Another season completed and another painful ending. As Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner put it after the team’s Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the group is sick and tired of feeling this way and must move on to get themselves ready for next season. As much as this stings Leafs Nation in this 19-year collage of misery, the show goes on.
General manager Kyle Dubas will have to be creative this offseason, much like the others, as the Maple Leafs only have roughly $3 million in salary cap space heading into the offseason. There’s certainly a chance Dubas makes a couple of moves to create some more flexibility, a storyline we’ll get into another time, but for now, let’s zone in on three free-agent forwards who could help Toronto next season.
Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a financial mess of their own to deal with as Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin are both free agents this summer, leaving Bryan Rust as a player a lot of teams will have circled. The Maple Leafs should have Rust on their radar as he battles hard each and every night, plays the game with a lot of pace, and brings some secondary scoring to the team’s top-nine forwards.
Rust is coming off a contract where he’s making $3.5 million annually, and it’s likely his next contract is for over $4.5-$5-million per season. It’s a number that may be too rich for Dubas and company, but if they move out some current roster players at say the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, they could look at 30-year-old as an option. He’d be a great compliment to John Tavares on the team’s second line as his 58 points in 60 games, and more importantly, his work ethic could give the Maple Leafs captain a different type of running mate to the work ethic of William Nylander.
Rust is from Michigan, so some believe he’s going to end up with the Detroit Red Wings if the Penguins decide to move on. Regardless, the Maple Leafs should have him on their watch list this summer.
Mason Marchment, Florida Panthers
Who knew Mason Marchment would be the one who got away from the Maple Leafs? The undrafted signee from the Lou Lamoriello days has found his stride with the Florida Panthers after Toronto sent him to the sunshine state for Denis Malgin back in Feb.2020. It was certainly a trade that received minimal attention at the time but one that should be circled as a huge loss for the Maple Leafs general manager.
Malgin went on to play eight games for the blue and white and recorded zero points. He was on the team’s radar thanks to being a teammate of Auston Matthews in Switzerland. As for Marchment, all he’s done is break out with the Panthers as he went from 10 points in 33 games last season to 47 points in 54 games in 2022-23, including an impressive 17 even-strength goals.
The scoring touch is nice and welcomed of course, but it’s not what makes Marchment of interest to the Maple Leafs. His physical game is something they could use more of. It was hard to watch the likes of Alexander Kerfoot, William Nylander, and Ondrej Kase fly by defensemen on the forecheck. Meanwhile, Matthews hits everyone in sight as he led the team in hits once again this postseason, just as was the story last season in their series against the Montreal Canadiens.
As for Marchment, he’s a free-agent wild card as his sample size is small. The 27-year-old is coming off a season where he made $800,000. Perhaps a longer-term offer could get his attention and keep his annual average value (AAV) down to accommodate a team like Toronto. We shall see how the Panthers feel about their free-agent forward and if they give him a chance to hit the open market. If the Uxbridge, ON, native ends up on the open market, Dubas should give him a call and start with an apology.
Johan Larsson, Washington Capitals
A name familiar to the Maple Leafs from his Buffalo Sabres days, Johan Larsson is the type of free-agent forward the Maple Leafs should have on their radar. The 29-year-old plays the game tough and loves to mix it up in the hard areas of the ice and can provide some toughness along with some defensive responsibility. Larsson found himself traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Washington Capitals this season, a move that received a ton of praise from the Capitals brass.
Larsson hits free agency coming off a season making $1.4 million and recorded 21 points in 43 games between two teams. He’s capable of playing in all situations and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. Versatility, affordability, and the ability to fill a need are why Dubas and company should take a long look at the Swedish forward this summer.
The Maple Leafs aren’t expected to make any major changes to their management group or behind the bench with head coach Sheldon Keefe. However, Leafs Nation should expect to see some tinkering to the roster this summer. These three free-agent forwards would all provide different attributes to the group and could fit in nicely. If Toronto has the resources come July 13 when free agency begins, perhaps it’s the beginning of the end to their 19-years of disappointment.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween