Recently, The Hockey Writers’ Trege Wilson wrote an article about who he felt would not be with the Montreal Canadiens next season. We’d like to follow his lead to look at who, on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ current roster, are most likely not to be in Toronto next season.
One Important Consideration for this Maple Leafs’ Team
One caveat for this Maple Leafs’ team, as all fans know, is the light at the end of the tunnel – the Holy Grail Maple Leafs’ fans have been waiting for more than 50 seasons – the Stanley Cup. How the team performs in its quest for the Cup is the factor that would have the most profound effect on the roster makeup beyond this season.
If the Maple Leafs are not playing hockey beyond the first round of the playoffs, that’s going to be an issue. It would likely change hockey in Toronto in a major way. If the team goes far into the playoffs, that’s a different story altogether. If the team happens to win the Stanley Cup, that might change things even more profoundly.
The Maple Leafs’ Leadership Has Stood by Its Core
Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas stood by the core of this roster after their devastating first-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens last season. Would they still have the same faith if they fail to get past the first round this season? Would they even be around to consider the alternatives?
The Maple Leafs’ lineup, and this article, could be drastically different if the team were unable to make the playoffs or win at least the first round. For now, we’re going to predict the Maple Leafs finally get over the hump and experience playoff success. With that in mind, we would expect the core to look a lot like it does today.
Which Current Maple Leafs’ Players Are Likely Gone After This Season
Who do we think are the players most likely to be elsewhere when the puck drops on the 2022-23 season? In no particular order, these players are:
Player One: Justin Holl
Justin Holl has been a feel-good story about a player who was languishing in the minors, just not quite good enough to make it to the NHL. When he did finally get the call, he spent all but two games of his first season in the press box.
Finally, at the age of 27, Holl became an NHL regular. Shortly after he found himself as part of the number-one shutdown pairing (with Jake Muzzin) on one of the best teams in the league. He went from not being an NHL regular, to his team making deals in an expansion draft just so they could protect him from being chosen in that draft.
That brings us to this season and to today. Holl has not been able to maintain the level of play that got him to the point he was last season. He has arguably been the team’s worst defenseman. If not for his play last season and the Maple Leafs spending other assets to keep him on this roster, he’d likely be in the press box.
At his present age (he’ll be 30-years-old next month) and his present cap hit ($2 million for one more season), the Maple Leafs simply won’t be able to afford him.
Player Two: Nick Ritchie
Everyone on the Maple Leafs seems to love Nick Ritchie. Head coach Sheldon Keefe seems to go out of his way to compliment him on his play and for doing all the right things even though he’s just not getting the results. The fact remains that he was brought to this team for his offense and his physicality, but has failed to produce that offense. He’s scored one goal and seven assists in his 29 games played.
Ritchie has the worst plus/minus on the team at minus-4. Analytically, he’s also a negative in goals for and against, expected goals for and against, and high danger chances for and against at five-on-five. He’s spent the majority of his shifts bouncing between the fourth and third lines.
Ritchie is also not the type of player who can be counted on for heavy defensive minutes if he is not producing offensively. He’s started 62 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Similar to Holl, Ritchie has a salary-cap hit of $2.5 million. Also, similar to Holl, that puts Ritchie under the can-no-longer-afford side of the ledger. The team can’t afford to spend that much salary-cap space on a player who plays that far down in the lineup.
Player Three: Petr Mrazek
It was curious when Kyle Dubas acquired Petr Mrazek for three years at $3.8 million per year. For the better part of five seasons, Mrazek has been a goalie whose save percentage has hovered right at the .900 range. He’s also had injury issues. Last season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Mrazek did post his best save percentage since the 2015-16 season, at .923, but he played only 12 games due to injuries.
We understand that, despite Campbell having an excellent 2020-21 season and stealing the starting job from the departed Frederick Andersen, the Maple Leafs were worried about his health and whether he could maintain his level of play. Still, signing Mrazek to that deal seemed a bit of a stretch, a gamble, and perhaps hedging your bets. But we understand the reasons.
As it is, Mrazek’s injury issues have resurfaced; and, to this point in the season, due to inactivity or poor health, Mrazek sits with a .880 save percentage and a 4.12 goals-against average in only three games played. Meanwhile, Jack Campbell has continued to play lights out. He’s at or near the top of every NHL goaltending category.
If there’s one thing we can safely predict, it’s that Jack Campbell will get paid in his next contract. And that contract will start next season. In some ways, Campbell can be compared to the St. Louis Blues’ Jordan Binnington. Binnington was a goalie who seemed to come from nowhere to lead the Blues to a Stanley Cup in 2018-19. He was rewarded with a six-year, $6 million contract.
Although we would love to see it, we aren’t expecting Campbell to take the team all the way to the Cup this season. At the same time, Binnington is two years younger than Campbell. However, our guess would be that Campbell will sign in the neighborhood of $5 million per season in his next contract.
We also feel the Maple Leafs will do everything in their power to make sure Campbell doesn’t walk. We personally think he doesn’t want to. As we heard an announcer say recently, he didn’t know which love affair was stronger – the Maple Leafs’ fans’ love affair with Soupy or his teammates’ love affair with him. He’s the kind of guy a team wants on its roster.
Given the Maple Leafs’ top-heavy salary structure, the team can’t afford to have close to $4 million wrapped up in a backup goalie. In addition, Joseph Woll just had a decent three-game audition with the team. He posted a .911 save percentage, and 2.36 goals-against average. If Woll goes back to the AHL and continues that level of play, he could be a much cheaper consideration for next season.
Our Picks for Maple Leafs’ Players Moving On?
When we look at the team this season and the team’s needs for next season, we see at least three player moves in the making. We believe Justin Holl, Nick Ritchie, and Petr Mrazek will be with other NHL teams.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
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The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf