Similar to every other NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs await decisions about the NHL’s regular season and how that might continue – or not. Will there be any season at all? Or, like 2005, will the Stanley Cup Playoffs be canceled? If there is a season, what might it look like? Or will there only be some form of Stanley Cup Playoffs?
So many questions and, right now, so few answers. While all NHL fans await the resumption or cancellation of the season, news items and rumors continue to emerge from the Maple Leafs organization. In this post, I want to help fans keep up-to-date with what’s going on.
Item One: If the Maple Leafs Want to Keep Frederik Andersen
This week, James O’Brien of NBC Sports wrote that if the Maple Leafs hope to hang on to goaltender Frederik Andersen for the long-term, they will have to move contracts. How many contracts would that be and who’s likely to be moved?
Such questions are difficult to answer because of COVID-19. As a necessary response to the pandemic, the NHL’s regular-season was suspended on March 12. With that suspension comes a loss of revenue, which will undoubtedly impact the projected 2020-21 salary cap. On March 4, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announced to general managers at their annual meeting that the NHL salary cap for next season was projected to be between $84 million and $88.2 million – about a five percent increase from the 2019-20 season’s $81.5 million.
However, that projection will change. Given the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems there’s little choice but to drop the upper limit of the cap in response to lost revenue. For the Maple Leafs, who seem to be perpetually against the cap, general manager Kyle Dubas and his team must be creative.
As O’Brien noted, the limited salary cap space means the Maple Leafs will have to rely on youngsters like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren. At the same time, he suggests that a veteran winger, and physical presence, like Kyle Clifford, sadly needs to be ejected.
Other commentators have wondered whether Andersen makes sense for the Maple Leafs long term. Specifically, James Mirtle of The Athletic believes the team might want to think about upgrading its goaltender. He suggested Robin Lehner might be available in this summer’s UFA market. Meanwhile, Mirtle’s The Athletic writing partner Jonas Siegel suggested a potential trade for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Murray as another option.
Would either of these goalies provide better value for the money? Siegel wrote that Murray’s “a restricted free agent after this season, and while there was talk of Murray cashing in on his next contract with the Penguins, I wonder if the landscape has changed. For one thing, Murray had a down year (.899 SV%). That led to Tristan Jarry gradually putting a hold on the Penguins’ No. 1 job. Jarry is also an RFA this summer and Pittsburgh has Casey DeSmith around as a potential backup,” (from “Mirtle and Siegel: Should the Leafs seek an upgrade on Frederik Andersen?” James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel, The Athletic, 04/24/2020).
As I noted, there are a lot of questions to answer. A cheaper option might be newcomer Jack Campbell, who so far seems competent in net and one of the NHL’s nice guys. But, does he have the quality a starter must possess?
Item Two: Frederik Andersen Wants to Complete the Season
Speaking of Andersen, he made it known that he wants to complete the regular season and he’d be fine experiencing some difficultly to make that happen. For example, he’d be willing to be placed in isolation in a hotel or play without fans in the stands if it meant the 2019-20 season could be salvaged.
Last week, Andersen told the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby that he wasn’t against additional isolation as a way to continue the season: “Everyone wants sports back on. I think if there’s a chance we can go back, we owe it to ourselves to play the game we’re so passionate about and we owe it to the fans who’ve been waiting. It will give them something to watch. Fans are starving for something other than a rerun of old shows. It will be a big part of returning to normal.”
Andersen also hopes to complete the regular season before any Stanley Cup Playoffs are played. If that’s not practical, there’s been talk about different scenarios including an expanded playoff format that includes bubble teams that were still in the mix before the suspension, (from “Maple Leafs’ Freddy ready for any NHL re-start plan,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 23/04/20).
Item Three: Happy Birthday Cujo
Curtis Joseph celebrated his 53rd birthday on April 29. He was nicknamed “Cujo” after the Stephen King novel because it fitted the two letters of his first and last names. Although he wore number 31 for six NHL teams (the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes, and Calgary Flames), he became a superstar with the Maple Leafs.
Playing for the Maple Leafs, he won 30 games three seasons in a row, was twice runner-up for the Vezina Trophy (1999 and 2000), and was a finalist for the 1999 Lester B. Pearson Award. In the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic games, he tended the Canadian men’s hockey team to the gold medal.
In my book, his greatest award was winning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000, which is presented each year to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities both on and off the ice and who has made significant humanitarian contributions to his community. In short, Cujo was a great player and is one of the good guys.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Right now, the Maple Leafs are waiting for news about the NHL’s suspended season. That said, I’m certain Dubas is constructing multiple scenarios about how the team might respond to whatever decisions are made. I don’t know this, but I think he’s nerdy enough to thrive on such puzzles and unknowns.