In looking over the past week, here are some of the news and thoughts generated from reporters who cover the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Item One: Will the Maple Leafs Rent a Defenseman?
This week, Luke Fox of Sportsnet suggested that, unless the Maple Leafs improve their defense by the end of February, they will likely explore a defenseman rental to upgrade the team. The club has the cap space to take on that salary, Fox suggests. Some of the names that he brought up include Alex Edler, Jay Bouwmeester, Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen, Ben Lovejoy,and Marc Methot.
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has history with the Canucks (sending them Josh Leivo) and the 32-year-old Edler might waive his no-trade clause to take a run at the Cup with the Maple Leafs.
Bouwmeester, 34, might be aging, but he has good history with coach Mike Babcock. He’s often a healthy scratch with the St. Louis Blues and might waive his no-trade clause to join the Maple Leafs.
Kronwall, a 37-year-old Detroit Red Wing, is a “heavy skater” Babcock prizes. Kronwall’s a stay-at-home defenseman, who plays with an edge. His “modified” no-trade clause asks him to submit a 10-team list of places he could be traded to. Here’s guessing Toronto is one of those.
Love suggests that, although the Red Wings are unlikely to trade the 28-year-old Jensen, this year’s ice-time leader, it’s smart for Dubas to at least call.
The New Jersey Devils have the worst plus-minus rating in the East, but 34-year-old Lovejoy is a plus-one. He’s not an offensive defenseman, but the Leafs don’t need offense – they need a veteran they can trust to defend and to log hard minutes.
Although the Maple Leafs tried to get the 33-year-old Methot before, he didn’t want to come to Toronto. Would that change if the Dallas Stars are out of the playoff run?
Item Two: Hyman’s Ankle Sprain Puts Him out for 3 Weeks
On Dec. 20, ESPN sports announced that Leafs’ center Zach Hyman would miss at least three weeks with an ankle sprain suffered when he slid feet-first into the boards chasing a puck against the New Jersey Devils in a 7-2 victory last Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs said an MRI confirmed that Hyman did, indeed, sprain his ankle. These are not the first games Hyman will miss. He was suspended two games for what the NHL called a “predatory” hit on Boston Bruin’s Charlie McAvoy, who had just returned from a concussion.
Item Three: Nylander Has Contract Advice for Matthews & Marner
Kyle Cantlon, of Yahoo Canada Sports, reports that William Nylander, after the drama of his lengthy contract impasse with the Toronto Maple Leafs, had contract advice for teammates Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Both Matthews and Marner are completing the final year of their entry-level contracts and will become RFA’s (restricted free agents) on July 1.
Cantlon reported that, when TSN’s Gino Reda asked if Nylander had advice for Matthews and Marner, he said, “Just get it done before the season starts. That’s probably the one thing you’d want, to get it out of the way.”
Given Nylander’s struggle to get going upon his return, it seems like good advice. After eight games back, Nylander is not yet up-to-speed (having recorded only two assists). Perhaps professional hockey players think differently than fans, but I can only think a poor start must embarrass Nylander, whose “I’m-worth-more-than-that” stance pushed contract negotiations to the last minute.
Item Four: Maple Leafs’ Have a Great Cap Situation
This week Mike Augello, a Maple Leafs Blogger, pointed out that the Leafs have a cap advantage over other Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference that could come into play at the NHL trade deadline. Specifically, the Leafs have nearly $6 million to spend before Feb. 25, and, by placing injured winger Nathan Horton’s $5.3 million salary on long-term injured reserve, could create more.
Specifically, when the Maple Leafs’ cap situation is compared to other teams in the East, the defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals have less than $15,000 in cap space and would have to remove a player from their current roster or place an injured player on the long-term injured reserve.
Because Tampa Bay is so good, they don’t need much. Still, they have less than $2 million of cap space and would have to move a player like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, or a large expiring contract like Braydon Coburn to add an impact player.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins have a strong second half of the season, they might want to rent blueline help because veteran Justin Schultz is injured. Although the Penguins have cap space, they might not have enough prospects or draft picks to make a trade.
Of the teams in the East, the Boston Bruins have the best hope of making a last-minute deal. The Bruins need help at center or, if ageless giant Zdeno Chara does not return, on defense; and, they have a valuable prospect pool and close to $4 million cap space.
Item Five: Kyle Dubas Doesn’t Fear Offer Sheets
CBC reports that Dubas “isn’t losing sleep these days” worrying about other teams giving offer sheets to Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner. However, he knows his star young forwards are attractive assets and another team might make a pitch for Matthews or Marner if either remains unsigned on July 1.
Dubas believes his two 21-year-old stars will sign long-term deals before the deadline, but if another team tries to sign either player away from the Maple Leafs, he’s confident the team can respond. As Dubas noted: “Our salary cap situation is set up that we could defend any of those threats with no worry at all.”
Dubas also knows that offer sheets in the NHL don’t usually work. In fact, the last team to sign one was when Calgary signed Ryan O’Reilly in 2013, but that offer sheet was matched by Colorado. The last accepted offer sheet was in 2007, with what turned out to be Edmonton’s ill-fated signing of Dustin Penner, with Anaheim getting first, second, and third-round picks as compensation.
Such heavy prices, and the bad will that comes with them, makes GMs reluctant to use offer sheets with RFAs. Plus, both Matthews and Marner have said publically they want to remain Maple Leafs, and Dubas has the salary cap space to make that happen.
Sunday, Dec. 23 is the Maple Leafs last game before Christmas. After Christmas, they have a quick back-to-back, playing the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Dec. 28 and home to face the New York Islanders on Dec. 29. That’s the first of four games at home.
By that point, the season will be bumping up against its half-way point. We already know lots about this Maple Leafs’ team, but where they are at mid-season will be another good measure.