4 Maple Leafs Unlikely to Return Next Season

Expect change for the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason. How much change isn’t entirely clear, but with the announcement that GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe will be back next season, it doesn’t appear the club will go in an entirely new direction. Still, pending UFA contracts and salary cap restrictions will force some change.

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There are two big questions that require answers. First, who won’t make the cut? Second, who might take off for greener pastures? There are at least four candidates that come to mind right away.

Ilya Mikheyev

A pending UFA, Ilya Mikheyev is likely to do much better financially in free agency than if he were to stay with the Maple Leafs. In fact, he probably scored his way into a scenario where he is unaffordable for the Leafs moving forward. He scored 21 goals in the regular season and added two goals and two assists in seven playoff games. That’s enough to get him noticed by other teams, especially those who believe he has a higher ceiling than in 2021-22, a career year for him.

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mikheyev became a legitimate threat this past season and in many situations. He showed he could be dangerous at even strength and on the penalty kill and all of this will have value. These are the kind of utility players teams tend to overpay for. Jonas Siegel of The Athletic writes: “Ilya Mikheyev is likely to depart for a big payday in free agency, which will leave a hole to fill in the top nine.”

Petr Mrazek

Two different scribes from The Athletic believe goaltender Petr Mrazek won’t be back. At the very least, the Maple Leafs will try to move on from a netminder who is destined to be an expensive backup if the Leafs can get Jack Campbell locked up.

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Seigel notes:

”If the Leafs bring him back, which seems likelier than not, they’ll need to pair him with a partner who can reliably take over the net, if needed. That was supposed to be Petr Mrazek this season. Can the Leafs move his contract somehow — two more years, $3.8 million cap hit — and find a suitable replacement?

source -‘Maple Leafs have to stay the course (with some tweaks) despite suffering same outcome’ – Jonas Siegel – The Athletic – 05/15/2022

Two more seasons at that kind of financial commitment doesn’t make sense for the Leafs, especially as a team that needs to find a way to move money. James Mirtle of The Athletic agreed and said that finding a way to dump Mrazek’s salary from the books will be key to the Maple Leafs’ offseason changes.

Wayne Simmonds

If the Maple Leafs have to choose between Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds, it seems less likely they choose Simmonds. A player who is slowing, making costly mistakes at key times, and really isn’t the physical threat he once was, he also offers very little offensively. Going with Spezza’s leadership makes more sense. The Leafs also know Spezza isn’t going anywhere as it’s a play-for-the Leafs-or-retire situation for the veteran. As such, Dubas can afford to ask Spezza to wait.

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mirtle writes:

”Spezza certainly still provides terrific off-ice leadership and inspiration, but do you need to bring back both him and Wayne Simmonds, given they often made up an overmatched fourth line?”

source – ‘Mirtle: What changes do the Maple Leafs need after another early exit?’ – James Mirtle – The Athletic – 05/15/2022

The answer is no, especially when there are younger guys in the pipeline that need an opportunity.

Alex Kerfoot

If the Maple Leafs are determined to bring back the core because they believe this group is good enough and has more to give, someone who makes a decent amount of money and plays a depth role likely has to go. If the Maple Leafs intend to pitch an offer to Mikheyev, Alex Kerfoot is certainly the player on the outside looking in. He also took a lot of heat from fans during the first-round series against Tampa Bay and that might haunt him over the summer.

A Kerfoot trade could provide value for the Leafs. He had 51 points, most of which came at even strength. He’s another utility player and one that makes just enough ($3.5 million per season) that trading him offers you options financially, but he’s not so expensive that another team will stay away.

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