clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Maple Leafs have some puzzle pieces missing in next year’s rosters

New, comments

The NHLers under contract for next year plus the expiring RFAs are the core of the Leafs and the Marlies. Where is the roster thin?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

The list of prospects the Maple Leafs currently control is a nice, straightforward proposition. Figuring out who they have in each position for the NHL and the minor league teams is trickier. There have been some AHL signings, and there will absolutely be more. NHL free agency will come along and fill the gaps, and at some undetermined time this summer, the RFAs will get qualified and arbitration hearings will take place.

Not every RFA does get qualified, but most do, so for now we can make some assumptions about who will be under contract to the Leafs next season. Kyle Dubas signed some of the host of NHL-contracted AHL tweeners to two-year deals last summer, so some of those roster spots that go to free agents every year are already filled.

To begin, this is all the NHL-contracted players who are not going to return to junior hockey, as well as all the expiring RFAs. Expiring UFAs have been left off.

Maple Leafs Hiatus Depth Chart For 2020

C LW RW D - L D - R G
C LW RW D - L D - R G
John Tavares Andreas Johnsson Mitch Marner Morgan Rielly Justin Holl Frederik Andersen
Auston Matthews Zach Hyman William Nylander Jake Muzzin Timothy Liljegren Jack Campbell
Alexander Kerfoot Ilya Mikheyev Kasperi Kapanen Travis Dermott Jesper Lindgren Joseph Woll
Frederik Gauthier Pierre Engvall Alexander Barabanov Rasmus Sandin Joe Duszak Ian Scott
Kalle Kossila Kenny Agostino Denis Malgin Calle Rosen Mac Hollowell -
Adam Brooks Pontus Aberg Nic Petan Martin Marincin - -
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev Jeremy Bracco Teemu Kivihalme - -
- - Egor Korshkov Kristians Rubins - -
- - Max Veronneau Filip Kral - -

The sorting by left and right side is very basic for now, and the issue of which winger is slightly better than the other is for arguing, not for judging the roster needs. We’re seeing more and more wingers play either side, including some of the top six players, so all of that means less than it used to. From the third line in the NHL and below, the distinction between centres and wingers gets hazy as well. The imbalance in handedness for defenders is not news to Leafs fans.

The top nine is fairly set in stone at the NHL level, with holes showing up at the depth and minor league levels. There is an obvious opening for not one, but two NHL-calibre right-shooting defenders, with only Timothy Liljegren likely to seriously challenge for an internal promotion. There’s “too many” left-shooting defenders at the NHL level, and there is the absolute bare minimum of goalies. You must have three at all times per the CBA, but four is the more plausible lower threshold. When one of the four is coming off serious surgery, it’s not really enough.

The RFAs

The cap hits are fairly impossible to add up because there’s a host of RFAs to be signed, so for today, this discussion will stick mostly to roster needs, not cost.

There is no clarity on when contracts will expire, when qualifying offers for RFAs will be due and when arbitration deadlines will fall. All of that usually happens in June, but with the NHL currently on pause, those dates are likely to be postponed. If the NHL ends up unable to play at all for the rest of this season, all of that June action may happen at leisure in August. If they can get this season’s playoffs in, it might happen in a very big hurry when that’s over.

There is nothing stopping NHL teams and players coming to agreements on extensions right now, but we’re at the point where almost nothing about the near future in the NHL is certain, including next year’s salary cap, and that might make teams hesitate to act.

Maple Leafs Expiring RFAs

With arbitration rights:
  • Ilya Mikheyev
  • Denis Malgin
  • Frederik Gauthier
  • Max Veronneau
  • Adam Brooks
  • Pontus Aberg
  • Teemu Kivihalme
Without arbitration rights:
  • Travis Dermott
  • Jeremy Bracco

The top two of concern are Mikheyev and Dermott, and nothing else matters much. Most, if not all of these players will be qualified, with only Veronneau, being a bit of an unknown factor on the Marlies. The Leafs got him in a trade by sending Aaron Luchuk back to the Ottawa Senators, and he is an established AHLer.

The curious case of Jeremy Bracco might yet end in trade or it might end in him coming back for a second chance on the Marlies. His amazing season last year fizzled away to to a trade request (reportedly) this season. He sat out for about a month prior to the hiatus for unexplained “personal reasons” and came back just before the suspension of games. He didn’t play, however. If he uses this time off wisely, we might all forget that ever happened.

Denis Malgin will likely re-sign, although he’s got the option to play in Switzerland to use to bargain with. The slightly unfortunate timing for the Leafs having all those players with arbitration rights is a challenge to overcome. Arbitration absolutely results in a raise, and some of these players have qualifying offers that would make them less attractive as callups after an arbitration award if the cap is tight. There have been several cases of players on the Marlies/Leafs taking team-friendly reduced AAVs as RFAs with arbitration rights in order to get more term. That kind of clever scheme could work for Pontus Aberg or Frederik Gauthier, but it’s not likely to solve the problem of Travis Dermott.

For Dermott, we might see a repeat of the Andreas Johnsson gambit, where he simply accepted his qualifying offer for one year and then bargained for a real contract the next summer when he had arbitration rights. We might see the Leafs successfully lock down Dermott for a couple of years at a salary they can live with. They have time to think this over.

Until we have clarity on Mikheyev and Dermott, though, guessing at how much the Leafs can add next year in contract dollars is fairly hopeless.

They clearly have some roster needs, and not just for someone to take on Kasimir Kaskisuo’s role in net for the Marlies As a UFA this offseason, Kaskisuo might be playing that role himself, but someone has to be signed. The expectation is that as a team rebuilds and their prospects dwindle, they need more AHL-contracted players or NHL free agents to fill up their minor league team. For an organization like the Leafs, who fill the ECHL with AHLers and even some NHLers (most teams don’t), that requires an influx every year.

Next time I’ll list the AHL-contracted players and see if we can judge how many new faces the Leafs need. One thing to remember, though, is that Kyle Dubas’s view of too many defenceman is a much bigger number than most fans think it is.