Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Wickenheiser, Sanford, White & Puljujarvi

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some news about promotions within the organization’s management. Second, I’ll announce that the team’s new goalie coach was announced. 

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Third, I’ll look at the impact of some NHL teams’ use of performance bonuses on their 2022-23 salary cap. The Maple Leafs are one of 14 teams who will be penalized for the use of these bonuses; but, fortunately, the sting is minor. 

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Finally, I’ll consider the team’s propensity to pick up once-promising players from the NHL scrap heap and wonder if there’s a player on the horizon who might become a perfect candidate for the Maple Leafs’ desire to risk little but go for the home run.

Item One: Maple Leafs Promote Wickenheiser & Hire Sanford

Yesterday morning, the Maple Leafs announced via Twitter that they had promoted Hayley Wickenheiser, Darryl Metcalf, and Ryan Hardy. Each will rise to the role of assistant general manager.

Hayley Wickenheiser Team Canada
Hayley Wickenheiser, Team Canada (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

In addition, the team announced its new goalie coach Curtis Sanford. Sanford had been with the Vancouver Canucks’ organization, where he was primarily the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks’ goalie coach in 2021-22. 

Sanford also had a lengthy career as a goaltender that included playing almost 150 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Columbus Blue Jackets. In his 20 seasons travelling the world as a goalie pilgrim, he also played his last three seasons in the KHL.

Item Two: What: NHL Teams Worse Off than the Maple Leafs?

Last week, 14 NHL teams were scolded financially by having the upper limits of their $82.5 million salary cap reduced for the upcoming season. The issue is that teams who’d used performance bonuses at the top of the salary cap will have this season’s cap reduced by the amount of these bonuses’ overage. According to the CBA, these performance bonuses now move over to this season’s cap. 

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The following NHL teams will have salary caps less than the upper limit as a result of the performance bonuses they paid last season. Two teams, the Canucks (at $1.25 million) and the Montreal Canadiens (at $1.132,500), paid bonuses of over a million each.

The other 11 teams (all under $1 million) were the Edmonton Oilers (at $896,000), the Dallas Stars (at $675,000), the Florida Panthers and the Los Angeles Kings (at $637,500), the Philadelphia Flyers (at $295,000), the New York Islanders (at $245,795), the Chicago Blackhawks (at $237,500), the Maple Leafs (at $212,500), the Carolina Hurricanes (at $112,500), the Washington Capitals (at $100,000), and the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche (at $25,000). 

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren is the only Toronto Maple Leafs player with performances bonuses
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I know that was a lot of numbers to read, and I wondered why I thought it was important to include them in the middle of typing them. However, by that time I had committed. To be transparent, I included this little section because, while so many fans are critical of what they see as the team’s injudicious use of the salary cap, this was a small area where the team was nowhere near the NHL’s worst. 

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By the way, Timothy Liljegren remains the only player in the system with performance bonuses. The Maple Leafs and the Seattle Kraken are the only two teams with five players or fewer with bonuses. They are something the team is trying to avoid, because of the overages I’ve shown above.

Item Three: Might Kyle Dubas Be Interested in Colin White?

Two things that I really do like about Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas are that (1) he’s creative and (2) he’s assertively willing to take a chance that an NHL player can find his way home after being lost in the morass of hockey’s scrap heap. I personally love stories of people who overcome adversity. I have a feeling that Dubas does as well.

Three recent examples come to mind. Alex Galchenyuk, Josh Ho-Sang, and Jimmy Vesey. [As an aside, do you think Dubas had Campbell’s history in mind when he brought him to the team from the Kings?] 

Jimmy Vesey Toronto Maple Leafs
Jimmy Vesey, when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

These three players were all projected to become young NHL stars, and all had obvious talent and potential. But, for one reason or another, it just didn’t work out. Each needed a last chance of sorts. Dubas complied. 

While each of these players’ stories has not ended, their stories with the Maple Leafs probably have. However, it cost Dubas virtually nothing to take chances on each of them. I have to think he’s likely to do it again.

Colin White Ottawa Senators
Colin White, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

If so, a possible player popped up from the Ottawa Senators. Yesterday the Senators placed Colin White on waivers for the purpose of buying him out of the last three seasons of a contract signed in 2019 that pays him an AAV of $4.75 million. 

At the time of his signing in 2019, White was lauded by Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion as a core player for a young Senators team that was rebuilding. White had just completed a rookie season where he was among the NHL’s top 10 rookies in goals scored, assists, and points. At that point in his career, he was set to become the Senators’ first-line center for the coming 2019-20. 

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Sadly for both the Senators and White, his 14 goals and 27 assists (41 points) rookie season would be his best with the team. Given shoulder injuries that limited his play, White was never able to play up to his potential. 

When White clears unconditional waivers, the team will buy out his contract. That will save them tons of salary-cap space over the next few seasons. It also makes White a 25-year-old UFA. 

If White is deemed to be healthy, given the Maple Leafs’  history of making low-risk bets on players who might or might not pan out, White has to be the subject of conversation within Dubas’ management team. If White’s a bust, nothing is lost. If he turns out to be a keeper, well done.

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

I’m particularly interested in the Jesse Puljujarvi rumor from the Edmonton Oilers. He’s a 24-year-old former high draft choice who’s been struggling to find a top-six role with the Oilers. 

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He has great analytics and is a 200-foot player who’d fit well on the Maple Leafs’ second line with its need for speed and defense. Puljujarvi’s two-year, $2.35 million contract will expire and he’ll become an RFA on July 13th. There’s some rumor that Maple Leafs might try to acquire his negotiating rights. 

If so, I think that might be a good move. I think Puljujarvi has tons of upside and if he finds a good home he could thrive.

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