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Maple Leafs Free Agency Recap

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The holiday is over, and it’s time to get back to the excitement of offseason.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Calgary Flames Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

The Leafs began their offseason in August when they got what might end up standing as the best return on a player trade in this offseason. There’s been some player for player swaps that were interesting, but for a player under contract with a return of futures, nothing has touched the Kasperi Kapanen deal.

Trades

The first-round pick became Rodion Amirov, while Filip Hållander is happily back on the top line in the SHL playing another season. In a surprise twist, Evan Rodrigues decided to go back to Pittsburgh for a one-year minimum salary deal that leaves him a UFA at the end.

Aside from the three draft-pick trades made during the second day of the draft, the Leafs have made only one other trade so far, which amply shows how the market for players has collapsed since August:

Chris Johnston, on the Steve Dangle Podcast said there were other potential deals for Johnsson, but they involved draft picks. It seems (heavy emphasis on seems here) that the Leafs wanted a player in return, and they got one who is not the traditional scoring-first winger or puck-moving defender they tend to draft.

Signings

The Leafs re-signed RFA Denis Malgin and UFA Jason Spezza for matching $700,000 league-minimum deals.

Wayne Simmonds was signed for $1.5 million, in a deal that was finalized before the noon deadline on Friday. He picked a new jersey number very quickly, and the Leafs had Simmonds’ jerseys for sale before they’d signed their next player.

The next player signed was the most meaningful. T.J. Brodie arrived late on Friday for $5 million per year:

The Brodie signing was a surprise because very good insider information said the Leafs were looking to trade for a defender. Johnson on that podcast may have hinted at an explanation for that when he said there had been a scenario where Florida’s MacKenzie Weegar was traded to the Leafs. He still could be. Well, anything is possible until it’s not. So, sure, he could be.

The Leafs added three depth signings over the weekend on one-year deals:

Boyd signed for $700,000, Vesey for $900,000, and Bogosian for $1 million.

The total added to the roster in cost since the Kapanen trade is: $10,500,000 or less than one Mitch Marner. Brodie’s is the only deal that doesn’t expire next offseason.

The total subtracted from the NHL roster in two trades is: $6,600,000 from this season and next with $3.4 million off the books for 2022-2023.

Next Steps

The Maple Leafs have three RFAs to sign now, with Ilya Mikheyev going to arbitration and Travis Dermott and Joey Anderson sitting on Qualifying Offers of $874,125. The earliest possible arbitration hearing is Tuesday, October 20, and hearings were supposed to begin to be scheduled yesterday. Qualifying Offers can be accepted until Sunday, October 18.

The expectation is that the rapid onset of arbitration this offseason, and the new rule that prohibits a settlement once the hearing begins will mean most will be settled quickly with no hearing required.

Including those three RFAs, the total number of players under contract who could realistically play in the NHL are: 19 forwards, 11 defenders and 2 goalies. While some of the forwards are highly unlikely — like Kenny Agostino, they still are available.

The Maple Leafs will likely trade away someone on defence, although the very bottom of that 11-name list can just hang around until training camp, since no one is offering much in trade for Martin Marincin or Calle Rosen.

They need to sign a third-string goalie, and the pickings have gotten extremely slim. It’s possible this will be done via trade.

The potential exists to make substitutions to both the defence and forward portions of the roster as players become available. Johnston mentioned Joe Thornton. Thornton spends most offseasons in Davos, Switzerland and has indicated he might play some Swiss hockey this season.

There’s months yet to make a decision like that, so if Thornton wants to wait, the Leafs can wait too.

A revisit of the Weegar idea is entirely possible, and can be done within the salary cap, but it would require some trades, almost certainly Justin Holl.

There has been a lot of talk from many sources lately about Mikko Lehtonen. I’ve seen Finnish hockey media saying that he will absolutely play in the NHL. Johnston says he’s been told he absolutely will play top four. And I remain as always wary of these earnest pronouncements. I’ve heard it about Nikita Zaitsev, Miro Aaltonen, Ilya Mikheyev, Vadim Shipachyov and now Lehtonen. Some of those players worked out better than others, but all had top-line/top-pair roles in the KHL. The transition isn’t guaranteed to be successful.

My belief is that Lehtonen will either legitimately earn a top-four role or he’ll have a very short stay on the team, but he is on loan and will be at Maple Leafs training camp whenever that begins, so that does make the defence roster very crowded.

That’s where we stand now with an overloaded bottom half of the roster and no real need to do anything about that for a lot of weeks. Kyle Dubas has not spoken to the press since he — I’ll go with implied — that they were done for the day three hours before the Brodie signing. That fact says there’s some irons in fires still, but what those are is hard to say. The Leafs have broken the news on several of these deals themselves this year, so they seem to be operating with fewer leaks.

There are zero salary cap concerns for the Leafs. They have over $5 million in offseason cap space, and can wait a very long time to make decisions on the roster.