Yesterday, during the media interviews with Maple Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan, general manager Kyle Dubas, and head coach Sheldon Keefe, there seemed to be unity between the three key management figures in the organization. The organization would stay the course.
However, might there be some bigger moves waiting that might not have been shared by anyone speaking to the media? Here I’m thinking specifically about Dubas. He’s in no position to release his true thinking or desires because, if he did, it might erode his power to make trades from a position of strength. That matters.
Critical Decision One: What Will Happen with William Nylander?
For several reasons, I believe Dubas is going to do something big and unexpected this offseason. The question is, will Dubas move a “Core Four” player? As I listened to the interviews, I had a feeling Dubas’ thinking had changed. Obviously, I could be dead wrong, and there will be only little tweaks to the lineup; but, I’m not so sure.
Because Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is so circumspect, there’s always a tendency for me to read between the lines in what he says. Yesterday during interviews with the media, Dubas was ambiguous when he was asked if he would keep the Core Four together.
His response was that he believed the core of the team was larger than just those four forwards – Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander – those players who have been dubbed the “Core Four” – a proper noun. As always, Dubas noted that he would “explore all the options that were out there.”
Specifically, Dubas noted that “I don’t view it just as a four. I view the core of the group as much larger than that. It is my job at the end of every year to evaluate if we can improve the team. If there is a way to improve the team which involves someone who me, you, or anyone would constitute as core, it is my job to investigate that and determine if it will make us a better team in the short or long run and whether we want to do that.”
Dubas added, “Different may gain some applause and some accolades because it is different, but if it is not better, we are going to have a better chance of sitting here disappointed again. Everything that we do will be geared towards improving the group. We will look at everything possible to do that.”
As I noted, I was reading between the lines on his comment, but spending time redefining the “Core” to “the core” (taking the capital letter off, which makes it more general in its definition) made me think there might be something afoot that involved moving one of the four of the players, which likely means Nylander. He’s easily the most movable.
Although Nylander had the worst plus/minus rating on the team, he just finished his best season ever. He also was just one point shy of being a point-a-game player. He’s also on a team-friendly contract. Not only does he still have two years remaining a deal with an annual $6.96 million cap hit, when he receives his $3.5 million bonus this coming July 1, he’ll also only be owed $8.5 million over the lead two years of his contract. That’s only $4.25 million per season.
We feel many teams would salivate over the prospect of picking up a point-a-game player on such a contract. Nylander’s trade value will never be higher than it will be this offseason. That’s something I’ll be watching for this offseason.
Critical Decision Two: Will Dubas Allow Jack Campbell to Take His Show on the Road?
The idea of a hometown discount is an odd one. Goalie Jack Campbell needs a new contract and he’s not from the Toronto area – he’s not even a Canadian citizen; however, perhaps the Maple Leafs’ fans have adopted him because there was talk about whether Campbell would take a “hometown discount.”
That said, everyone knows what it means in Soupy’s case. Would Campbell accept less money to play in Toronto or would he look to take his show on the road? Would Dubas allow that to happen?
Even listening to Campbell, Maple Leafs’ fans don’t know much more than they did earlier. In an interview yesterday, Campbell shared that he’s loved his time as a Maple Leafs’ player, but he wouldn’t say if he’d think about giving them a hometown discount.
Unless he re-signs with the Maple Leafs, Campbell will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. It would be his first (and, because of his age, probably his last) opportunity for a big payday. As a result, the question of “home” and where Campbell sees it is a huge question. He’s 30-years-old it, and simple financial logic would suggest he’d seek to maximize the return on his recent success with the Blue and White.
From what I’ve heard in the rumors, Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman covets Campbell as his team’s goalie. And, speaking of home, Campbell is from Port Huron, Michigan, which is just an hour southwest on Interstate 94.
Given that, as a general manager, Dubas doesn’t cheap out the players he really wants on the team, the two key questions might be more (a) does Dubas see Campbell as a “core” player; and, (b) can Petr Mrazek’s contract be moved? Given the love affair for Soupy with both the Maple Leafs’ fans and his teammates, I would think re-signing him as the goalie is a key.
While at this point in his career, Campbell is not Andrei Vasilevskiy, last season his record was 31-9-6, his goals-against-average was 2.64, and his save percentage was .914 in 49 games this season. He also outplayed Vasilevskiy during the round-one series the team lost. Campbell is plenty good enough. Plus, he’s a positive influence on almost everyone.
Dubas Must Make More that Just These 2 Decisions
The Maple Leafs have more decisions to make than ones on Nylander and Campbell, and it will be interesting to see what’s up.
There will be time to consider the organization’s decisions on two of its best middle-tier players – Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot. But that’s a post for another day.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf