The NHL allows teams to negotiate contract extensions with their players who are signed to one-year deals now that the calendars have changed to 2023. The Toronto Maple Leafs have eight such players.
They are Pierre Engvall, Ilya Samsonov, Zach Aston-Reese, Victor Mete, Adam Gaudette, Jordie Benn, Mac Hollowell, and Carl Dahlstrom. A few are regulars in the lineup and have proven valuable to the Maple Leafs, while others are simply depth players who are relied on when injuries happen.
Toronto’s Unrestricted Free Agents
Over the past few seasons, Engvall has been a good depth player. He hasn’t, however, taken on the responsibility the organization had hoped he would, which was to step in as Ilya Mikheyev’s successor. He hasn’t been able to shift into that position, which might make him expendable at the trade deadline. Alternatively, the organization could just let him leave in free agency, as Mikheyev did last year. Given his performance this season, it’s doubtful the Maple Leafs will extend Engvall’s contract at a higher annual average value (AAV). He is signed for $2.25 million this season.
The 26-year-old has 14 points in 35 games and is coming off a career-high of 35 points in 78 games, which was the key reason for his contract. Although he is a regular, Toronto will need the cap space and could give a player like Joey Anderson his roster spot and runway to become an everyday NHLer.
Signing Zach Aston-Reese was a complete steal during an offseason that saw more players sign professional tryouts (PTO) than regular contracts. After losing Mikheyev in free agency and Engvall to an early season injury, Toronto sought to strengthen their defence, which is where Aston-Reese excels. He was signed to a one-year deal with an AAV of $840,630, which is very team-friendly.
Aston-Reese has been a dependable player on both sides of the puck this season and consistently gives the club hits, which is another area of need for the team. If the Maple Leafs could get him signed at roughly the same AAV as his current contract, it would be smart to bring him back, as he has added a unique presence to the fourth line.
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Benn and Dahlstrom were both acquired as back-end depth players. However, due to injuries, both players have missed the bulk of the season. Benn has seen action this year and, until he suffered another injury, was playing with Morgan Rielly on the top pairing. He is signed to a league minimum contract worth $750,000 AAV, and if he can stay healthy, he will be a good presence in the postseason and could be a good option as a depth defender to bring back next season.
On the other hand, Dahlstrom will probably play for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League (AHL). He is under contract for the league minimum and will most likely enter the open market following this season.
Maple Leafs’ Restricted Free Agents
Many wondered where Samsonov would end up when the Washington Capitals left him unqualified, and Maple Leafs fans were curious about their goaltending tandem when the team signed him to a “show me” contract worth $1.8 million for one season. He is now third in save percentage (SV%) and fourth in goals-against average (GAA) among NHL goalies who have played more than 10 games, with an 11-3 record, 2.20 GAA, and .920 SV%.
It would be very wise for the Maple Leafs to re-sign him before the deadline before his price increases to an unaffordable level. The team also has his rights when the 25-year-old goaltender becomes a restricted free agency (RFA) after the current season and could benefit from that. But it’s possible that the asking price will be too high, and the organization won’t qualify him for the next year.
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Hollowell shared a quarantining residence with Auston Matthews and former Maple Leaf Joe Thornton during the COVID-19 abbreviated season. He didn’t play at all that year, and his NHL debut had to wait. He did, however, make a strong impression when he made his debut in 2022-2023, which provided him some time with the team before being returned to the AHL, and they frequently bring him up in an emergency. The right-handed defenseman, who is 24 years old, has the potential to play regularly on the NHL’s third pairing.
Considering the organization has struggled to draft and develop right-handed defensemen over the past ten years, the Maple Leafs’ front office should be intrigued about having a player like Hollowell in their back pocket. Since he is an RFA, the team can benefit from his lack of NHL experience, so whether it’s a one or two-year deal, it will come with a two-way contract, and the AAV won’t exceed $800,000 to $900,000.
Mete and Gaudette are both in the same predicament as Benn and Dahlstrom. They are depth players who can be deployed when necessary but are unlikely to become regulars in the NHL lineup. Similar to Benn, Mete played in the NHL for a while before suffering an injury that put him on the long-term injured reserve list (LTIR), and Gaudette has spent the entire season with the Marlies after failing to make the team out to training camp. Although he could still be utilized, it appears that he will spend the bulk of the season in the AHL.
Both players are on expiring contracts worth $750,000, so it wouldn’t be a shock if they are free to hit the open market this offseason. They would then have the opportunity to weigh their chances of being signed by another team and be given the chance to play in the NHL as a regular for what could be their last time.
The Maple Leafs could expect to sign one or two players to extensions now that all NHL teams are permitted to hold contract talks. Unrestricted free agents will most likely be given preference because of their status, although if the team is successful in negotiating with a few restricted free agents, Samsonov will be at the top of the list.