If we base the upcoming salary cap off of CapFriendly's projection of $84M for the upcoming season, and that the 2021-'22 salary cap will likely stay stagnant, a significant salary will need to be shed from the Toronto Maple Leafs roster as a result of the Mikheyev, Dermott, Muzzin and Engvall extensions and extensions-to-be.
Dubas has stated that Dermott will be re-upped, likely on a bridge deal, while Mikheyev seems to lack any serious leverage as things stand due to the wrist injury that cost him a large chunk of his rookie season. However, a strong post-season could bring back some of the shine from his strong start to the season.
Frederik Andersen will be walking into his UFA season, while Zach Hyman will be in need of a raise from his current contract. Hyman does seem like the type to accept term while sacrificing his AAV to remain in the Blue and White, but the savings from such a discount likely equate to a veteran minimum contract at the most, so it's best to temper expectations. In the recent past, the Maple Leafs have chosen to hang onto their pending unrestricted free agents through the end of the season as they were competing for a playoff spot. But, with the a few goaltenders on the market, a rather stagnant salary cap and a future need in between the pipes; it would make some sense to explore trading Andersen in order to recoup some assets to a rather bare prospect cupboard if an extension isn't in the plans.
If Lehner or Markstrom are willing to take a similar or lesser salary to Andersen's with, say, a 3-year term. Based on this season's statistics, the Maple Leafs would stand to upgrade, while saving money, and avoiding the media fiasco that follows any UFA-to-be of relevance in Toronto. Or, if Henrik Lundqvist were to be bought out (somehow, someway), a tandem of Lundqvist/Campbell would allow for some cap savings to be exercised elsewhere on the roster.
Andersen's exit would ruffle some feathers within the Maple Leafs dressing room. It's no secret that he and Auston Matthews have grown close, as evidenced by their quarantining together in Matthews' Arizona home during the pandemic. Having said that, another early playoff exit this summer would likely be a precursor to some changes taking place along the fringes of the roster and it may send a message to the team's core that the playoffs are no longer enough. The goal is to contend, now.
I find it difficult to see a future that involves Kyle Clifford in a Maple Leafs uniform. The reality is that teams will pay for the off-ice attributes and the role that he plays on a team, that team isn't and hasn't been the Toronto Maple Leafs, since Dubas took over; With the cap stagnating, this will likely be exacerbated. Add that the 3rd round pick Toronto sent to Los Angeles in the Clifford trade, would turn into a 2nd upon Clifford re-upping and it seems even less likely. Although, the team did rally and fall in love with both Clifford the hockey player, and Clifford the person while providing a rambunctious element to this team that's been sorely missed for years. I could also see Pierre Engvall's $1.25M salary shopped around in the offseason if he doesn't regain the form he showed upon initially being called up. Dubas has proven to prefer surrounding his core with veteran minimum salaries, which will be in abundance in free agency with the current salary cap situation.
The Maple Leafs will likely use the playoffs to determine if Travis Dermott can play the right side alongside Morgan Rielly. If he can continue to build off of the last couple of games prior to the pause, the Maple Leafs would go into next season with a defence corps of:
Not exactly awe-inspiring, but a developing bunch nonetheless. Ideally, Holl would be on the third pairing with one of Sandin/Lehtonen until Liljegren was prepared to break through (which could coincide with Lehtonen's trial run, if he's unsuccessful). Holl is best suited as a 5th defenceman on a contending team, who can play up and down the lineup depending on the flow of the game and/or injuries.
Now, Dubas has shown interest in trading for T.J. Brodie, prior to Nazem Kadri vexing the deal to Calgary before being shipped out to Colorado for Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and Calle Rosen. Brodie is projected to receive a three year deal worth approximately $4.9M per season according to Evolving Hockey. He also excels in several advanced metrics that the Maple Leafs and Kyle Dubas prioritize, as evidenced by Jordan Maresky's article over on EditorInLeaf. If the Maple Leafs can offload Andersen and bring in Lundqvist on a veteran minimum contract, they can afford T.J. Brodie, if and when, one of Kapanen/Johnsson/Kerfoot are traded. While Brodie is a LHD, he's played RHD alongside Mark Giordano for years and that flexibility will be useful as Lehtonen, Sandin, Holl, Dermott and Liljegren continue to figure out their roles.
