In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at three new signings the team has made over the past three days. With these signings, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has begun to shape his team for the 2021-22 season.
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There have been some surprise signings, as Maple Leafs’ fans have come to expect; however, it would seem that the goal has been for Dubas and crew to shore up the top-six left wing spot and to add depth players. My initial sense is that he’s done both. Is the team done?
If so, now the fun begins.
Item One: Maple Leafs Sign former Boston Bruins’ Nick Ritchie
In a move that seemed to come out of the blue, the Maple Leafs announced today that they had signed former Boston Bruins’ left-winger Nick Ritchie. This move is interesting and seems like the move to replace Zach Hyman in the team’s top-six.
Ritchie has already shown signs of being a good player. During the 2020-21 season, he was the Bruins’ second-line left-winger. He played in all 56 games and scored a career-high 15 goals. Five of those goals were on the power play, where the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder took up residence in front of the net on the power-play unit. (from “Bruins leave Nick Ritchie unprotected in expansion draft, Fluto Shinzawa, The Athletic, 18/07/21).
All that said, the Bruins didn’t protect the 25-year-old Ritchie during the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. Second, the Bruins didn’t give Ritchie a qualifying offer, which made him a UFA. He was coming off a three-year, $4.6 million contract and perhaps the Bruins thought he would cost too much as an RFA.
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For whatever reason, the Maple Leafs pounced on Boston’s lack of action. By the way, Ritchie is another one of those players (similar to recently-signed Michael Bunting) who has Soo Greyhound experience with Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe (he played there at the end of the 2014-15 OHL season). Ritchie was a first-round draft pick (10th overall) of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Ritchie’s new Maple Leafs’ contract is for two years and calls for him to receive $5 million over that term. Although the Maple Leafs have great top-six stars, with the loss of Zach Hyman to the Edmonton Oilers, they needed top-six left-wingers. They’ve added to that talent at the forward core and to their offensive depth with the recent signings of both Bunting and today Ritchie.
During his six NHL seasons, Ritchie (who’s a native of nearby Orangeville, Ontario) has played with both the Bruins and the Ducks. He’s scored 137 points (59 goals and 78 assists) in 350 regular-season games and has nine playoff points (six goals and three assists) in 38 games.
Item Two: Ojdrej Kase, Another Bruins’ Player, Signs with the Maple Leafs
On Friday, 25-year-old Czech Ondrej Kase signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Maple Leafs. Kase is coming off a tough 2020-21 season, having missed 53 games.
Kase played just three games last season. During the season, he battled a number of injuries, including a concussion. However, during the 2017-18 season with the Ducks, he showed he could score and put up 20 goals and 18 assists (for 38 points). If his injuries are over, he could add secondary scoring for the Maple Leafs’ roster.
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Similar to Ritchie, the Bruins didn’t qualify Kase and he became an unrestricted free agent. Kase is likely a candidate for Toronto’s top-nine forward group and probably will take a spot on the Maple Leafs’ third-line.
Item Three: Pavel Gogolev Signs Three-Year Entry-Level Contract with Maple Leafs
On Thursday, the Toronto Marlies’ 21-year-old Russian forward Pavel Gogolev signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs. Last season with the AHL Marlies, Gogolev scored six goals and six assists (for 12 points) in 13 games.
Gogolev spent four seasons in the OHL playing for the Guelph Storm and Peterborough Petes. There he scored 90 goals and 92 assists (for 182 points) in 219 regular-season games. He also won an OHL championship with Guelph in 2019 and was named to the OHL’s third All-Star team in 2019-20.
However, he was undrafted and began the 2020-21 season playing in Sweden before coming to the Marlies. Maple Leafs’ fans should look for Gogolev to spend the season with the Marlies.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Ritchie signing was a surprise for me, but it seems that general manager Dubas is putting together the possibilities of a strong team. The signing of Bunting and Ritchie over the past few days might have gone a long way towards filling in some of the gaps he team has on the top-six.
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As well, the Maple Leafs seem to have added some strong depth players. The team is rounding into form. Everything, however, depends upon how these new players perform. As always, I’m ever optimistic this will be a really strong team that competes for the Stanley Cup.