Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Korshkov, Rielly, Rosen & Salary Cap Fixes

Ironically, with the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the news swirling around the team seems more constant than when the team was playing. In today’s news and rumor report, I will review the Toronto Marlies playoffs as well as share some of the interesting thoughts of others who write about the Maple Leafs.

Item One: Yegor Korshkov Makes His North American Debut

On May 1, Yegor Korshkov signed an entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a professional try-out with the Toronto Marlies. As is his way, it didn’t take Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe long to see what Korshkov could do. On May 3, the young Russian played in the Marlies 4-3 overtime win over the Cleveland Monsters. He impressed.

Yegor Korshkov
Yegor Korshkov. (Photo: RIHF)

Korshkov scored a goal, converting a nice pass from Rasmus Sandin. He screened Cleveland goalie Brad Theissen on Joseph Duszak’s long shot that made it 2-0.  And, he threw his big – well, tall – body around on the ice.

Although the Marlies were outplayed by the Monsters, they were not outscored. Jeremy Bracco had two assists to tie for the playoff scoring lead, and Kasimir Kaskisuo made 36 saves in his fifth straight postseason victory.

What motivated Korshkov’s play? As an interpreter translated, “It’s very important for us to win the game. And of course for me personally, it was such a great feeling for me to score in front of my Dad here tonight.” Korshkov added, “I was just trying to show my hockey style (with the hits). I didn’t want to let the team down. I wanted to play my best and I hope it worked.”

Related – Maple Leafs Sign Korshkov: Solution or Unknown?

Keefe believed Korshkov looked strong for his first time on smaller ice. He noted that “He (Korshkov) was involved physically … For him to feel comfortable enough to make his presence felt physically in the game, that was very positive.”

Item Two: Morgan Rielly as Maple Leaf Captain?

Who was the last Maple Leafs’ captain? You would be forgiven if you didn’t recall, because it’s been a few seasons ago. In fact, the team has not had a captain since early in 2016 when Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators.

After the Phaneuf trade, the Maple Leafs have undergone many changes. Indeed, a very young team has started to grow up. And, whereas a few years ago no candidates for team captain seemed to be on the roster, today that’s different.

Fellow Maple Leaf writer, Matthew Rodrigopulle of Editor in Leaf wrote an interesting piece yesterday speculating about who he believes might become a good team captain. He makes the point that naming a captain could be a critical lynchpin to further team improvement. He believes it’s time.

His choice? He sees Morgan Rielly is the best choice among contenders Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner.

Jake DeBrusk; Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly and Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk battle for the puck (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The case for Matthews is that he’s a superstar who knows how to handle pressure. Matthews is also relaxed with the media, which in Toronto is a good thing.

The case for Tavares is that he’s a franchise player who, at 28 years of age, has a wealth of experience in the NHL and has already been captain of the New York Islanders (from 2013-18).

The case for Marner is that he has immense talent, is the heart and soul of the team, and (I would add) has a tremendous work ethic and is fearless. No one asked me, but if I were making the choice, I would choose Marner and I would do it right after he signed this off-season. I think he’s the most important player on the team and the key to the team’s future success.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Marner Negotiations: Welcome to Uglyville

Rodrigopulle would disagree. He makes the case that Rielly had a breakout season (with 20 goals, 52 assists, and 72 points in 82 games). He’s mature, has composure with the media, and puts the team first. He specifically pointed to how well Rielly handled the false accusation that he made a homophobic comment during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Finally, Rielly is the third longest-serving Maple Leaf after Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner.

We will see first if the team actually names a captain. On that point, I agree with Rodrigopulle that it’s time. We will also see if the team chooses to name a captain, who that would be. About who that captain should be, we disagree. He chooses Rielly; I would choose Marner.

Item Three: Five Ways to Address the Salary Cap

In his recent article, Luke Fox of Sportsnet outlined five possible actions the Maple Leafs could undertake to help alleviate their salary cap issue.

First, they could simply allow their free agents to leave. These include Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey. Fox noted that Ennis could walk, but his current salary is low and he has high value-for-dollar. Obviously, that option changes if Ennis is offered more money to play elsewhere, which would not be a surprise.

Second, they could trade a big contract such as William Nylander, Patrick Marleau, or Nazem Kadri.

Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri Jake DeBrusk
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara pulls Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri off teammate Jake DeBrusk. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mary Schwalm)

Third, they could sign bridge deals with pending RFA’s Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen.

Fourth, they could find someone to take on Nathan Horton’s contract.

Fifth, the team could fill half the team will cheap contracts and lesser-quality players.

Related: The Maple Leafs Are Going to Need Cap Relief

I have no disagreement with Fox’s points. From my perspective, Gardiner is gone already. Hainsey should come back as a coach. Nylander should be traded. And good luck finding someone to take over Horton’s contract (without trading a prospect for nothing). Finding a trade partner for Marleau – unless it’s back to the Sharks – will be tough. The 39-year-old Marleau is under no compunction to opt out of his current contract, which the Maple Leafs were all too happy to sign prior to the 2017-18 season.

Item Four: Calle Rosen’s Injuries Worse than First Thought

During the Marlies Game 1 victory against the Monsters, both Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman suffered upper-body injuries. At first, Rosen’s x-rays came back negative and it was thought he would be returning soon to the Marlies’ playoff effort. Borgman, who’s had concussion issues, was thought to be in worse shape and out for a while.

Toronto Maple Leafs Nikita Zaitsev Calle Rosen
Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen Nikita Zaitsev and Calle Rosen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

However, Rosen will not be able to play in Cleveland. Marlies coach Keefe noted that Rosen’s injuries were worse than first thought and that the defenseman will be out for the remainder of the second round.

What’s Next?

All’s quiet on signing Marner, and Kyle Dubas’ coming work in reshaping the Maple Leafs defense is a key project that must be addressed soon. I am as interested in how Dubas fixes the defense as in signing Marner, which I think is a slam-dunk. What remains unknown is term and length.

Related: Should the Maple Leafs Trade Marner? Not Even for Crosby

I hope Marner’s signing is quiet and quick. Then, as I noted earlier here, once he’s signed I would quickly name him the first Maple Leafs captain since Phaneuf in 2016. That would show how much the team values this young star.