I've been doing these articles for a few years now, and none of them have been as unclear as this year's version. Usually this sort of thing is mostly obvious, but Kyle Dubas (clearly intentionally) left the team in a state where it can be radically altered this summer while not touching the core players. With a new GM at the helm, and we're flying blind when it comes to guessing on his likely moves.
I'm going to try to start with some easy ones:
It barely needs to be cited, but several reports have said Schenn is definitely returning – albeit before Dubas was fired. I sure didn't expect to be happy about having Schenn at the deadline, but I am. I like his simple game, and reducing the headlong rushes to backcheck rush chances against will make his game look even better. I think Brad Treliving will bring him back.
Not returning. Even if there's a different coach, I don't think his power play abilities, used so effectively by the Capitals, translate to the Leafs in any way. Sheldon Keefe can barely bring himself to play him, so that's it for him.
Cheap defensive forward who doesn't score is what it says on the label, and so he is. Everyone hated him because he didn't score. The trouble for ZAR is that his on-ice GF% was the worst of any regular player. The trouble with laying that at his door, is that it was true for all of the low-minute depth. I think it's enough to say he's gone, though. He's just too negative of an offensive factor, and Sam Lafferty has made him redundant.
I think he's retiring. And while I wish his time on the Leafs had gone better, he is a good man, an asset to the game, and it was good to have him.
I love this guy. I'm very attracted to smart people, and to have someone play the hard man so damn smart... irresistible. He was so damn good, and proved he can handle a fast-paced offence-focused team as well as the heavily structured environment he played in in Boston. He's going to cost money. I think he's going off to some Metro team, and if the Devils are smart... but maybe the Leafs can make an offer he'll take.
When the Leafs depth became, well, kind of bad, a lot of the blame fell on Kämpf, and many people would be unwilling to pay what he's likely due now that he's been on a team not as bad as Chicago. But I keep seeing a moment in my mind when the whistle went and he was standing in the Leafs zone looking like he'd just done battle with Sam Bennett – he had – and he was the best player in that game. That's a swipe at Auston Matthews performance that night, but it isn't just that. It's a credit to Kämpf too. I'm actually more sorry that I think he's likely gone than I am about most of what I have called the nine or 10 third liners on the Leafs who are leaving. He'd be cheaper than Kerfoot, though.
Now the harder ones.
At some point you have to stop replacing every player in some quest to have the cheapest team in creation. I think Kerfoot is the point where you stop. There is never a better time to re-up a guy than when he's just come off the worst shooting percentage season of his life, too. He is too versatile, too useful, too damn good a soldier to let walk. But I don't think he's coming back, because he'll cost $4 million.
This man was a horse who got used hard in the playoffs. His numbers are shit, and they are shit because he was thrown up against all the lines the Leafs top six couldn't score against, and he did the best he could – excelling at times with the right wingers. I don't think that game was his forte, I think he'd be ideal as the 2C with John Tavares on the wing. I don't think the Leafs are getting him for that role at a price they are willing to pay. But much like the question of re-signing Kerfoot, there comes a point when you can't let every forward with some checking ability walk away because the price is high. It's hard not to feel Zach Hyman looming over this offseason like Banquo's ghost. At some point, this letting players walk becomes the team draining away like water. I don't have very objective feelings about O'Reilly. But I was looking over the NHL forwards in general, and I said to myself, you know, this team needs a Joe Pavelski. ROR + Tavares gives you that and a whole lot more. But the price, though, and the small problem that he didn't seem to like Toronto too much. He's gone.
Do not re-sign this man. It's totally fruitless to say this has nothing to do with his suspension or his issues with the refs. He can fix that himself, and it wouldn't exactly be that difficult, but everyone will assume the dramatic reason is why the choice will be made. No, this is down to one simple fact: whatever made him an asset to Auston Matthews in his first Toronto season vanished entirely last year. He's about to turn 28, and he's going to get enough years that his cap hit will look fine in year four or five. Which will be nice for whoever signs him, but the Leafs need to improve at left wing, not hold the line for a higher cost now. I consider him co-ruler of the land of third-liners the Leafs have along with Ryan O'Reilly, and of the two of them, it's O'Reilly who is worth paying. Instead, the Leafs will likely have neither.
I've saved the best for last:
I think Sheldon Keefe benched him for his on-ice save %, which is stupid, but coaches have to stand there with the camera on them after a goal against, and I don't. I think Holl is useful, and I don't really care how mad people get who only look at the proximate cause of goals against. Maybe he'd like a nice and quite few years on the Wild, though. With Dubas gone, that's likely the end of him on the Leafs.
Minor League RFAs
Erik Källgren won't re-sign, I don't see any reason for either party to do that deal. Radim Zahorna was not a value add. Jordie Benn and Carl Dahlström will exit – Dahlström already has a deal in Europe. There's also some AHL RFAs, all of whom will likely be qualified and return.
For all of these players, and for any free agents to be signed from elsewhere, now is a good time for a team to agree to term. Particularly if the cap ceiling only rises by $1 million, a deal now will age well – likely better than the player.
Are the Leafs in a position to make term commitments, though? I said last year that Dubas was leaving the team in a state where a new GM could really make a mark – or he himself could make radical changes. That's great, but you need a clear organizational mandate to do those things. And so far, all we know is some very vague statements from Treliving that amount to nothing.
I'm not touching the notion of who might be traded away in a deal to fill other holes – that's too complex a picture to guess at. We don't really know if any players will be traded, or if all the open positions will have new faces and that's the end of it. One way or another, it's going to be a very interesting four weeks as we find all this out.