Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kessel, Holl, Bear & Ho-Sang

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’m going to focus on some of the trades the team has made, is thought to be considering, and might make in the future.

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First, I’ll comment on the Phil Kessel trade that was made just seven years ago in about two weeks. Second, I’ll look at the rumors that Justin Holl might be traded from the team. Finally, I’ll look at the remote possibility that Ethan Bear might be of interest to the team.

Item One: The Phil Kessel Era Is Finally Over

One thing that is happening with the Maple Leafs this offseason is that Phil Kessel’s contract is finally coming off the books. That salary retention that had been stapled to the team’s salary cap will now be gone.

Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby
Former-Pittsburgh Penguins’ Phil Kessel helped teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin win a Stanley Cup (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

It’s always a risky business making a trade. These days it’s even riskier because of the salary-cap implications. Recently, I wrote that the pandemic has squeezed Kyle Dubas’ decision to sign the Core Four to their high salaries. But that’s not the only decision in the Maple Leafs’ closet that’s been impacted in this way.

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While I continue to hear that John Tavares’ contract is the worst on the Maple Leafs, in my mind the worst contract was the remainder of Phil Kessel’s salary retention the team was saddled with when they traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Finally, the last dregs of that salary-cap hit, which was worth more than Michael Bunting’s salary, and then some, have been exorcised.

Related: Penguins Need to Trade Phil Kessel

It might be worth revisiting the Kessel trade both to and from the Maple Leafs at another time; however, what a relief that that $1.2 million is gone. Is there another Bunting or David Kampf out there?

Item Two: Reasons for Moving Justin Holl

One Maple Leafs’ player who made Frank Seravalli’s trade target list is defenceman Justin Holl. In his list of the top 25 players who might be moved this offseason, Seravalli placed Holl at number 22.

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There’s no doubt that Holl might be moved this off-season. The 30-year-old, right-shot defenseman is entering the final season of his three-year, $6-million contract. However, also in the wings is Timothy Liljegren, who’s probably grown to the point where he can handle bigger minutes. 

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although Holl’s value is thought to have declined, he’s still a serviceable defenseman. Even a rebuilding team that doesn’t expect to make the playoffs might find the 6-foot-4 defenseman a trade deadline asset. His salary is reasonable for a bottom-pairing defenseman, which means he should find suitors.

Because of the Maple Leafs continuing salary-cap issues, it might be better for them to seek draft choices in next month’s NHL Entry Draft. Currently, the team has just three choices. These include their own first-rounder and seventh-rounder; and, the team also has a third-rounder from the Winnipeg Jets. 

I would be a horrible general manager because I know I’d get attached to – and hope for the best for – the players I’ve gotten to know. As much as Holl has worn out his welcome with many Maple Leafs’ fans, I’m not one of them. Moving anyone who’s been five seasons with the team would likely be tough, unless the player himself wanted a move.

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Who knows? Perhaps this is a good time for Holl to move on. He might find a more regular role on another team, such as Cody Ceci did with the Edmonton Oilers. For as much as he was vilified as a player when he was with the Maple Leafs, Ceci seems to have found a home with the Oilers as a top-pairing defenseman.

Item Three: What if Ethan Bear Were Bought Out by the Hurricanes?

Speaking of right-side defensemen, the Carolina Hurricanes have a choice to make with 24-year-old Ethan Bear. In 58 games last season, Bear scored five goals and added nine assists (for 14 points). Given what I saw of Bear when he was with the Oilers, I think the young defenseman has talent. 

Ethan Bear Edmonton Oilers
Ethan Bear, when he was with the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Bear began the season well with the Hurricanes, but then somehow lost both favor and then ice time. Knowing the reputation of Hurricanes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour, one has to wonder if it was a work ethic thing. As it is currently, Bear was a healthy scratch for all 14 of Carolina’s playoff games. 

Bear is a pending RFA, who is arbitration eligible. If this is a question about his maturity, it might be that the Maple Leafs have just added to the perfect mentor of the team’s culture – former Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano. Obviously, we never know about any NHL player’s internal makeup; however, the writing has to be on the wall for Bear after what’s happened. 

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Bear will get another chance somewhere, if not with the Hurricanes. His next contract might just be the tipping point of his career. Would the Maple Leafs take a chance on him? And, if they did, might they be able to unlock the talent that clearly Bear carries? 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Really there’s only a month left before the wheeling and dealing begins. Certainly the Maple Leafs will be among the many NHL teams that will be active. They need to be to clear salary-cap space; and, they also have to find replacements for players who will move either through trade of who won’t be re-signed.

The Core Four – at least I hope – will remain intact for next season. However, can Dubas and his team find replacements who will come in and fill the depth roles with the team. 

One player I was watching to see if he would find a home on the Maple Leafs’ roster was Josh Ho-Sang. Although he had a good season with the Toronto Marlies, scoring 16 goals (which was a career-high) and had a positive impact for the AHL team, I don’t think he drove the play as well as other Marlies’ players. Now what with Ho-Sang?

We’ll see where he lands. He’s only 26 years old and might have some good years left. Could he be back with the Marlies next season?

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