It’s been a while since we’ve looked at some of the top story lines surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs. Another first-round exit and an offseason reset has become part of the annual healing process for Leafs Nation, so naturally there was a small break in our three up and three down weekly.
That said, the offseason is in full swing for the boys in blue and with that comes news and notes surrounding the team. From prospect talk to free agency looming, the headlines are picking up and the interest is peaked.
While some Maple Leafs’ prospects are still playing for top prizes, others are getting set to decide their future and with that here’s a look at some of the top stories surrounding the Maple Leafs from recent weeks.
Plus One: Maple Leafs’ Talked to Savoie
With the NHL Draft right around the corner the Maple Leafs are a little light on picks this time around. With three picks in the seven-round draft, speculation is swirling on what the team and general manager Kyle Dubas will do. Does he keep the picks, add more, or move them for a player under contract?
Recently, however, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported that the Maple Leafs — who hadn’t spoken to draft prospect Matthew Savoie at the NHL Combine — did speak to the Winnipeg ICE forward twice during the season. Savoie did speak to 16 other teams at the combine in Buffalo in early June.
While many have Savoie pegged as a top-12 pick in the upcoming draft, it’s not completely out of the question for the Maple Leafs to make a move to jump up higher in the first round. If he’s a legitimate target for Dubas, there’s no reason why he couldn’t end up in blue and white when the first round is all said and done.
As for Savoie, he finished the 2021-22 season with 35 goals and 90 points in 65 regular season games, adding another 12 points in 10 playoff games. He’s a smaller centre, but has the skill set to make up for what he lacks in size.
Minus One: Maple Leafs Need Internal Goalie Development
Speaking of the draft, the Maple Leafs could use a goalie-of-the-future pick at some point in the near future. While this might not be the season to do it, one of the organizational weaknesses over the last decade and a half has been between the pipes.
Before anyone jumps on it, that’s not a knock on guys like Jack Campbell, rather an observation that homegrown goalie talent has been an issue for the Maple Leafs for some time.
In the last 20 years, the Maple Leafs have drafted 12 goalies altogether. Of those names, the most recognizable was Tuukka Rask back in 2005, but the team moved him when the made the declaration that Justin Pogge was the goalie of the future for the organization. How well did that work out?
Beyond that, names like James Reimer, Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau might all ring a bell, with Reimer easily the best of the group. Recently, they added Artur Akhtyamov in 2020 and Vyacheslav Peksa in 2021, but it’s far too early to make a call on those players.
Look at the teams that’ve won in recent memory. One thing is similar amongst many of them and that is an organizationally developed goaltender that came up through the system after being drafted. The time might not be now for the Maple Leafs to hop on that wagon, but it has to be soon.
Plus Two: Maple Leafs’ Villeneuve Going for Memorial Cup
A fourth-round pick of the Maple Leafs back in 2020, William Villeneuve and the Saint John Sea Dogs are in the midst of hosting the CHL’s Memorial Cup. After a mini-stint with the Toronto Marlies to close out last season, Villeneuve returned to the Sea Dogs for the 2021-22 season with eight goals and 56 points in 64 regular season games.
While the Sea Dogs were knocked out in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs, Villeneuve and his club took the opening game against the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs with a 5-3 win to open up the tournament on Monday night.
As for Villeneuve, he finished with a plus-two rating in the opening contest and should be a factor for the undervalued Sea Dogs. As the underdogs in this tournament, Villeneuve and the Sea Dogs have one win under their belt on the road to the CHL’s ultimate prize.
Minus Two: Maple Leafs’ Have Holes to Fill
With Ilya Mikheyev, Jack Campbell and a slew of others unsigned to start the offseason, the Maple Leafs will be looking to fill a number of holes in their lineup — the most important being between the pipes.
Names have floated around, from Ville Husso to John Gibson and back to Campbell with no certainty placed on any one of them to this point. There have been talks with the Campbell camp, but nothing sufficient enough to report any progress.
As for what the Maple Leafs have up front, it will mostly be their bottom six that needs some work. That is if Dubas isn’t looking to meddle with his top-six. That said, Leafs Nation has already thrown Alex Kerfoot’s name out in trade talks. Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall’s names have been thrown out there. Even Rasmus Sandin has been said to be the rumour of an offer sheet.
Regardless, there will be opportunity for those within the organization to grab a spot. Players like Nick Robertson and Alex Steeves could get an extended look, while Dubas will likely be looking for another Michael Bunting type of signing this offseason to fill that bottom six role.
Plus Three: Maple Leafs Can Breathe With Cap Increase
With the reported increase of the NHL’s salary cap to $82.5 million this headline might be the biggest breath of fresh air for a Maple Leafs squad that was leaning against the upper end of the previous number. Although it’s only an increase of $1 million, it’s a tiny bit of breathing room for a team that will also shed Phil Kessel’s retained salary off the books this season.
As it stands, the Maple Leafs have just under $8 million in cap space, but only have 38 contracts and 17 players on the roster out of their 23 spots. It won’t be enough to sign another six players to $1 million contract, rather the Maple Leafs will still likely be in the market for a trade to free up some space. The big question is whether it will be Kerfoot, Justin Holl or another contract that they can profit from.
Minus Three: Maple Leafs Shopping a Weak Goalie Market
One reason that many have questioned the Maple Leafs moving on from Campbell is the market that’s available when it comes to free agent goaltenders and whether or not the team is really willing to make a move for a guy like Gibson or Connor Hellebuyck.
Marc-Andre Fleury. Darcy Kuemper. Alexander Georgiev. I mean, sure some of the names out there might be appealing, but at what cost and are they truly an upgrade on Campbell. While the most enticing name on the market might be Dallas Stars’ goalie Jake Oettinger, he remains a restricted free agent and the price to pry him away from the Stars might be too much for the Maple Leafs and Dubas to give up.
The faith in Campbell from Leafs Nation might’ve wavered mid season, but the bounce back he had in the playoffs should rectify any doubts they had in the one-time first overall pick. So, before the Maple Leafs jump ship altogether, look at who’s available and ask yourself if they would fair any better in Toronto.
With the offseason peaking, this is only the beginning of the news for the Maple Leafs. With that in mind, be sure to stay tuned as we cover all the biggest headlines surrounding the team this summer.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.