Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Nylander, Franson, Zaitsev & More

The Stanley Cup Playoffs conference finals continue. There’s no news about the Mitch Marner contract negotiations. And, the World Championships are currently going on in Slovakia. All the while, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to consider what next season’s lineup will look like.

Item One: John Tavares Will Miss a Month With His Injury

TSN updated centre John Tavares’ injury situation. Still, it’s not clear how the injury occurred. But we now know that Tavares is expected to return to his offseason training program within a month.

Related – Maple Leafs News: Red Kelly, Matthews, KHL News, Babcock

As I noted in an earlier post, Tavares suffered the injury earlier in a practice with the Canadian team as it prepared for the World Championship. Obviously, he’s been forced to miss the tournament.

Item Two: Is Defenseman Cody Franson a Consideration?

On May 8, Editor in Leaf’s James Tanner noted that the Maple Leafs need good cheap defensemen. He suggested that Cody Franson might be someone who would fit both criteria. Maple Leafs fans might remember Franson because he played for the team from 2011-12 through 2014-15.

Ryan Fitzgerald Cody Franson Bruins Blackhawks
Boston Bruins center Ryan Fitzgerald and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Cody Franson (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Tanner notes that Franson has put up all-star-like numbers wherever he’s played. He blames the fact that Franson was passed over by all 31 teams after he was cut by the Chicago Blackhawks halfway through the 2017-18 season simply on NHL “group-think.”

Obviously, his point was that the Maple Leafs could probably pick Franson up cheaply after a season in the KHL where he scored 27 points in 54 KHL games, then totaled 18 points in 19 playoff games. 

Related – Leafs Sign Ilya Mikheyev: Babcock’s Help Swings the Deal

He reminds Maple Leafs fans who are worried about Franson’s lack of speed that he’s prospered because he is intelligent. Franson is far from the NHL’s only successful “slower” player (think Joe Thornton or Jaromir Jagr). As well, 39-year-old Ron Hainsey played on the Maple Leafs’ top pairing this season and he’s far from a speed demon.

Franson is 31 years old, which isn’t old for a defenseman. He’s 6-foot-5, has a great slap shot, is a good passer, and plays effectively as a rare right-handed defenseman. Perhaps he’s a consideration for the Maple Leafs?

Item Two: Nylander Leading Team Sweden at World Championships

The Sporting News reported that William Nylander, the “Maple Leafs center” (is this breaking news for next season?) led his team to a 9-1 victory over Norway with five points (1 goal, 4 assists) and was named player of the game.

Nylander is currently leading the World Championship with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in his first three games. Could it be as simple as a change in numbers? Nylander traded his usual #29 for #88, which was the number he wore when he played with MODO before being drafted by the Maple Leafs.

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William Nylander Leading Team Sweden

Item Three: Jim Hiller Isn’t Expected Back as an Assistant Coach

In his May 12 31 Thoughts, Sportsnet’s Eliotte Friedman reported that the Maple Leafs’ current assistant coach, Jim Hiller, was given “blanket permission” to interview with anyone. That’s often a sign he won’t be asked back as a coach with the Maple Leafs. Friedman reported that the Nashville Predators were rumored to be among the interested teams.

Related – News: Tavares, Dermott, Babcock, Kivihalme & NHL Draft

Hiller, who has a reputation as a good power-play coach, was with the Maple Leafs for four seasons and was with coach Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings the season prior to Babcock’s moving to the Maple Leafs. 

Jim Hiller

It will be interesting to see who might replace him, and perhaps as interesting that general manager Kyle Dubas has yet another item on his offseason shopping list.

The Pension Plan Puppets KatyaKnappe noted that people would simply believe Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe would step in as a replacement. She suggested that’s not likely to happen because, during Keefe’s coaching career of 16 seasons, he’s only twice been an assistant. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s interested in being second-in-command to Babcock.

Item Four: Mason Marchment Is Needed on the Maple Leafs

On May 8, Craig Button joined the OverDrive guys and discussed the Maple Leafs’ situation. He commented that, in his opinion, the Marlies’ Mason Marchment has something the Maple Leafs really need on their roster.

Button believed Marchmant was a player who didn’t get talked about enough. Marchment, the son of veteran defenseman Bryan Marchment, brings an “edgy, smart, in-your-face” game. He understands what needs to happen at any time during the game, and he can make an impact.

As Button notes, Marchment is getting better every time he watches him. His skating and his strength have improved.

By the way, Button was obviously impressed by the play of Maple Leafs’ new signee Yegor Korshkov. Button noted that Korshkov was a big, strong, and young. He expects the Maple Leafs to give him a good chance to make their lineup next season.

Related – Maple Leafs Sign Korshkov: Solution or Unknown?

Item Five: Can the Maple Leafs Trade Nikita Zaitsev?

On May 8, the Leafs Nation’s Cam Lewis wrote a post speculating where the Maple Leafs might dump some unwanted contracts. One player he discussed was Nikita Zaitsev. Although Zaitsev had a stronger playoff series than his regular season, he’s simply too expensive at his $4.5 million salary cap hit. In addition, Zaitsev cap hit isn’t going away soon. He’s on a long-term contract that will see him be paid for five more seasons.

Auston Matthews, Nikita Zaitsev
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews celebrates his goal with Nikita Zaitsev (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Clearly, in terms of value for the dollar, Zaitsev is overpaid. Can he and his contract even be traded? Lewis believes any deal would have to see two teams willing to trade bad contracts for other bad contracts. In other words, if the Leafs could trade Zaitsev, they would have to accept salary coming back from the other team.

Lewis believes Dubas should trade Zaitsev quickly to take advantage of his solid playoff showing. However, prior to any trade, Zaitsev has some leverage, and by July 1 can submit a 10-team no-trade list to Dubas. 

Lewis notes that one landing spot for Zaitsev might be the Edmonton Oilers, who must pay Kris Russell $4 million for more two years. If the Maple Leafs could trade Zaitsev for Russel, they would lighten their contractual burden by three years – from five to two. However, they would likely have to accept some contracts the Oilers would dump – for example, Sam Gagner and Brandon Manning.

Lewis also noted that the New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, who originally signed Zaitsev when he was in Toronto, must think Zaitsev has value. As well, the New Jersey Devils have lots of cap room and a horrible defense.

What’s Next?

I’m looking forward to watching Maple Leafs’ remaining players at the World Championships – as well as Nylander, Martin Maricin and Zaitsev are playing. The Marlies face the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs starting on May 17.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Dilemma: What to Do With William Nylander?

Although the Maple Leafs have been dumped from the playoffs, it’s still an interesting time to be a Maple Leafs fan. But then, when isn’t it?