The Toronto Maple Leafs Lounge has been sitting empty. After a season where the contributors to The Hockey Writers for Toronto were able to talk about the success and the excitement around the team week after week – it all went quiet. After getting over the shock, the writers reconvened at the Leafs Lounge in an attempt to move on and start looking forward to the next season.
There is not much left to say about the failed playoff run. After a season with so much promise that raised the fanbase’s hopes to a level not seen in decades, the Maple Leafs lost in Game 7 to the Montreal Canadiens. They not only lost, but they also blew a 3-1 series lead. The writers agreed with Brenden Shanahan’s assessment of the team that there is a lack of killer instinct that must be addressed.
Fans Over Reaction
The fan reaction on social media was nothing short of vicious. Perhaps the worst example of this was when Leafs’ Legend Doug Gilmour commented on his burned jersey. Alex Hobson was not happy seeing videos of the blue and white being lit on fire. “I’ve got no respect for anybody who does that. I understand the frustration. I understand burning a jersey may give you some sort of relief. Realistically how long is that relief going to last? Then you will realize the series is still gone. You didn’t do anything to change the way destiny decided to take its course.”
Peter Baracchini was equally as outraged to see jersey burning. “I understand the fan base is passionate, but you stick to your team no matter what. Real fans see that. If you have to go burn your jersey, I don’t see you as a real fan.” If you’re done being a fan of this franchise, the writers agreed with Gilmour to give the jersey to a real fan or, better yet, a charity.
Who is Back and Who is Gone
The Maple Leafs’ front office will once again have a busy offseason. General manager Kyle Dubas was active last season and at the trade deadline, but the players failed to produce. There are several unrestricted free agents and players whose contracts are nearing completion. We discussed the players and how much we would pay to keep them.
Morgan Rielly is the only player who has been with the franchise dating back to the 2013 collapse against the Boston Bruins. I suggested Rielly needs to go. That statement has nothing to do with his performance. He is a great player, and we’ve all enjoyed watching him grow up as a Maple Leaf. However, perhaps for his sake and the sake of the team, he would be better suited with a new home. He was the only guy, player or coach, who said thank you to the media during the exit interviews this past week. He was wearing a shirt that had YVR, short for Vancouver, on it.
Peter Baracchini noted that Rielly played some of his best games in the playoffs. Still, Baracchini says the contract situation may seal the deal. “One year, five million dollars, obviously they are going to talk about it more to see if they could get an extension if he wants more than five – it’s just not going to work with the roster. T.J Brodie is making the amount he does, Jake Muzzin… if Morgan Rielly is going to take the same money, maybe things can work out. Whether he stays or goes is going to be a really big question mark from here on out.”
The trio writers agreed that Zach Hyman should be given a pay raise with a new contract. However, we differed on the price tag. I would give him $5 million, as would Hobson if it was a four-year deal. Baracchini couldn’t stomach that deal, “five million seems like a steep price. He is 29. He is not getting any younger, dealt with a few injuries already. To me, the sweet spot would 4 million if he signed a 5- or 6-year deal.”
The consensus was Nick Foligno would only return to Toronto if we signed a hometown deal. The Leafs gave up a first-round pick for the Sudbury Ontario product at the trade deadline. However, Dubas thought he was landing the Foligno who powered the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Maple Leafs one year ago. The player he got dealt with injuries, and by the last game was a rarely played fourth liner. The top deal would be in the range of two million.
The big Danish netminder’s five-year deal is done in Toronto. Frederik Andersen had the worst year of his career and was injured for the majority of the season. I told my colleagues, “I’m bringing him back on a one-year show-me deal for no more than $1.5-2 (million). He is comfortable with Jack Campbell. To me, the franchise owes him that year because he was injured; he came to this franchise when it was dead, rock bottom, he came and signed a five-year deal… he is good friends with lots of the team, I think he gets a show-me deal. He continues to be the mentor for Jack Campbell.”
Baracchini agreed with me but doubted Andersen would sign for anything less than his current contract price. Hobson also believes Andersen may get picked up by another team for more money than my proposal.
Wayne Simmonds was on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The trio of writers would bring him back, but his pay would be reduced. Hobson liked what the hometown boy brought to the team. “If he wants to come back for less than he made this year, the most I would give him is probably a million. If he wants to come back at a cheap price, I wouldn’t have any problems with him coming back. The passion is clearly there with him. He clearly loved being in Toronto. I enjoyed having a guy like that to answer the bell.”
Another hometown boy would be welcomed back by the three writers. Jason Spezza is a no-brainer to be re-signed at a league minimum, one-year deal, which he has signed for the last two seasons. We all admire his veteran leadership, the effort he puts in every game, and what he does off the ice. Spezza started a collection with some of the higher-paid Leafs to get money to the Toronto Marlies. The Marlies, like all AHL teams, had their pay cut due to the impact of covid.
Spezza was the easy decision. The tough one is Joe Thornton. As much as we all love Jumbo Joe, none of us could see a situation where Toronto would bring him back. In fact, we think he may have played his last game in the NHL. Baracchini noted the slow down we saw as the season wore on, “his age showed in the playoffs. He made two really critical errors early on in the series, leading to turnovers and goals against, just his speed wasn’t there.” That said, we hope there is a coaching role in Thornton’s future, and perhaps the Marlies could start him on that path.
Dubas and his staff have a lot of work to do in the coming months. We look forward to talking about it in the Maple Leafs Lounge. Look at the bright side for those who are still upset over the playoff elimination: there is always next year.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.