Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Johnsson, Kapanen, Marner, More

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft has been completed, and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas was busy. Although the Maple Leafs didn’t have a first-round pick, from what I could see as I watched the draft, Dubas was everywhere and talking to everyone. He got some necessary work done, including solving some of the team’s most difficult issues.

Reported: Maple Leafs Trade Rumors: Marner, Kadri, Zaitsev, Marleau & More

In this post about news and rumours, I will review some of the things that have been happening – or might soon be happening – around the team, much the result of Dubas’ work during the draft.

Item One: Patrick Marleau Traded to Carolina Hurricanes

Dubas finally figured out a way to make Patrick Marleau’s contract go away, but it cost the team a draft pick. Marleau was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, who are rumored to buy out his contract so that he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Toronto Maple Leafs Patrick Marleau Josh Leivo Andreas Johnsson Connor Brown
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Patrick Marleau celebrates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Just before the beginning of round two, the Maple Leafs announced they had traded Marleau and two draft picks (a conditional 2020 first-round pick and a 2020 seventh-round pick) to the Hurricanes for a 2020 sixth-round pick. It was a pricy compensation for the team, but that’s the cost of having the Hurricanes take over the last year of Marleau’s $6.25 million contract.

For eating his contract, the Hurricanes basically pick up a first-round draft pick next year. For the Maple Leafs, it cost them that first-round pick to redeem enough cap space to move toward signing the young restricted free agents (RFAs) the team is eager to keep.

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Trade for Puljujarvi

Both teams get something for their trouble, and Marleau gets paid next season’s contract and whatever he might sign for with another team – a sort of win-win-win situation.

As costly as it seems, the move already seems to have benefits (as I will discuss in Item Two), because almost as quickly as the trade was completed Dubas announced that the Maple Leafs were close to signing two of their three young RFAs (Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen). It also gives the team more salary cap wiggle room in their contract negotiations with RFA Mitch Marner.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner and Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

In some ways, although I understand the business aspect of hockey, I was sorry to see Marleau go. Certainly, his skills had eroded over the past two seasons. However, he was a mentor to both Marner and the Maple Leafs young center Auston Matthews.

Both these young men obviously valued Marleau, which was evident when Matthews tore off his jersey to reveal a Marleau jersey at the most recent NHL All-Star game played in San Jose. Class act as he is, Marleau tweeted a thank you to the Maple Leafs organization and players for his time in Toronto.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Trade Targets, Zaitsev, Marleau, Matthews

Speaking of San Jose, the Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted that Marleau had waived his no-movement clause with the understanding the Hurricanes would buy him out and allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. Rumour has it that Marleau hopes to re-sign with his former Sharks. He had played with the Sharks for 19 seasons and it is home for his family.

Item Two: Maple Leafs Close to Signing Johnsson and Kapanen

Once Dubas had traded Marleau to the Hurricanes, he didn’t waste time getting down to business. He confirmed that deals for RFAs Johnsson and Kapanen were close to being completed.

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

As Bob McKenzie noted, the Maple Leafs basically have a contract extension agreement in place for both Kapanen and Johnsson. However, the deals likely won’t be formalized until the Marner situation is resolved one way or another. Once their contracts are formalized, Kapanen’s three-year contract will be about $3.2 million AAV and Johnsson’s four-year contract will be about $3.4 million AAV.

Dubas noted that the contracts for Kapanen and Johnsson were “at the finish line.” He followed up by saying, “It’s a huge relief for us. Knowing they are locked in and not just for one year and are going to be a part of our group for a while, they are big young pieces. That’s a big help.”

Related: Memo to the Maple Leafs: Don’t Trade Kapanen

Item Three: Does Mike Babcock Believe Mitch Marner Will Sign?

There doesn’t seem much movement on the Marner front, although Dubas and Marner’s agent Darren Ferris are rumoured to be still meeting. Apparently, Ferris is interested in listening to other clubs when the window to speak to RFAs opens on Wednesday, June 26. Perhaps, if that happens, offer sheets might come Marner’s way after July 1.

In an earlier post, I had written why I believe the Maple Leafs will be forced to walk away from Marner – either through a trade or by allowing him to accept an offer sheet and accepting compensation. Whether Ferris pushes for a Matthews-like contract at over $11 million for five seasons or accepts a smaller contract for Marner will be something to watch over the next two weeks.

Tavares Marner Hyman
Mitch Marner (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Dubas is obviously trying to move the negotiations along, but it seems head coach Mike Babcock might not be very optimistic about Marner signing with the Maple Leafs.

As Babcock noted, “It’s a new landscape in the NHL. I’ve never seen the kind of things that take place now.” He did hopefully add, “But Mitch likes being a Leaf. He’s from Toronto.” (from ‘No first-round pick, but Leafs GM Dubas gets some crucial work done at draft’, The Toronto Sun – 6/22/19)

Related: William Nylander’s Redemption: Perhaps It’s Not Too Late

Item Four: Mikheyev To Have a Big Role with the Maple Leafs

Although contracts remain to be signed and roster spaces to be filled, Babcock already seems to have some issues settled in his own mind. One is that Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev, who the team signed by Toronto in May, will play a big role with the Maple Leafs for the 2019-20 season.

Babcock affirmed, “Mikheyev is going to be a big part of our hockey club. It’s why we have training camp. We have lots of time.”

Bernhard Ebner, Ilya Mikheyev
Russia’s Ilya Mikheyev (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Artur Lebedev)

Babcock’s statement makes sense in two ways. First, the team needs good players to fill spots on the roster. Second, the team needs cheap players to fill those spots. During May, Dubas signed two young KHL players to entry-level contracts – Yegor Korshkov and Mikheyev. Korshkov has already played with the Toronto Marlies in their playoff run and plays a physical game.

Mikheyev is a 6-foot-2, 194-pound right-winger who has professional experience in Russia. Babcock’s comments suggest Mikheyev might be a lock for the Maple Leafs roster. Babcock is old-school and likes size, which both Korshkov and Mikheysev have.