The logical assumption would be that Andreas Johnsson will likely be the first one on the trade block. But, coming off of injury, being older than Kasperi Kapanen, while offering less positional flexibility than Alexander Kerfoot, makes him a tough sell if you're trying to recoup any assets in the trade. Whereas moving out either of Kapanen or Kerfoot will net you a promising return, it also creates a void on the roster in grit/toughness with Kapanen and as previously stated, the positional flexibility that Kerfoot brings to the table. It's easy to say that we can bring back Jason Spezza and bring in Joe Thornton on veteran minimum deals to fill these holes, but you can't plan for free agency and the majority of these moves will have to take place prior to or at the NHL draft. Not to mention, in a condensed season (in terms of schedule, not GP's), these players will likely require more time off and lesser minutes than they would most seasons, so asking them to fill a top-9 role might be pushing the envelope. Nick Robertson on the other hand...
*While there hasn't been very much talk concerning the 2020-2021 season, an 82 game schedule in a shorter timespan will push teams to acquire more depth than usual, particularly if the minor league teams experience delays to their return to play timeline.
Back to Robertson: It would seem like a waste of time if he was returned to the OHL's Peterbrough Petes next season. If there isn't a junior season, the decision becomes easy, as the Maple Leafs will want Robertson to develop with the team. On the other hand, at this point, it would be surprising not to see him stick with the Maple Leafs. His puck pursuit, determination, fearlessness in the corners and in front of the net is something to behold, and as long as that package follows him to the NHL, it'll be awfully difficult to take his work ethic out of the lineup. Then you factor in his natural goal scoring ability and not only does he present a tantalizing floor, but also a high-end ceiling. The comparisons are being drawn to Brendan Gallagher, but he might end up closer to Brad Marchand in terms of skillset. And yes, it would seem he does possess a pesky element to this game. His special teams ability will only speed up his insertion into the Maple Leafs lineup.
Matthews will win his first Rocket Richard Trophy.
John Tavares breaks 40 goals.
Mitch Marner bounces back at 5v5 while Robertson's ascension's allows Marner to slot beside Matthews full-time.
Zach Hyman breaks the 25/25 plane for the first time while earning himself a contract extension just under $4M on a long term deal.
Nick Robertson - John Tavares - William Nylander become a tormenting force for opposing defences with their combination of shooting and passing ability forcing the other team on their toes shift after shift. Robertson likely gets dropped down every now and then, depending on matchups, until he proves his defensive aptitude (like any young player).
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Kapanen: become the team's shutdown line, allowing the top 2 lines to see the majority of the offensive zone starts/positive match-ups. With the possibility of moving any of the 3 of them up the lineup in defensive situations. Engvall and Barabanov will likely help out in this regard as well while all 5 players should be able to chip in offensively.
Engvall - Spezza - Barabanov: Will be relied upon to play low-event hockey, low minutes and move up and down the lineup as needed. Special teams will be the key to any meaningful ice-time as Keefe doesn't rely on it very much. Barabanov will be intriguing to watch at the beginning of the season. Like Mikheyev, being brought over from the KHL, there could be some more upside, though his KHL stats hardly compare to Mikheyev's so the expectations should be tempered.
Frederik Gauthier, Adam Brooks, Egor Korshkov, Denis Malgin, Kenny Agostino, Nic Petan, and Kalle Kossila will be the primary fill-ins up front, provided arbitration hearings don't favour Frederik Gauthier and Denis Malgin, and price them out of the Maple Leafs range, they should be able to provide sufficient experience and depth as needed throughout the season. While Martin Marincin, Calle Rosen, Teemu Kivihalme and Timothy Liljegren will likely be the primary call-ups on the back-end.
