Important NHL dates are coming up in the next month: Teams have until 5 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Oct. 7 to submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents (RFAs); free agency opens Oct. 9 at 12 p.m. (Eastern Time), and RFAs are eligible to sign their qualifying offer sheets. Qualifying offers expire on Oct. 18.
To which RFAs should the Maple Leafs extend qualifying offers? A qualifying offer is defined as an official Standard Player Contract (SPC), one year in length and which can be subject to salary arbitration if the players is eligble.
The Maple Leafs have seven players who need qualifying offers: Jeremy Bracco, Travis Dermott, Frederik Gauthier, Denis Malgin, Ilya Mikheyev, Evan Rodrigues, and Max Veronneau. Working alphabetically, here’s a look at these players and who the team should qualify.
Player #1: Jeremy Bracco (Right Winger)
I have no idea what’s going on with Jeremy Bracco. The abundance of right-wingers above him on the organization’s depth chart has limited his ability to crack the roster over the past two seasons, and, given this list, that’s unlikely to change.
Still, who knows why he didn’t get a chance. It seems he’d be better off someplace else – if only for his mental health. He’s a one-dimensional offensive player, but he’s also really strong on the power play. I can’t see the Maple Leafs qualifying him and wish him luck wherever he goes.
Player #2: Travis Dermott (Left-shot Defense)
I remember Travis Dermott from a couple of seasons ago when I first covered the Maple Leafs. At the time, he looked like a rising offensive-defenseman. That aspect of his game hasn’t yet blossomed, but perhaps it might as he gains experience. He’s only 23 years old.
That said, Dermott is a regular player who is skilled at moving the puck. He ranks third on the team among left-shot defensemen after Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin and he’ll assume that position until someone better comes along or he’s traded.
The Maple Leafs will retain Dermott’s rights and qualify him. He isn’t eligible for arbitration and will likely sign a short-term bridge deal to (a) wait out the COVID-19-influenced flat salary cap and (b) give him another season to show his value to the team.
Player #3: Frederik Gauthier (Center)
Earlier this season, John Tavares called Gauthier one of the most interesting players on the team and a quirky, good guy. I have no idea what Gauthier’s perceived value is around the NHL, but he’s had a place on the Maple Leafs’ fourth line where he’s chipped in just under 10 minutes per game. The question is whether Gauthier remains a fit in the team’s future. My guess is that the Maple Leafs will allow him to leave.
I like the Goat, but I fear he’s sliding down the team’s depth chart. He has arbitration rights, but he wouldn’t be expensive to sign. I’m wondering whether, similar to Josh Leivo two seasons ago, general manager Kyle Dubas will let him go as a way to further Gauthier’s career. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign a short-term contract with the Ottawa Senators, whose head coach D.J Smith knew Gauthier when he was with the Maple Leafs in 2018-19.
Player #4: Denis Malgin (Center/Forward)
Dubas seems to like Malgin, but he hasn’t made a dent in the lineup yet. He didn’t socre a point in the eight games he played after the Maple Leafs picked him up from the Florida Panthers. He has arbitration rights, but likely won’t cost the team much if that’s the path the team takes.
I’m guessing the team will qualify Malgin simply because of his NHL history with the Panthers and his ability to play a depth role. However, he’s from Switzerland and there are rumors he might return to Europe. He’s another player who’s on the bubble. I’m not certain how much he’s valued within the organization.
Player #5: Ilya Mikheyev (Right Winger)
Despite his poor playoffs this season, Mikheyev will be a key player in the Maple Leafs’ future. He made an immediate impression, both as a person and a player. His skills suggest he’ll become part of the team’s top-six, although he’d be a top-six player with almost any other NHL team. I also think Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe really him; he will be qualified.
Mikheyev will soon be 26 years old and is eligible for arbitration. However, I can’t see the Maple Leafs playing hardball over dollars or term. I think this marriage will last. Fans should expect the team to try to sign him to a long-term contract to keep him around. The question is what are Dubas’ other plans that might need to be figured out first?
If Mikheyev signs a contract under $2 million, it will likely be a short-term deal in anticipation of the salary cap rising in the next few seasons, and to see how Mikheyev’s immediate future plays out with the team. I have no doubt about the organization’s commitment to Mikheyev, the context of this contract makes it difficult to figure out.
Player #6: Evan Rodrigues (Center/Forward)
Last season, getting Rodrigues as a secondary piece in a trade would have seemed like a steal; however, a poor 2019-20 season might have changed that perception. He had consecutive 25-point seasons and seemed to land the regular third-line center spot with the Buffalo Sabres.
However, for some reason, new Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger didn’t value him and made him a press-box regular. In response, Rodrigues asked to be traded and went to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where playing time was even tougher to find. He didn’t play once during the Penguins’ play-in series loss to Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
I’m guessing Dubas did his homework and suspects that Rodrigues is closer to the player he was in Buffalo before Krueger became the bench boss than after. Given the Maple Leafs’ cap situation, I can’t see the team qualifying him for $2 million. Instead, I think they’ll try to sign him on a cheaper, short-term deal. If not, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.
Player #7: Max Veronneau (Right Winger)
When you look at the players Dubas has brought to the team, they often have collegiate experience. Veronneau is one such player. He was a two-time Hobey Baker Trophy nominee while playing at Princeton University. (By the way, Rodrigues also spent four seasons at Boston University.)
In February, the Maple Leafs picked up Veronneau in a trade with the Senators for Aaron Luchuk and a conditional 2021 sixth-round draft pick. He played in four games for the Senators but didn’t score. However, the fact that Dubas traded for Veronneau suggests he’s in the organization’s plans – even if he’s another right-winger. I think he’ll be qualified.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Although qualifying RFAs is a necessary step, there’s more interest in the possibility that Alex Pietrangelo will be signed or in a potential Frederik Andersen trade. I believe Dubas will allow the Stanley Cup to be awarded before he starts to make moves with any vigour.
In the meantime, the Dallas Stars are waiting to see if the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Islanders will emerge from the East.