We are officially 19 days removed from Game 7 of the opening round of the 2021 NHL playoffs where the Montreal Canadiens shocked the Toronto Maple Leafs to take the series with a 3-1 win.
Was it really a shock though? I mean, maybe to the naive new class of Leafs Nation, but for those of us who’ve followed the team for years we knew what to expect following their Game 6 loss at the hands of the Canadiens.
That’s besides the point, however. Nearly three weeks removed from that evening in Toronto, and hearts are slowly starting to mend. The ashes of burned Maple Leafs jerseys remain in the gardens of those who couldn’t take a breath, step back and analyze the situation, and we’re well into the team’s offseason where changes are surely coming in a big way.
But it wouldn’t be a Maple Leafs’ offseason without speculation of players that won’t return, asinine hot takes about who should be traded from the team and a number of other fan-driven headlines to get the blue blood of Leafs Nation boiling long before puck drop on the 2021-22 season.
Matthews, Marner Not Going Anywhere
Another rough playoff series for the top dogs, talk heated up almost immediately following Game 7 that the Maple Leafs and Kyle Dubas need to trade Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
It’s the same song we’ve heard before just a different tune and – maybe – an altered title with the name of a different player. As mentioned, jerseys went up in flames, feelings were hurt among fans and all of a sudden the Rocket Richard season that Matthews had and the significant play from Marner was forgotten. All of it, based solely on a seven-game series in which Carey Price stood on his head in the final three games.
Still, wanted posters were put up – figuratively, of course – and their heads were sought by many. Only to be defended by their coach, teammates and the man that could move them if he wanted to – Dubas. And the verdict was simple – Matthews and Marner are staying put.
And while it may seem ridiculous, the only reason these two might someday leave would fall solely on the shoulders of Leafs Nation. While you might not see it now, the jersey burning and the criticism – most of it unwarranted – may be the final straw that pushes these star players to want out of Toronto someday.
Now, that day isn’t today. Nor is it coming in the near future, but continue down this road of destruction and we will soon be sitting in a similar spot as the Buffalo Sabres asking why the star players want out of Toronto. And – unlike Buffalo – the only people to blame may be the fans that say they bleed blue through and through. Food for thought.
Leafs’ Biggest Loss May Come in Hyman
We’ve seen his worth to this lineup before. In fact, to say that he’s part of the core of the Maple Leafs isn’t out of the question. But free agency is a tempting gift for some players and when you’ve done what Hyman has for the Maple Leafs over his career, it’s a road that may be worth considering.
The 29-year-old has tallied 86 goals and 185 points over 345 games with the Maple Leafs since coming over in a trade from the Florida Panthers. But his worth is more than what he’s been able to do on the scoresheet.
He’s an underrated skater. He plays a physical game and his innate ability to kill penalties has been a plus for the Maple Leafs during his tenure. Still, his asking price might be more than what the Maple Leafs are able to offer – especially considering the money invested in their top four.
That, along with the injuries that have piled up in recent years for Hyman, and there are questions of whether or not the Maple Leafs will see him back for the 2021-22 season. He’s coming off his best point-per-game average this season with 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games – an average of 0.77 points per game – and yet another ankle injury leaves a seed of doubt in the minds of some.
Even Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston noted that the two sides are trending to a parting of ways.
“He is probably going to sign a six-year contract at a minimum. It could be seven somewhere else – I can’t say that won’t happen. I think it’s going to come in at $5.5-6 million on that deal as a free agent,” said Johnston on Writers Bloc. “You are looking at somewhere – with my rough math – between $30-36 million on a secure deal somewhere else. I think Leafs, for a whole host of reasons – predominantly the cap; it’s not about undervaluing or miscalling or not appreciating what Zach Hyman has done – it sets up a tough spot for them.”
Seeing Hyman out of the lineup could open the door to something bigger for the Maple Leafs, but it will also go down as a major loss to this lineup as Hyman was a main contributor regardless of the line he was playing on.
Spezza Returning to Toronto
Possibly one of the hardest working, most underpaid players from the past two years – Jason Spezza is returning to the Maple Leafs for the 2021-22 season at league-minimum of $750,000. What made this signing even better was that Spezza followed it up by saying he would take less if he could to play in Toronto and win with this squad.
Spezza was top three in 2020-21 in points per 60 minutes, and was possibly one of the hardest working players when it came to their seven-game set with the Canadiens. At least that’s how it seemed from the outside looking in. And while he’s still not the fix they will need to get past the first round, his experience and leadership remains a key part as to why he’s back in blue and white for the upcoming season.
So, 19 days into the Maple Leafs’ offseason, forget the rumblings of Matthews and Marner going elsewhere. Forget the criticisms of their everyday life and let’s talk about real potential moves. Hyman could legitimately see himself playing somewhere else in 2021-22 and while there aren’t a ton of Spezza jerseys out there, it’s unlikely we’ll see any with his name on it burned to ashes in the gardens of phoney fans.
Still, forget the burning of the jerseys. It’s overused and somewhat cliché now and if you can’t handle a little heartbreak, do you really deserve the Maple Leafs?
Until next time, goodbye offseason diary. There will be much more to talk about as we head into the expansion draft and free agency.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.