In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I want to share some of the rumours that are rumbling about the organization. Would Tyler Bozak be a good fit? What young diamonds in the rough might be available for general manager Kyle Dubas to sign and polish up? Finally, how did former Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph make NHL news?
Item One: I Say ‘No’ to Going after Tyler Bozak
There’s nothing wrong with Tyler Bozak as a player. He had nine solid seasons with the Maple Leafs, and I’m not ruling out more but would prefer it’s somewhere down the line. Now isn’t the time to clear space so the organization can bring back the 34-year-old center to play in the bottom-six, no matter how much he might add to that spot.
When Sportsnet’s Luke Fox answered a question from a fan who remembers Bozak (as he should) and heard that the St. Louis Blues have placed him on the trade block (which is likely), and wonders if the Maple Leafs should bring him back “home,” my answer is no – no yet.
The skinny on Bozak is that he has talked about his time in Toronto, and he seems like a good citizen – one of the good guys. Maybe he’s even a Jason Spezza kind of a guy, and that’s my point.
There are a few things that Dubas seems very good at. He drafts well. His two Nicks – Robertson and Abruzzese – are small, smart character players oozing with determination. Second, he has signed strong KHL players. In May, the Maple Leafs signed topnotch defenseman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year, entry-level contract; and Ilya Mikheyev was valuable last season. Third, Dubas seems to be able to find Jason Spezza-type players. Spezza signed a very team-friendly contract with the Maple Leafs because Toronto was home; he wanted another chance to win the Stanley Cup and considered the team a viable option.
I think there are more Jason Spezza(s) out there and the Maple Leafs might become a suitable team for them to sign for a season or two on a small contract in their bid to win the Cup.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews
Bozak might be one of those players. Although he’s not a Toronto native (he’s from Regina), he might think of Toronto as home. However, he’s too costly and he would stress the team’s salary-cap limit. He is in the last year of a contract with a $5 million cap hit. That means Dubas would have to move someone cheaper to make space for him.
Still, Bozak might be great to have around. He’s a center who can still score and wins over half of his face-offs. That’s valuable. That Bozak is 34 years old is double-edged. It’s bad if management believes his production won’t decline and signs him to a longer-term contract. But it’s good if they can get him before he retires on a team-friendly contract that’s reasonable enough to eat if his skills decline, as many players do in their later years.
Now is not the time to sign Bozak. It would be better to see if a player like Alexander Kerfoot can produce. Kerfoot is smart, works hard, is willing to battle, and is young enough to develop into a quality third-line center. Who knows, perhaps when Bozak’s contract ends after the 2021-22 season, he might become a Maple Leaf – with a much-improved salary-cap hit.
Item Two: Might Sean Day Be a Diamond in the Rough?
The New York Rangers placed Sean Day on unconditional waivers two weeks ago. Sadly, Day’s game never lived up to the huge expectations from almost a decade ago when, as a 15-year-old defenseman, he was granted “exceptional status” to play in the OHL. He played seven seasons in the OHL, with moderate success, but couldn’t make a successful transition to the AHL.
Still, the Rangers drafted him in the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (81st overall) and gave him a chance in their system. That chance has now ended. He seems like the kind of player Dubas would take a chance on. That’s what Fansided’s David Morassutti noted, and I agree.
Many hockey people saw something very special in Day ten years ago and, if there’s a chance that it might still be there, it could be worth it if the Maple Leafs gave him a chance to rise through their development system. It’s a flyer, but the Maple Leafs have been successful before; they helped develop Mason Marchment and Justin Holl.
Day has shown some offensive firepower, but not consistently. Is there a chance he’s the type of defenseman who takes time and the right circumstances to develop into an NHL-caliber player? Was he lost in the shuffle with the Rangers? Is he a late-bloomer?
Once upon a time, Day was considered a potential first-round pick. Is there any promise left? Would he be able to take a very deep breath and start over, and might some organization offer him the chance to do so?
Item Three: Curtis Joseph Named a Top 15 Expansion Era Goalie
The NHL regularly releases a Super 16 goalie review. In April, senior NHL writer Dan Rosen published his power-rankings of the top goalies of the Expansion Era, and former Maple Leafs netminder Curtis Joseph (Cujo) ranked 14th.
In his notes, Rosen pointed out that Joseph ranks seventh in NHL history with 454 wins, surpassed this season by the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and the Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-André Fleury. Although Cujo never won a Stanley Cup or a major NHL award, he played well for many seasons.
As Rosen pointed out, his best seasons were with the Maple Leafs from 1998-2002, with a record of 133-88-27, a goals-against-average of 2.43, a .912 save percentage, and 17 shutouts. In each of those seasons, he helped lead the Maple Leafs into the playoffs, and they reached the Eastern Conference Final in both 1999 and 2002.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
This morning, the Buffalo Sabres fired Jason Botterill as the team’s general manager and named Kevyn Adams as his replacement. I have heard rumours that, if the Maple Leafs lose their upcoming play-in series to the Columbus Blue Jackets and don’t make the playoffs, both Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe will be in the hot seat. I can’t imagine that’s accurate.
Dubas has a unique philosophy about how he wants to build a Cup contender, and the Maple Leafs are only beginning to see the results of Dubas’ draft picks. There’s no way this philosophy will change even if the team loses. That said, it will be interesting to see what transpires should the Maple Leafs lose to the Blue Jackets.