Where Do The Toronto Maple Leafs Go From Here? 5 Ideas
By Tim Pulman
The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are no where to be found…and 1967 seems even farther in the past.
So what needs to change? Well the answers aren’t so simple. Here’s 5 foot-for-thought ideas.
They must trade a high end offensive players…and it must be John Tavares or William Nylander.
Let’s forget Tavares has a no movement clause and was named captain this season. He’s also eating $11-million in cap space for 5 more seasons. Not a great look for an organization that has seen a decline in points in each of his two seasons with the team. And progressed no farther in the playoffs…if you can even count this season as playing in the playoffs. The Leafs have more than enough offensive depth to cover his loss. If you need more evidence that JT might not be the answer, the New York Islanders who were laughed out of the building for letting Tavares go, have seen an increase in points since his departure.
If you want an alternative, who isn’t trade protected, follow the same path with Nylander.
What should they seek for in return? A number 2 or 3 defenseman from another team and picks. The cap space is as important as adding to depth at a very weak roster point, their blueline.
Build a blueline by committee, not by singular stars
Columbus beat Toronto by committee. Their star power was on the blueline in Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, but it was hard to overlook the important contributions of David Savard, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Ryan Murray , who were all spectacular. Some of the best bluelines in the NHL, such as the Carolina Hurricanes, are built by committee, not star power.
To ask the Leafs to go out and get Alex Pietrangelo, or even TJ Brodie or Torey Krug does not make sense. They’ll want raises, and it’s not what the Leafs need. Bring in Rasmus Sandin, let him play unless he proves he absolutely can’t. The same for Timothy Liljegren. I mean, it’s either these kids or watching Martin Marincin cough up the puck every few minutes.
Pick up 1-2 other defenders via trade, and sign a player deeper in the free agent talent pool like Erik Gustafsson or Brenden Dillon.
A lack of defensive depth, and ability to actually defend was evident. All these guys need to do is get the puck out of trouble and up to Toronto’s dynamic offense, and that should be that.
And they likely need to trade a secondary offensive player like Andreas Johnsson or Ilya Mikheyev.…or risk losing them to expansion.
To make the cap space necessary to re-sign Travis Dermott, and fill the holes left by Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci (which their departure might actually be addition by subtraction), the Leafs still need more cap space.
Nic Robertson can step in and play. That was obvious. And he’ll do it at $850,000 for the next three years. Bingo.
Mikheyev was good for the Leafs, but he needs a new contract, and might be too expensive to keep. Johnsson, well, you shouldn’t get $3.4 million to score 8 goals. If they shed depth above him like Nylander, he’s a good option to stay, and likely to see production increase, otherwise, he’s expendable.
What should they look for in return? Again, a middle pair defender.
If you don’t find a home for one or two forwards immediately, the Leafs will likely lose one of these skaters anyway via the expansion draft to Seattle.
Either redistribute assets and trade a few forwards, or lose one for free, and be a weaker team with no return.
Consider moving on from Frederik Andersen
This wouldn’t be easy, but the succession plan needs to start now.
When Freddie is hot, he’s a tough goaltender to beat. When 20-year-old Liam Foudy scores his first NHL goal from almost the goal line midway through the third period of a 1-0 elimination game…well, it can give you the “ick.” And once you’ve got the ick, it’s hard to see anything else.
Freddie’s numbers are declining, and he has not been able to get the Leafs over the hump. The problem is, $5 million for a starter is actually a decent price, and finding an upgrade will be difficult.
Robin Lehner, who the Leafs were already paying this season would be the best fit, but after being a 1A – 1B for years, he’s looking for the reigns.
Perhaps the best option is to bring in a slightly over the hill proven goalie who can push Freddie, and let him know that he’s not the only show in town. Then in 2-years when both of their contracts expire, the Leafs can make a real splash for a coveted starter.
Think Jimmy Howard or Jaroslav Halak.
Start Paying Players What They’re Worth
The Leafs are currently getting bargains from Zach Hyman and Morgan Reilly. Justin Holl might even turn into a bargain soon. Austin Matthews is a star. So we’ll forgive his price tag. But the Leafs have 3 of the 7 highest paid players in the league on their roster.
Toronto overpaid to keep their roster intact, forgetting half of their roster completely.
Filling holes with league minimum contracts is great if Jason Spezza wants to keep playing, but it doesn’t help a bad blueline, and no goaltending depth. And it doesn’t help with the intangibles that were evident from a Columbus team that simply outworked the star studded Leafs.
If it can’t be built, it shouldn’t be attempted to be bought.
Maybe Babcock’s hard line approach would have paid off with these underperformers (although I’m not blaming Sheldon Keefe).
Kyle Dubas will be on a very short leash…and likely not a gold, or platinum leash. He likely should look to add a little copper or aluminium to the stable. Reliable, useful, practical. Maybe then, he’ll be able to bring home a combination of silver and nickel…which is what the Stanley Cup is made of.