Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Kapanen, Cherry, Marlies, Marner

As the Mitch Marner sign-or-leave-town drama continues, the Toronto Maple Leafs remain in the news. General manager Kyle Dubas has made astute trades to create salary-cap space and has, at the same time, taken steps to remake and improve the team.

The defense looks to be vastly better with the addition of Alex Kerfoot from the Colorado Avalanche, who came on a trade for former Maple Leafs stalwart Nazem Kadri. The forwards are filled with elite players. The goaltending is good. Even without Marner, if it comes to letting him go, the team will be strong.

Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner speaks to reporters after a locker clean out at the Scotiabank Arena (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

It the midst of this flux, there is news about the Maple Leafs. Here is a review of some of the latest.

Item One: Matthews Wants a Divorce from Kapanen?

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun has reported the rumor that Auston Matthews doesn’t want to play on Kasperi Kapanen’s line next season. If that’s true, it would certainly be a change from last season’s line combinations. Kapanen was the player who played the most with Matthews, usually alongside now-departed Patrick Marleau or recently-signed Andreas Johnsson on the other wing. (From: ‘SIMMONS SAYS: Kawhi wanted to be part player, part GM’ –Toronto Sun – July 6, 2019).

Related: Was It Time for the Maple Leafs to Trade Nazem Kadri?

It seems like a bit of an odd desire (or is it a demand?) on Matthews’ part. Both players were highly productive and set career highs. Kapanen’s career-high was 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) and Matthews was 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists). Does Matthews’ comment mean that there’s an internal conflict between Maple Leafs players? Apparently, it does. Rumor has it that there’s been something sour with the relationship between Kapanen and Matthews for some time.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

One suggestion is that the enmity goes back to a laugh Kapanen had at Matthews’ expense when Matthews set a screen on a Kapanen goal during the season. Kapanen commented that he didn’t think Matthews was the kind of guy who liked setting screens because he didn’t want to be hit by a puck. Seems like joking around to me, but who knows what might be behind it.

Related: NHL Rumors: Maple Leafs, Sabres, Devils, Dzingel, More

Simmonds reported that he believes the two players will be split up and guesses that Matthews might end up centering old-buddy William Nylander and rookie Ilya Mikheyev. Kapanen would likely play on a line centered by newcomer Alexander Kerfoot and Johnsson.

Item Two: Is Don Cherry Being Canned by Hockey Night in Canada?

Although this is not a Maple Leafs rumor per se, there’s a rumor that Don Cherry will be cut by Rogers media because he didn’t do well as a commentator last season on Hockey Night in Canada and because Rogers is cutting costs across the board. The communication giant is rumored to also be cutting Bob McCown and Doug MacLean.

Although Cherry isn’t to everyone’s taste, it would be difficult to consider replacing such a Canadian hockey icon. But, according to the rumors, there might no longer be a place for the 85-year-old, former coach.

Don Cherry
Don Cherry poses for a photo (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Still, Cherry discounted that rumor in a tweet where he said, “I must say I am hurt and disappointed that my friend Steve Simmons would suggest in his Sunday column that Hockey Night in Canada might not want me back for next year. I was told a week after the playoffs I would be back.”

Item Three: Marlies Will Look Different Next Season

The Toronto Marlies will have a rebuilt team for the 2019-20 season. A number of players are leaving: some have earned NHL promotions and some have simply left the Marlies to sign with other teams. For example, center Chris Mueller (a 65-point scorer) signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colin Greening retired. Defenseman Vincent LoVerde signed an AHL contract with the Hartford Wolf Pack; Josh Jooris will play in Switzerland; and, winger Michael Carcone was traded to the Ottawa Senators with defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and forward Connor Brown. Finally, defenseman Calle Rosen was traded with Kadri to the Avalanche for Tyson Barrie and Kerfoot. 

Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot
New Maple Leafs center Alexander Kerfoot (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

There’s a good chance a number of Marlies’ players will graduate to the big team. Certainly, Trevor Moore, who played 25 games with the Maple Leafs last season, is likely to stay on the roster. As well, Jeremy Bracco, Mason Marchment, Timothy Liljegren, and Rasmus Sandin have great chances to make the team during training camp.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot: What Should Fans Know?

It might be a good time to be a young Maple Leafs prospect, because the team has to sign some inexpensive contracts to fill out its roster to balance the extremely high-priced contracts of John Tavares, Matthews, Nylander, and Marner – should he sign. General manager Kyle Dubas has also signed Nick Shore, Kenny Agostino, and Kevin Gravel. Ben Harpur and Aaron Luchuk came from the Senators in the Zaitsev trade.

Item Four: Marner’s Contract Doesn’t Depend Upon Sebastian Aho’s.

AnEditor in Leafs’ Maple Leafs commentator rightly noted that Marner and the Maple Leafs haven’t yet successfully negotiated a contract because Marner wants Matthews-type money but the team is hesitant to pay it. The commentator also suggests that the offer sheet the Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho signed with the Montreal Canadiens (the Hurricanes matched) is a better comparison. That contract was for an $8.5 million AAV.

Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews,
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews celebrates with teammate Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Finally, the commentator rightly points out that the comparisons between Aho and Marner are close. Aho is a centre, and Marner is a winger, and centers are typically paid more in today’s NHL. Both Aho and Marner will be 22 years old when the 2019-20 season begins. However, Marner had 94 points and Aho had 83 points.

All this is very logical, however, I simply don’t believe Marner’s contract will be defined by logic or by comparing his numbers to anyone else on any other club. Instead, Dubas is battling the two contracts he signed with Nylander and Matthews.

The team is in a difficult dilemma. In a way, neither Nylander’s nor Matthews’ contracts seem financially fair to the Maple Leafs club; however, now that they’ve been signed, if Dubas tries to low-ball Marner (as an offer that matched Aho’s $8.5 million would be) because he’s made two previous contract mistakes, that seems unfair as well.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Gardiner, Buyouts, Zaitsev, Fantasy Hockey

The team might be stuck between a rock and hard place because of its salary cap limitations; and, although I cannot think this is what anyone wants, it does render a possibility that Marner might be ripe for signing an offer sheet with another club. Fans will soon see.