This off-season is sure to be an interesting one for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Names like Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul could all be dealt away. We’ve already seen the hiring of a new coach in Mike Babcock. The scouting staff has been largely let go. They still don’t have a general manager. It’s sure to be an off-season of change.
However, how much change will occur? We know trades will be made. Free agents will be let go. With all the departures, who will stick around? Let’s look at five players who should be in the Leafs’ opening night lineup for the 2015-16 season. Morgan Rielly is not on this list, but he is obviously not being moved so he was excluded.
Polak has looked pretty good as a defense partner for Morgan Rielly. Although he did have a few trade rumors surrounding him at this year’s Trade Deadline, the odds are that he will stick around for next season for the same reason they didn’t trade him in March. He also gives the Leafs a good shut-down defenseman. However, Polak could be a prime candidate to be moved at the 2016 Trade Deadline if the Leafs don’t sign him to an extension before then. As a UFA on July 1, 2016, if the Leafs can find a partner that’s willing to part with a second-round pick, that could be it for Polak’s time in Toronto.
Just don’t expect him to be dealt sooner than that.
Holland stands to be a pretty good center for the Leafs during their rebuild. He’s the perfect type of player for this situation. If the Leafs were to trade Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, this summer, Holland would get the opportunity to play a lot more minutes. That would be the part that benefits him. Having him as the No. 1 center obviously doesn’t hurt the Leafs’ rebuild.
When the Leafs young center prospects are ready to make it to the NHL and take on bigger roles in the lineup, they could potentially push Holland back down the lineup as an experienced second- or third-line center. They could also trade him for more younger assets. He has been a good soldier for the Leafs so far. There’s no reason to stop that just yet.
Panik was a surprise for the Leafs last season. No one expects a waiver pickup to play the way that Panik did at times this seaason. He’s never going to be an offensive spark plug, but if he can maintain that type of production from the third- or fourth-line, that’s a pretty good result. There’s also the chance he moves up in the lineup due to other trades.
Like Holland, Panik can basically be a placeholder for prospects that need time to develop. A restricted free agent on July 1, it shouldn’t take much to get him re-signed. He won’t cost much more than $1 million, or maybe even less, and a two- or three-year deal might be the perfect length.
Remember when Mike Babcock said there was pain coming? Well, Komarov needs to stick around to ensure that the Leafs opponents go through pain as well.
During a rebuild, a team should at least try to ice a lineup that will still entertain fans. Everyone knows the Leafs will once again be at the bottom of the league next season and probably the season after that. Having Komarov be the pest that he is, laying down hits and annoying the other team should at least give the Leafs’ fans something to cheer about. Toronto will need that.
James van Riemsdyk
In another case of giving their fans something to cheer about, there is no way the Leafs should consider trading van Riemsdyk this off-season. Even if the Leafs are going to lose a lot, they can least have him score goals to entertain the fans if nothing else.
At 26, he is still young enough to stick around. Plus, when the Leafs emerge from this rebuild, they’ll need veterans to go along with all their young players. JVR should be one of those veterans. Out of anyone on the Leafs roster, he probably stands the most to gain from the hiring of Babcock. He should develop into an even better player in the next few years and will be in the perfect position to mentor the Leafs young prospects when they make the Leafs roster.