Now that the Florida Panthers have eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2023 NHL Playoffs, their attention will turn to the offseason, one that may be the biggest since the Auston Matthews’ era began in 2016-17.
After finally breaking their 19-year first-round curse, the Maple Leafs struggled in their second-round series against the Panthers, leaving them in a 3-0 hole. It wasn’t until Game 4 that they woke up and battled like the team we saw during the regular season. Unfortunately, one game is all they could manage, and they dropped the series 4-1. Now that the offseason has officially started, here’s a look at some pending free agents they should re-sign.
When Luke Schenn was made available by the Vancouver Canucks, almost all of Leafs Nation wanted him. For Schenn, it must have been like a movie to go back to where it all started and try to win the Cup. Unfortunately, they didn’t, but the window is still open, and he should be re-signed. He finally gave the Maple Leafs’ best defenseman, Morgan Rielly, a reliable partner, which he hasn’t had since Ron Hainsey in 2018-19. The chemistry between Reilly and Schenn was on full display during the playoffs and allowed head coach Sheldon Keefe to use them in all situations.
If Toronto wants a chance at winning next season, giving keeping Reilly’s partner would be a major benefit. In terms of a contract, it would have to be in the ballpark of $1.5-$2 million for two seasons. However, he might be willing to take a bit of a pay cut to stay, which could bring the deal down to around $1 million per season for the same term.
Noel Acciari was acquired with Ryan O’Reilly in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, arguably one of the club’s biggest trades of the last decade. Both players brought skills that the Maple Leafs needed, but Acciari added something that the team didn’t have, a player who would hit; he ranked among the league leaders in the regular season with 244. His physicality seemed to rub off on the rest of the bottom six as the team out-hit the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. It was as if he single-handily changed the mindset of the group just by running into his opponent.
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With some of the other members of the bottom six also on expiring deals, like Alex Kerfoot and David Kampf, it seems likely that Acciari will be re-signed. He has become a vital member of the team who can be trusted in all defensive situations. That makes it extremely hard to put a price on his next contract. However, I expect it to be in the neighbourhood of $1.5-$2 million for two years. The Maple Leafs should lock him up past next season because he is the type of player who will show up every night, and with their Cup window likely closing in the next two-three years, Acciari is the type of player every team wants in the playoffs.
Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll should be the Maple Leafs’ goaltending tandem. Woll stepped in when the team needed him in the postseason and played extremely well, but Samsonov helped the club get past the first round, which no goalie had done in 19 years. Matt Murray’s time in Toronto is all but over, so management should lock up Samsonov, who will become a restricted free agent this summer, for at least the next year or two to help Woll become the bonafide starter.
The numbers are where this gets tricky. All season Samsonov was in the top 10 in goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%), alongside goalies that have average annual values (AAV) of around $4.5-$6 million, which is a problem for the organization.
Signing Samsonov for $5 million per season is out of the question. In a perfect world, the contract would be in the ballpark of $3.5 million for two seasons on a team-friendly and fair bridge deal.
Since O’Reilly arrived from the Blues, he has truly been ‘the Factor.’ Despite an injury early in his Maple Leafs’ tenure, he returned to become instrumental, especially in the playoffs. Even if he wasn’t scoring, his play in all three zones was something that the team hasn’t had in years. He is confident and does all the little things right. His ability to compete in the corners, along the boards, and in front of the net allowed Keefe to pair him with almost anyone.
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It would be a huge mistake if the front office didn’t attempt to re-sign him, an Ontario native and lifelong supporter of the team. O’Reilly will be in high demand if he hits the open market, so he should be management’s top priority.
O’Reilly is the hardest player to evaluate here. If we assume he is open to a hometown discount, his new contract could be front-loaded and worth $8 million for three years – $3.5 million for year one, $2.5 million for year two, and $2 million for the last year. That will give management more flexibility when the Core Four need new deals.
The Maple Leafs also have several other pending free agents to make decisions on with little more than six weeks until the 2023 NHL Draft. Hopefully, by then, we will have some answers, despite the uncertainty of the organization’s future, including management. However, re-signing these four players should be the team’s top priority this summer.