In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at news that general manager Kyle Dubas generated after the Seattle Kraken expansion draft was completed. I’ll also report news about John Tavares’ injury and what that might mean for his returning to the team.
Finally, I wonder aloud why things are so quiet on the Zach Hyman free-agent signing. He’s supposed to be on his way out of Toronto; but, is there any chance he won’t be leaving? What does Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas say he knows about the situation?
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Item One: Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas Is Putting All His Eggs In One Basket
An article written by Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun reported that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas is “doubling down on his team’s core.”
Dubas put it this way: “I understand some may look at it and say, ‘This group hasn’t gotten it done.’ and ‘Why aren’t there significant changes?’”
Then Dubas seemed to specifically link his own success and longevity to the success of the team by saying, “But for better or worse, I believe in this group, believe they’re going to get it done and believe they’re going to win. I believe in them as players, as people. I understand that comes with a certain doubt because we’ve not broken through in playoffs, but it’s my belief they will. I know that decision lies on me and what the risk is for me. We’re going ahead that way, so I’m comfortable with it.”
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This stance might sit well with many Maple Leafs’ fans who want to hold Dubas accountable and suggest that he should be fired because he hasn’t brought success to a success-starved Maple Leafs’ fan base. Part of this critique is that he’s not only relied on his core of players to get the job done, but he’s paid them accordingly.
And, that fact seems to be something many Maple Leafs’ fans can’t seem to let anyone forget. The Maple Leafs have invested both psychological energy and finances into a small core of elite forwards that include John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. This group eats up just under half of the team’s total salary-cap allotment. Many fans believe that strategy can never be successful.
Thus far, that investment hasn’t paid off. Toronto makes the playoffs season after season but can’t seem to get out of the first round. In fact, the team has made the playoffs or the qualifying round (in 2020) during the past five seasons, but they haven’t yet won a playoff series. Add to that the frustration of not making a second-round series for 17 seasons or the lack of a Stanley Cup in almost 55 years and you have an increasingly impatient fan base. (from “Hyman going, but Leafs GM Kyle Dubas defiant that core Leafs can win,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 23/07/21).
Who can blame the long-suffering fans? They want and have come to expect better, and Dubas and company haven’t delivered. It’s getting old for them and more difficult for Dubas to explain.
Item Two: Looks Like John Tavares Will Be Ready on Opening Night
Speaking about one of the “culprits” of that salary-cap squeeze – John Tavares, there is good news on the Maple Leafs’ front that things are looking good for Tavares’ return on opening night next season.
Dubas told TSN 1050 Overdrive on Thursday that Tavares has been cleared for all on-ice activities. He added that the team won’t take any chances with his health and will allow him to work himself into game speed. Tavares suffered both a concussion and a knee injury during Toronto’s playoff opener, which one would think might have been a factor in the Maple Leafs’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Item Three: Now We Finally Know What’s Going on with Zach Hyman
It wasn’t just the timing. The news from Todd Reynolds, Zach Hyman’s agent, is that Hyman is gone. Given the constant set rumblings coming out about Hyman signing a contract with the Edmonton Oilers, when things went silent for a couple of days I was wondering if we might have it wrong. As in, was there a chance Hyman might be back?
The answer is no. Apparently, rumors that the Oilers and Hyman had agreed to terms on both a seven and an eight-year contract where Hyman would sign for a $5 million salary-cap hit were accurate. The word now is that both general managers – Dubas from Toronto and Ken Holland from Edmonton – were now working to see if a sign-and-trade deal could be had.
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For the Oilers, the only way to ink Hyman for an eight-year contract, which would cut the winger’s salary-cap hit, would be to arrange such a sign-and-trade agreement with the Maple Leafs. Otherwise, there was no other way the Oilers and the 29-year-old winger could sign a maximum-term contract of eight years. If Hyman and the Oilers waited until the start of the UFA period, the Oilers could sign Hyman to “only” a seven-year contract.
If, indeed, when the 29-year-old Hyman signs what seems to many to be a risky long-term contract with the Oilers, you have to believe he’ll be slotted to play on a line with the great Connor McDavid next season. It’s a combination that should work.
Until we heard the definitive word in a tweet from the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan, Dubas had reported he didn’t know how conversations between Hyman and the Oilers were proceeding. He answered a direct question by saying, “At this time, I’ve not heard from Todd (Hyman’s agent) regarding the reports this morning, so I can’t comment too deeply on that.”
Maple Leafs’ fans should look for Dubas to do a sign-and-trade, because it would be the only way the Maple Leafs could retrieve any value for the prodigal winger. Dubas did admit he’d be open to any possibility that would help the team. Let’s see what he might fetch from Holland. Both organizations have something to gain.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Until the ink hits the dotted line, I suppose there’s still a tiny chance Hyman might stay with the Maple Leafs. That said, I’m also certain that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is already looking for a puck-digging forward for team’s first line to play with Matthews and Marner.
That makes me wonder about the possibility that Joey Anderson and move up to the first line. His reputation seems to be that he’s a hard-working winger who has some of those characteristics. Or, who wouldn’t like to see prospect Nick Robertson have a chance to put his offensive disposition to good use somewhere in the top-six? Ilya Mikheyev might also be a possibility.
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If Hyman leaves, there are still a lot of potentially valuable pieces to move around. It will be interesting to see what the lineup could be going into the 2020-21 season.