Maple Leafs Commentary: 7 Questions Must Be Answered Soon

In this post, I’ll take a look at six questions that remain to be answered by the Toronto Maple Leafs as they work to build a roster for the 2022-23 regular season.

Question One: Will Losing Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev Prove Problematic

Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas did not even engage in conversations with either Jack Campbell or Ilya Mikheyev once it seemed that the bidding for their services ran past the team’s ability or willingness to pay. Most fans who watch the Maple Leafs understood the risks such contracts brought over the long term. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Will the Toronto Maple Leafs be able to adequately replace Jack Campbell?
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those contract risks don’t mean that Campbell or Mikheyev won’t play well with either the Edmonton Oilers or the Vancouver Canucks respectively. How much will the Maple Leafs as a team miss these two players? 

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Specifically, will the two goalies who came to the team – Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov – be able to replace Campbell sufficiently enough? Second, will Calle Jarnkrok be able to replace Mikheyev on the third line? He’s not been the player that Mikheyev could turn out to be, but he’s been consistent and reliable. 

Related: Can the Maple Leafs Find a Jack Campbell Clone?

Can the loss of both Campbell and Mikheyev be mediated by the new players?

Question Two: What Happens with Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford?

I usually wait to see how Maple Leafs’ management moves work out before I speak much about them. As readers know and sometimes chide me about, I have chosen to try to make sense of management moves positively rather than negatively.

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

Still, it seemed odd last season to re-resign Wayne Simmonds to a two-year contract and then re-sign Kyle Clifford to a contract extension in March 2022. As it stands right now, general manager Dubas’s extensions to Simmonds and Clifford seem gratuitous after neither player saw much postseason action. 

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Currently, with the depth players the Maple Leafs signed, it would seem that the fourth line is the team’s project for the upcoming season. The team is going in a direction this season that wouldn’t utilize either physical veteran that much. What happens with Simmonds and Clifford?

Question Three: Will the Maple Leafs Be Able to Sign Rasmus Sandin?

As I have written before, I expect the Rasmus Sandin signing to be reminiscent of the William Nylander signing. Both Nylander and Sandin have the same player agent and it seems to be (on a small “n”) a way of operating. I have also written that I believe the management should let Sandin sit for a season if his demands become outrageous. [See the link below.]

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Change Their Pattern and It Starts With Sandin

I think I’m alone in such a hard-line stance with the Swedish defenseman. Still, the question remains: how will the Sandin saga be reconciled? Will he be signed before the regular season? Will the drama be dragged out? 

I saw Sandin as a key player in the Maple Leafs’ future? Perhaps I was wrong.

Question Four: Will the Maple Leafs’ Depth Signings Work?

Many Maple Leafs’ fans were disappointed with the depth signings of Denis Malgin, Adam Gaudette, and Jordie Benn. Many fans claim that there were much better players to target. Some were upset Colin Blackwell was not re-signed.

I know both Gaudette’s and Benn’s body of work. I see Benn as a Zach Bogosian-type defenseman. He’s not fast but he’s steady enough. I think Gaudette has an upside that, if he’s healthy, could surprise many Maple Leafs’ fans. 

Still, the proof is in the pudding. How will these players work out for the team?

Question Five: Will Nicolas Aube-Kubel Turn Out to Be a Strong Player?

Nicolas Aube-Kubel might or might not prove to be a  useful signing. As I’ve researched more about his play, I can see why the Maple Leafs signed him. At worst, he’s a fit on the fourth line. At best, he might be a Zach Hyman clone. 

Aube-Kubel is tenacious enough and a hard-forechecker. Could he become a puck-digger for the team’s second line? Obviously, the jury is still out. 

Related: Revisiting the Hurricanes’ Keith Primeau for Rod Brind’Amour Trade

Over the past few seasons, as I’ve watched players move from team to team, I find only a small correlation between being waived and having hockey skills. Obviously, a correlation exists. However, players get waived or non-tendered for all sorts of reasons in this salary-cap era. David Kampf is a key example.

My point is that I don’t give much credence to the fact that neither the Philadelphia Flyers nor the Colorado Avalanche wanted him long-term. We’ll see.

Question Six: Can Victor Mete Make the Roster?

Of the signings the Maple Leafs made, one of my favorites is Victor Mete. I like his history with Mitch Marner. I like his speed and puck-moving ability. I like that he’s still young enough that the risk might be small and the reward might be big.

Victor Mete, Montreal Canadiens
Victor Mete, when he was with the Montreal Canadiens
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mete might end up being a regular third-pairing Maple Leafs defenseman depending upon what happens with Sandin. Can Mete make the roster? If he doesn’t, there’s a good chance the team won’t be able to slide him past the other NHL teams if they try to waive him. 

Question Seven: Will Calle Jarnkrok’s Four-Year Contract Work?

Many Maple Leafs’ fans thought that signing Calle Jarnkrok to a four-year contract was too long and too rich. Jarnkrok is already 31 years old and didn’t show much offense last season in his time with either the Seattle Kraken or the Calgary Flames. 

It would seem that Jarnkrok is a Mikheyev replacement. If so, how effectively will Jarnkrok play on the team’s third line? The organization has bet four seasons on his effectiveness. But, for a team that has resisted signing contracts that might not age well, could this contract be one of them?

Related: Victor Mete May Not Stay with Canadiens

What does Maple Leafs’ management see in Jarnkrok that would warrant such a long term? Would it not be better to sign younger players with potential upsides to such contracts? 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As noted before, a big trade might be coming. If it does, it could render the questions I’ve raised here moot. However, could it be that the lack of movement on the trade front is purposeful? Does it create a space to see how players from the Toronto Marlies might do if given a chance? 

As suggested, the Maple Leafs – and they are far from alone in the NHL – face a number of key questions as the team heads toward the start of the regular season.

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