With the NHL playoffs looming, the anxieties of Toronto Maple Leafs fans are rising drastically. There has been talk all season long that, if the Leafs don’t at least get out of the first round, the job security of GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe will be jeopardized. However, if you remove yourself from the mania of the moment and take a sober look at the possibilities that are out there, it’s fair to expect Keefe and Dubas will be back next season for another crack at it.
Yes, there will be change coming if Toronto flops and loses to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round One again. But there will be change coming regardless of what happens. The salary cap crunch will peel away veterans such as forwards Alex Kerfoot and David Kampf, and defenseman Justin Holl. This is one of the reasons why Dubas acquired forward Sam Lafferty and blueliner Jake McCabe before the trade deadline; both Lafferty and McCabe will have very affordable cap hits next season, and Toronto can devote more cap space to potentially re-sign center Ryan O’Reilly if he meets expectations.
But ask yourself this: let’s say the worst-case scenario happens and Toronto goes out meekly against the Bolts. What big moves are there to be made? No matter whether it’s Dubas who remains in charge, or a new voice is brought in by team president Brendan Shanahan – what are the huge changes Leafs management will make?
For starters, they’re not going to be trading captain John Tavares, who has two more seasons left on his contract, with a cap hit of $11 million per year. Even if Tavares wanted out – and there’s no reason to suspect he does – that cap hit will prevent teams from taking him off Toronto’s hands.
Okay, let’s turn our attention to the Leafs’ other three members of the “core four” group of forwards. Is Dubas or anyone going to trade superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner? Don’t be ridiculous. No hockey mind will want to be remembered as the person who sent Marner or Matthews out of town. They’re here as long as they want to be here, and there’s nothing that’s been said or hinted at that would suggest they want out.
Ep 119: Patrick Mahomes' Top 5 List
by Full Press Coverage on May 27, 2023 at 7:49 pm
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That leaves us with star winger William Nylander, who has one year left on his current contract, with a cap hit of $6.9 million. Nylander has never been better than he’s been thus far this year, and there will be no shortage of suitors for his services if he’s made available via trade. But it doesn’t matter where he goes – the point is Toronto won’t get anything close to equal value for him in any potential move.
So, if the core four are still in place, and the Leafs have six defensemen under contract for next year, what can any management person do with the majority of the team? Change goalies? That’s probably the key area for Leafs brass to look at. If Matt Murray doesn’t get the job done in net, we can see Toronto buying out the last season of his contract, and go with a tandem of current No. 1 netminder Ilya Samsonov and youngster Joseph Woll. There is no quick fix between the pipes, and bringing back Samsonov and promoting Woll are probably the best options for the Buds.
It may be incredibly frustrating for Leafs fans to picture another season like this one – where Toronto romps through the regular season, only to wobble in the playoffs – but the realistic alternatives demonstrate staying the course could be the best decision management makes. The alternatives just don’t make sense.
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