3 Maple Leafs Who Probably Won’t Return Next Season

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. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Mitch Marner’s Salary vs. Production & More

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?

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Alana Davidson/NHLI via Getty Images)

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

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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.

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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. 

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

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.  

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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. 

Nick Ritchie Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Ritchie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

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.  

Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Biggest Problem Is Not the Core Four

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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