Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Kapanen, NHL Draft, Sparks

Among all his other tasks, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas continues to negotiate with his restricted free agents (RFAs), including Mitch Marner and has his eyes on potential veterans who might soon be bought out by their teams. If he can find a number of these potentially low-cost players, he has a chance of adding to the team’s depth.

Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews,
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Several important NHL dates are moving towards us, and each offers opportunities and challenges for the Maple Leafs. The NHL Draft is coming within a week. June 15 is the first day general managers can buy out players’ contracts. And, during the last week of June, RFAs can talk with teams other than those that hold their contracts.

Related: Ennis Was Maple Leafs’ Bargain Hero: Who’s Next?

Will these dates close or open doors for the Maple Leafs and the team’s current roster? That’s a big question for Maple Leafs fans. Here’s some of the news surrounding the team as we wait to see what happens. This coming week promises to be busy.

Item One: More on Patrick Marleau

It’s looking like the Maple Leafs might be able to trade Patrick Marleau, but that won’t be easy or cheap. They will likely be forced to give up a draft pick or a prospect if they expect another team to take on Marleau’s contract.

It isn’t as if Marleau doesn’t have value. He still produces. Last season, he scored 16 goals, 21 assists, and 37 points. Many NHL players would be happy with that production. Second, he’s a great team member who’s willing to mentor younger players and provide the kind of values and work ethic a successful team needs. Third, Marleau is certain to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and that alone might draw fans to see him play.

It’s the $6.25 million cap hit that the Maple Leafs can no longer afford. As I noted in a recent post, Marleau is not the problem – his contract is.

Patrick Marleau Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs’ Patrick Marleau (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The fact that Marleau has a no-movement clause and clearly wants to move closer to his west-coast home opens the door a crack for the Dubas. However, it’s a small crack. The Maple Leafs trade leverage isn’t huge.

After watching Dubas’ moves this season, my guess is that he’s looked at the organization and realized he might already have players who are ready. I think he would rather trade draft picks than these players. However, if this is true, the team is limited because it doesn’t have a first-round draft pick due to the Jake Muzzin trade.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Patrick Marleau: Taking One for the Team?

It will be interesting to see how Dubas plays this. Will he trade away any of the seven draft picks he has in the upcoming draft, or will he move prospects already in the organization? Really, Dubas isn’t a veteran general manager, and we’re still learning about how he thinks. We’ll know more soon.

Item Two: NHL Draft Order Set

With the St. Louis Blues’ victory over the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals and the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the order of selections in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22 has been set.

At the NHL Draft Lottery on April 9, the first 15 spots (teams that missed the playoffs or the playoff teams that own those picks) were finalized. The New Jersey Devils won that lottery and have the first pick.

Related: Reviewing Maple Leafs’ 2018 Draft Class

On June 14, the National Hockey League released the full draft order for the 2019 draft, and the Leafs have seven picks. These picks are numbers 53, 84, 115, 124, 146, 204 and 208. As noted earlier, the Maple Leafs traded their first-round pick (22nd overall) to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the Muzzin deal.

Item Three: Is Kasperi Kapanen Gone?

Although no one outside the room knows for certain, it’s logical that the Maple Leafs are actively talking trades involving Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Brown. But, where is Kasperi Kapanen in all this? Given the Maple Leafs depth on the right side, is Kapanen realistic trade bait?

Kasperi Kapanen
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen celebrates with the bench (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

As Dubas has noted, the team’s goals are to first sign Marner to a long-term contract prior to July 1. Second, he also must improve his defense, especially the right side now that Zaitsev has asked to be traded. For these things to happen, the team must move contracts and free up salary cap space. Obviously, moving the contacts of Marleau, Zaitsev, and Brown does some of that. However, is that enough?

Kapanen is also an RFA, and his play demands a raise. He’s also likely to be seen by a number of teams as a potential first-line producer. Therefore, he’s an asset Dubas might trade in his search for a right-side defenseman. No doubt Kapanen would be a hot commodity if offered on the market.

Related: The Maple Leafs Are Going to Need Cap Relief

In addition to showing huge offensive potential, he comes from a great hockey lineage. His father is Sami Kapanen, who played 12 seasons for the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers. Father Sami is also the current head coach of HC Lugano in the National League. It’s a good bet hockey smarts run in the family. That would add to son Kasperi’s value.

Item Four: Trying to Trade Garret Sparks

According to a rumor from TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Maple Leafs are “quietly” trying to trade backup goaltender Garret Sparks.

Sadly for both the former AHL goaltender of the year in 2017-18 and the Maple Leafs, Sparks 2018-19 season wasn’t stellar. He had an 8-9-1 record with a 3.15 goals-against average playing behind Maple Leafs number one goalie Frederik Andersen. Perhaps some of Sparks’ problems were physical, but some might have also been in his head.

Toronto Maple Leafs Garret Sparks
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Although he started the season well, Sparks seemed to have lost his mojo. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, he was replaced by Michael Hutchinson and left to focus on his own play with goalie coaches Steve Briere and Jon Elkin.

Related: Maple Leafs Have Options If Marner Gets Offer Sheets

Sparks was drafted by the Maple Leafs during the 2011 draft (Round 7, number 190 overall) and has a year left on his current contract with a cap hit of $750,000. At that price, he might be attractive to another team.