Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dubas’ Plans & Andersen on Next Season

It’s been a busy summer. Last season’s Toronto Maple Leafs roster included Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown, Tyler Ennis, Ron Hainsey, and Nikita Zaitsev. It no longer does. This season’s roster, at least for the moment, includes new players, Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jordan Schmaltz, Ben Harpur, Jason Spezza, Pontus Aberg, Kenny Agostino, Tyler Gaudet, Kalle Kossila, Nick Shore, Garrett Wilson, and Kevin Gravel. That’s a lot of change.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Barrie, Marner Trade Scenario, Nylander

However, two players from last season’s roster are still in limbo: Jake Gardiner, an unrestricted free agent who remains unsigned and Mitch Marner, who has not yet reached a contract settlement with the Maple Leafs. Both situations look as if they won’t be settled soon.

Maple Leafs offseason plans
Free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s tough to see how general manager Kyle Dubas might fit any new contract under the team’s exhausted salary cap. In Marner’s case, all sorts of speculation swirls about the young restricted free agent (RFA).

Some die-hard Maple Leafs fans have fallen to blaming and shaming. “Who does Marner think he is?” “Doesn’t Marner care about the team?” “How can Marner justify such a holdout when last season’s NHL leading scorer Nikita Kucherov is signed for under $10 million?” That’s an easy place to settle. Most of us can’t fathom the difference between $9.5 million and $11.5 million per season.

In the meantime, here’s some of the recent news, rumors, and thoughts about what’s going on in the world of the Blue and White.

Item One: What Is Dubas’ Long-term Plan?

Over the summer, its been interesting to watch Dubas and crew set about to use whatever resources they can and to interpret NHL rules in the most favorable manner to rebuild the team before training camp starts. This is a process that, when you consider the next several seasons, he’ll have to do and redo every off-season.

Related: NHL Rumors: Blue Jackets, Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs, More

I’m thinking that Dubas’ long-term strategy is to lock up a solid core of stars – players such as John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, and, one hopes, Marner on longer-term contracts. Then, each off-season he will surround these players with a merry-go-round of depth players on cheaper contracts who will be moved on and off the roster as the team’s needs are redefined.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs Draft
Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2019 NHL Draft. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It will be fun to look back in five seasons to evaluate how Dubas has done. Will he gain the reputation of Steve Yzerman, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning or will he be seen as a pariah like Peter Chiarelli, formerly of the Edmonton Oilers, whose reputation will forever be that he ruined the team with poor decisions?

Item Two: Frederik Andersen on the Maple Leafs Changes

Frederik Andersen has had a busy off-season. He spent time at home in Denmark, worked in California to hone his on-ice skills, and attended the Jewish wedding of teammate Zach Hyman. He noted that Hyman’s wedding “was a lot of fun. It’s a little different when you lift everyone up on the chairs and break the glass.”

In a recent interview at the annual Smashfest charity ping-pong event, Andersen suggested this season’s roster would include a “lot of new faces.” He further admitted that, “Saying goodbye to guys I got to know a lot over the last few years is tough.” However, he knows the team will “keep building and keep trying to find ways to improve.”

Jake Gardiner, Frederik Andersen
Free agent defenceman Jake Gardiner congratulates Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /David Zalubowski)

Andersen, as with most NHLers when rosters are constantly changing, has become pragmatic. It’s always a challenge, but he believes, “most hockey players can become good friends.” He added, “I don’t think that’s going to be the biggest concern.”

Andersen is looking forward to seeing how 31-year-old Michal Neuvirth will do this season after signing a professional tryout with the Maple Leafs. Last season’s backup, Garret Sparks was moved in the recent, cap-saving, David Clarkson deal. Currently Michael Hutchinson remains the Maple Leafs’ backup.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot Preparing Himself for Spotlight

Neuvirth is a veteran of 257 regular-season games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, and Washington Capitals but has been hot and cold during his career. If he shows up hot, there’s a great chance he can back up Andersen this season.

At least, signing Neuvirth a is low risk move. As Andersen notes, “I met him a few times” and is “excited to see how well he does.”

Finally, Andersen was asked about the Marner situation. Although he’s spoken often to the 22-year-old forward, they seldom talk about personal business. That offers some insight into how teammates see contract negotiations, as ‘personal business.’ Andersen did say that Marner is “confident that he’s going to be here for camp” and noted that he hopes “Kyle and him and his agent can get it done.” Andersen finished with the comment, “I want to see him back really bad.”

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

By the way, this off-season’s Smashfest is the eighth annual edition of the tournament. Former Maple Leafs centre Dominic Moore hosts the event, which is supported by the NHL Players’ Association. Over its eight-year history, Smashfest had raised more than $865,000 for awareness and research related to concussions and rare cancers.

What’s Next?

Many hockey sites are reporting that the holdup in signing Marner (and there’s no pun intended with the word holdup) is keeping other restricted free agents from signing. Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkacuhuk, Brock Boeser, and Patrik Laine remain unsigned. If it isn’t Marner, one of these players will break the stalemate soon.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: All About Marner

In the meantime, we’ll have to wait to see what transpires. Although it seems like it, the situation cannot last forever.