The Toronto Maple Leafs head into the 2021 offseason with one of the strangest to-do lists they’ve had in recent memory. They somehow have nothing to address with multiple areas to address at the same time. In saying that, I mean that realistically, they don’t have any areas of the roster that need drastic improvement.
As Maple Leafs fans, we’re used to going into the offseason saying “they need defense” or “they need goaltending” or something of the sort. But this year, as I’ve stated in just about every article I’ve written since their playoff run ended tragically short, they didn’t lose because of an area on the roster. They lost because their stars bailed when they needed them the most, and they couldn’t rise to the occasion when the stakes were highest.
Having said that, their current contract situation leaves them with some needs heading into free agency. With the upcoming expansion draft looming, they’re going to lose one of Alex Kerfoot, Travis Dermott, Justin Holl, or Pierre Engvall. And on top of this, Zach Hyman is more than likely going to test free agency as we get closer to the date. (from ‘Mirtle: This appears to be the end for Zach Hyman as a Maple Leaf’, TheAthleticNHL – 6/16/21)
If the Leafs lose Hyman and one or two of the aforementioned players via the expansion draft, they will indeed have some holes to fill. And while Brandon Saad or Tyler Bertuzzi would be among the more attractive names, there are also some internal options they could look to bring back, and one of those options is Alex Galchenyuk.
How Galchenyuk Got to Toronto
The Leafs initially acquired Galchenyuk from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 15 in exchange for forward Yegor Korshkov and defenseman David Warsofsky. He was previously dealt to Carolina on Feb. 13 from the Ottawa Senators along with forward Cedric Paquette in exchange for forward Ryan Dzingel. Like most Leafs fans, the trade completely caught me off guard.
To say that Galchenyuk has been well-traveled in recent years is an understatement. After six seasons with the team that drafted him, the Montreal Canadiens, he’s played on five different NHL teams over the span of three seasons. He spent the 2018-19 season with the Arizona Coyotes, split the 2019-20 season between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild, and split the 2020-21 season between the Senators and the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs took a little bit of a different approach with Galchenyuk than the other teams did. He never spent more than one year at most with any of the other teams besides the Canadiens, so the Leafs acquired him and started him in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Toronto Marlies. At age 27, this was his first-ever AHL stint, and it paid off for him, as he finished with eight points through six games.
Galchenyuk would go on to finish the season with 12 points in 26 games as well as four points through six playoff games. And while fans will look back at his giveaway in Game 5 that ultimately led to a Nick Suzuki overtime winner, there are far more people to blame for the way the Leafs’ playoffs ended before Galchenyuk.
Maple Leafs Showed Patience with Galchenyuk
Compared to how his season began with the Senators, it was a solid year for Galchenyuk. The Maple Leafs proved that they were actually willing to work with him and try to ease him into a role that he would be comfortable in, rather than just sticking him on the fourth line and trading him when he didn’t produce immediate results.
On top of this, he really didn’t look out of place alongside either Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, or John Tavares and William Nylander. He was in a role typically occupied by Hyman – going into the corners, laying the body, and creating space for his teammates – and he seemed to thrive in it and really take advantage of the opportunity with the Leafs.
Bringing Him Back Would Be Risk-Free
One of the main benefits of bringing Galchenyuk back is that you know he would come at a cheap price. He made just north of $1 million this year, and given that his totals weren’t exactly groundbreaking, it’s hard to make a case for him really demanding much of a raise.
When I say they should re-sign him, I don’t mean that he should be their No. 1 target in terms of a top-six winger to be relied upon for scoring next season. Assuming they would bring him back for a price similar to what he made last season, his contract would be easy to trade or bury should he become a burden or a boat anchor of sorts.
Call it an in-season professional tryout, if you will. If they bring him back, the Leafs will be the first team to give him more than one season to prove himself since he was with Montreal. While it’s apparent that he’s not going to live up to the hype of a third-overall pick like he once was, he undoubtedly still has the same skill he had when he was drafted. It’s just a matter of whether or not he can maximize his skill in the role he’s given.
Getting regular top-six minutes and potentially a spot on the power play could unleash the best version of Galchenyuk we’ve seen since he was with the Canadiens. This is obviously the best-case scenario. And like I said, if he falters or ends up being a non-factor, trade him. As long as he were to return at a similar price to last year, there’s really no risk involved with bringing him back.
The season is over, and the expansion draft, entry draft, and free agency are all on the horizon. Now, it’s time to really ramp up the speculation and start thinking about what moves this team might make to repair yet another choke in the first round. And while any big moves they make will likely be complicated and require some other moves to happen, re-signing Galchenyuk is an easy one and one Kyle Dubas should strongly consider for next season.
Alex Hobson is a writer and a radio producer for 610 CKTB. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.