trade down, trade the pick for a roster player, or simply select the best player available at 15.
“We have to consider everything, given the circumstances that we're in [and] that the league is in,” Dubas said. “There's been a little bit more discussion on shifting around picks in the first round. There seems to be a lot of interest in moving up in the round, for whatever reason.”
Making the Maple Leafs hard to play against — a bigger priority
Visiting clubs pay the Maple Leafs all sorts of complements when they roll through town. They extol Toronto’s speed and skill, its offensive creativity and dangerous rush. Seldom, if ever, do they characterize the Leafs as “hard to play against.”
As he reloads for 2020-21, Dubas says it should go without saying that he wants his group to be “incredibly hard to play against.” Some of battle toughness must happen organically.
“But also, there's no doubt that it is something we would like to address through free agency or through trades that come up,” Dubas noted. “It is a priority of ours.”
To that end, sandpaper role players like Patrick Maroon and Wayne Simmonds up front and Radko Gudas and Zach Bogosian on the back end are the type of UFAs who shouldn’t break the bank but may provide great bang for the buck.
One more year of Spezza!
The man they call “Vintage” further endeared himself to Leaf Nation by taking another hometown discount — one year, $700,000 — Monday.
“He's a veteran in the mold more of Roger Dorn, but I view him more as — after being with him for a year — a Jake Taylor type, to use that analogy from Major League,” Dubas said.
“He's been excellent with our young players, great experience, works his butt off every single day in the facility, and has just been an outstanding addition for us.
“He desperately wants to win, for obvious reasons, and he's willing to spend as much time as any young player wants in helping them work through their start of their career or various challenges in their career.”
To qualify or not to qualify? That is the question
While some clubs (Montreal, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh, to name a few) have already announced which restricted free agents have been tendered qualifying offers prior to Wednesday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline, Dubas’s office is taking a wait-and-see approach.
We expect defenceman Travis Dermott and winger Ilya Mikheyev to be qualified but are less certain about Frederik Gauthier (who holds arbitration rights and scored a career-high seven goals) and the newly acquired Evan Rodrigues ($2-million salary last season).
Dubas said he’d rather “see if other teams are non-QOing players that we think might be improvements for us before we act.” If you have time, use it. “We aren't doing anything pre-emptively that might restrict us.”