The Maple Leafs have a host of UFAs and RFAs to re-sign, or not as the case may be. Most of the UFAs seem to be unlikely to return, but the RFA picture is less clear. Teams usually re-sign RFAs when they are in the NHL. But cap constraints might make keeping some of these players unlikely for the Leafs this year.
First a review of the Restricted Free Agent process.
All RFAs a team intends to sign have to be issued a Qualifying Offer by the deadline, which is July 11 this year, two days before free agency. If a player isn’t given a QO, they become a UFA on July 13.
Pierre Engvall - $1.25 million, one-way QO, Arbitration Rights
The amount and the one-way/two-way option of a QO is determined by the prior contract, games played and waiver status. Teams do not get to choose what the amount is.
Pierre Engvall got a substantial raise to his current $1.25 million in 2020, and now he can either negotiate a new deal or elect arbitration.
Engvall has three full NHL seasons where he played in most of the games. He has seen his even-strength ice time go up from 10.5 per game to 11.58, while his PK ice time has fluctuated. He is not choice number one on the PK, he is a frequent second-unit choice, though. He joined the second unit PP for this season, and logged 44 total minutes there.
As a fairly low-minute player, Engvall can have a slightly skewed experience of quality of competition. This is impossible with more minutes played, but he was often kept away from top lines and top-pairing defenders as a member of the third or fourth line.
He is a versatile depth player with no top-six upside, and an extremely predictable points rate. He shoots from all over the ice, and after a very poor 2020-2021 in Individual Expected Goals, this season was better. It didn’t result in more goals, however, and his shooting skill is replacement level. As the weakest player on a third line, he has some useful transition and forechecking skills. As the best player on a fourth line, the offensive zone time won’t result in good scoring chances.
Engvall is 26 in a few weeks, and realistic explorations of his value should treat him as an effective UFA.
Ondřej Kaše - $1.25 million, two-way QO, Arbitration Rights
Kaše’s situation now is almost identical to Engvall’s, but his history is markedly different. He turns 27 this winter, so he should also be considered effectively a UFA. He has a much longer NHL career, one that used to see him play regular top-line minutes, but those days seem to be truly over.
Kaše played a middle-six to fourth line role on the Leafs and faced a regular run of competition. He produces good quality individual offence, and has some small amounts of shooting skill and a history of even better shooting. His utility ends at 20 feet from the net however, and his overall value rates out as replacement level at even strength. He also played 43 minutes on the second unit PP, where he scored four goals at an absurd shooting % of 36. That boost to his points totals makes up for his tepid assists overall. If he used to be a good playmaker, he’s not now.
His goals, ice time, and the number of games he played is a mixed answer about about his recovery from long-term concussion problems. He doesn’t have as good an arbitration case as Engvall, mostly because he has fewer points in fewer games.
The Leafs have to decide if they can afford to re-sign him or if they even should.
Rasmus Sandin - $874,125, two-way QO & Timothy Liljegren - $874,125, two-way QO
These two are the future of the team defence and their first contracts post-ELC are the most important contract question along with Jack Campbell. But while they both played some meaningful NHL games, Liljegren only got two playoff games, and Sandin had none due to injury. They don’t have a great case to negotiate a big raise now. They don’t have arbitration rights until next year, either.
In this situation Travis Dermott took a deal at his QO amount, but Kasperi Kapanen got three years at $3.2 million coming of a full NHL season of success. Trevor Moore, who had only played part of one season when he came off his ELC, signed for two years at barely over minimum salary. He got his raise when he’d proven himself in LA. Zach Hyman had just played his first full NHL season when he signed a four year deal for $2.25 million, one of the forgotten big successes by Lou Lamoriello. Connor Brown was squeezed into a three-year $2.1 million deal that was closer to his real worth than many believed in the same year.
Sandin’s injuries have done him no favours on the contract front, and Liljegren losing out to Holl for playoff time doesn’t help him either. The decisions here are complex — try to get a bargain AAV with term like the Hyman deal, or let them take one year at a low number knowing they’ll have arbitration to fall back on next year? Chances are the salary cap will go up by only one or two million in the year after next, so whenever these two get a real raise, it’s not going to be easy to make the roster work.
- Chad Krys - $874,125
- Kristiāns Rubīns - $787,500 - Arbitration Rights
- Joe Duszak - $787,500 - Arbitration Rights
- Ian Scott - $874,125/
Rubīns might be the only player signed out of this group, and his deal won’t be significant. If Ian Scott can still play, he may return on a minimum salary deal.
Tomorrow is a full look at the salary cap picture in the offseason and for next year where the reality of negotiating deals this offseason becomes clear.