Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Prospects, Marner, Zaitsev, Contract Talks

As there always seems to be, the Toronto Maple Leafs are awash in rumors and news. These rumors must make general manager Kyle Dubas’ job exceedingly difficult. It seems as if he’s trying to put out one fire, while another erupts in another geography.

This news and rumors report tries to keep Maple Leafs fans up-to-date with what’s happening.

Item One: Maple Leafs Prospect Fedor Gordeev Is Traded to the Minnesota Wild

On May 30, Chris Johnston reported via Twitter that the Maple Leafs traded defenseman Fedor Gordeev to the Minnesota Wild, where he quickly signed an entry-level contract. The Maple Leafs will receive a 2020 seventh-round pick (originally belonging to the Winnipeg Jets) in compensation for Gordeev.

Fedor Gordeev Flint Firebirds
Fedor Gordeev when he played for the Flint Firebirds. (Terry Wilson OHL Images)

Gordeev was drafted by the team in Round 5. He has great size and reach, but from what I read didn’t have what people called a “wow” factor. That said, Guelph Storm general manager and head coach George Burnett was impressed with Gordeev and called him hard to play against.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Swirling Rumors: Babcock, Johnsson, Marner & Moore

Although Burnett admitted that the huge defenseman’s game needed work, as the old saying goes, you can’t coach size. I was surprised the Maple Leafs wouldn’t keep such a prospect, just in case. Good luck with the Wild.

Item Two: Maple Leafs Prospect Ryan McGregor Likely to Return to the NHL Draft

There was a report that Maple Leafs prospect Ryan McGregor would not be signed at the end of May and would return to the NHL Entry Draft in June. The rule is that a player who’s been drafted from the CHL but who remains unsigned by June 1 two years after the draft will either become a free agent or will re-enter the draft.

The Maple Leafs drafted McGregor in Round 6 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. McGregor played for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting this season and averaged well over a point each game (25 goals, 52 assists, for 73 points in 61 games). The knock on him is his age (although he’s only 20 years old) and that most players who move on have a breakout season earlier. Twenty years old still seems young to me, and are scorers that easy to find?

Item Three: Could Mitch Marner or William Nylander Be Traded?

On May 29, Sportsnet’s Rory Boylen posed the question whether, if Marner really wished to test the market, he was worth keeping. Boylen threw out three rhetorical questions, asking if Marner was: (a) worth that price point, especially on a team that would be capped out for a while; (b) if the offer sheet compensation of four first-round picks had more value than whatever you’d get back in a trade; and, (c) how the Leafs could create cap “magic” to keep their best players without eroding depth.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Marner Negotiations: Welcome to Uglyville

Boylen’s article was speculative. However, as he noted, “the question has to be asked, the possibilities explored.” Like all other hockey commentators, he notes that the Maple Leafs have a salary cap crunch. That crunch focuses on what Marner’s contract will look like, which is one reason Dubas noted that Marner’s contract was priority one.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Obviously, there’s some relationship between Maple Leafs management and Marner on a personal level; however, his contract is also the big issue financially. All the “smaller” decisions depend upon what his contract looks like, and the Maple Leafs are stuck in a spin cycle until that contract is signed or he is moved. Specifically, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen also need contracts and the team has only five signed defensemen on its roster.

When commentator Johnston was asked on the FAN 590 if the Leafs could trade Marner, he noted, “Everything’s possible.” He outlined a scenario where, like William Nylander last season, Marner missed training camp and it became clear no deal was likely because the two negotiating parties were “operating in different universes.” If that happened, Johnston believed trading Marner would be explored.

The Maple Leafs must outline all possibilities, Johnston noted. And, because there’s only so much money in the cap world, all options must be explored.

Item Four: Maple Leafs Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev Requests a Trade

In a surprise move, Maple Leafs top-four defenseman Nikita Zaitsev has asked for a trade for what has been called “personal reasons.” Why he wants to leave the Maple Leafs, no one knows. He still has five years remaining on a seven-year, $31.5 million contract.

Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen Nikita Zaitsev Washington Capitals Nicklas Backstrom
Nikita Zaitsev (#22) defending against Nicklas Backstrom. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Dubas noted that he expected Zaitsev and his agent Dan Milstein to reveal the defenseman’s motivations for asking to be traded. Obviously, Zaitsev must know that his name has been thrown around as a “contract” the team should move to gain salary cap space to sign Marner.

However, the 27-year-old Zaitsev is coming off a season where he averaged the fourth-most minutes per game among all Maple Leafs players (20:28) and he had a strong playoff series against the Boston Bruins. So, it’s not as if he isn’t appreciated on the team.

Dubas seemed confused by the request and noted that, especially “as the year went on … and he was paired with [Jake] Muzzin, I think his value began to shine through a bit more. His penalty killing, his right shot, he plays in our top-four, and is signed reasonably for a long time. So that’s where that’s at.”

Related: NHL Rumors: Kings, Oilers, Maple Leafs, More

Obviously, in a situation a player asks to be traded, it can handcuff his old team because the rest of the hockey universe knows the Maple Leafs are pressured and can play hardball.

Item Four: Darren Dreger’s Interview Stirred the Pot

As I reported earlier, on Tuesday Darren Dreger was interviewed on TSN 1050 radio and talked about Marner’s ongoing negotiations in Toronto. In speaking to the media on May 30, Dubas noted the stir that interview had caused. Based upon what Dreger said, the rumor became that Marner was going to test the market before signing with the Maple Leafs. That’s not true, but it’s what emerged.

Dubas commented, “The Dreger Café got [Marner’s situation] kicked back up when it landed back in North America, which is fine, but there won’t be anything coming from us.” Obviously, the fall out from that interview caught Dubas’ attention enough to note it.

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

I found responses to Dreger’s comments over-reactive. If one actually listened to the interview, Dreger did little but to outline the RFA process and suggest that Marner and his agents had the right – and, in his mind, should – explore what other teams might be willing to offer.

But commentators turned it into a much bigger deal than it seemed to me. In the business or writing hockey posts or blogs, this is called “click bait.” That Dubas even commented on it surprised me. Might Dubas’ reaction suggest something we don’t yet know?

Related: Senators Name D.J. Smith Coach, Maple Leafs Hire McFarland

Item Five: Dubas Is Further Along with His Three RFAs than He Was with Nylander

It was reported on May 30 that Dubas is farther along in his negotiations with this year’s three RFAs (Marner, Johnsson, and Kapanen) than he was with Nylander at the same stage last year. Nylander held out past the beginning of the season, but if these rumors are accurate it suggests that signing (or at least making decisions about) the three RFAs would happen sooner rather than later.

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The rumor also suggests that offer sheets are unlikely. All this said, there was no suggestion how Dubas would actually fit all three RFAs with the team’s salary cap space. Something has to give, and it will be interesting to see what that something is. The question of who will be moved this off-season to help the team fit under the salary cap remains.