Ultimately, I do think that Andreas Johnsson is the piece that gets moved out due to the logjam on the wing, however I am dreading the potential return on a 7th round pick, who arrived as a late bloomer, coming off of an ACL tear while on the books for three more seasons at $3.4M/per. His role seems to be replaceable with the Maple Leafs collection of forwards at the major league level. And so, Johnsson seems to be the likely domino to fall (unless another injury arises and Pridham can work his LTIR magic).
Finding a taker for Kessel's $1.2M cap hit per season until 2021-'22 seems more important than ever to the Maple Leafs and I do think it gets done this offseason now that the team is no longer hiding behind LTIR, for now.
If and when Frederik Andersen moves on, Jack Campbell will be given the opportunity to play closer to a split amount of games with whoever else the Maple Leafs bring in. Replacing Andersen won't be easy, but I believe the organization would prefer to spend the resources elsewhere while allowing a competitive situation and riding the hot hand. The NHL is trending into a tandem goalie league as teams realize the importance of giving your team a chance to get points in the standings, every single time they play.
Travis Dermott will become a top-4 defenceman in 2020-'21. The pause likely benefitted Dermott more than any other healthy Leafs player. Dermott has undergone procedures on his shoulder the last 2 seasons and has been unable to properly train and delve into his offseason regimen in the two years since. A proper offseason on the heels of a strong playoff performance playing alongside Morgan Rielly, could be all his confidence required to take that next step.
Morgan Rielly - With his return to PP1 next season, I predict a 60-point bounce-back season after an injury riddled year in 2019-'20.
T.J. Brodie - Small chance (<25%) he signs in Toronto, though he is from the area and Dubas does seem enamoured by the player, someone will be able to offer more money and term. While including Toronto on your No-Trade Clause may lead you to believe he has no interest of playing in Toronto, most players include teams that have known interest in them on their no-trade list in order to exercise more control over their final destination if they are moved. Though, Toronto can be out of a lot of players' comfort zones.
Rasmus Sandin should control the PP2 while moving up the lineup when the Maple Leafs are down in games, while possible seeing less ice time whenever Toronto has the lead. The important thing will be getting Sandin used to playing 82 games at the NHL level, and putting him in opportunities to succeed while letting the rest of his game continue to develop.
Mikko Lehtonen will likely be sheltered similarly to see Sandin at the start of the season, but if his confidence and ability are able to shine through, the training wheels will be taken off and he could push Travis Dermott for minutes in the top-4, while posing a threat to Sandin's minutes on the second powerplay. Lehtonen will also see some second-unit PK time and as a 26 year old, who was just named KHL defenceman of the year, the training wheels will come off much sooner than they would on Sandin, or our next player...
Timothy Liljegren, as Pridham has stated, he's likely going to be the first call-up option whenever the Maple Leafs develop injuries on the back-end. But, even more so than Sandin, will need to be put in situations to succeed while he develops his confidence. Liljegren should be closer than Sandin defensively, but he seems to struggle with confidence and that mental hurdle more than Sandin does, so it may take Liljegren longer to get into the swing of things if his initial call-up is any indication. His stretch passing and breakout ability is the most natural we've seen since Jake Gardiner, so he should be an interesting player to watch if/once it all finally clicks.
Jack Campbell - continue being the greatest guy in the locker room while being an above average backup and Toronto will continue to shower you with love. Could be part of a tandem if Andersen has a poor playoff and his cap hit is deemed expendable...
Frederik Andersen - This playoff run will likely determine Freddie's fate in the Blue and White. I don't see the Maple Leafs extending him after next season. But if he plays poorly, after a down season, he could be shopped for assets while the team looks for a cheaper option to pair with Campbell. With the current salary climate, Andersen seems like the biggest wild card heading into next year. While one of Kerfoot/Johnsson/Kapanen seems like a given to be traded, teams with a need could view Andersen as the bigger trade chip.