For years now the Leafs have had a group of players who remained year-in, year-out. Once Auston Matthews was added in 2016 and then John Tavares in 2018, the fivesome that make up the core (sorry, but it is the only correct term) of the team have remained. And many, many people have wanted that changed virtually from the very first day.

We all walked into this offseason surrounded by a cacophony of demands for change. Not actually as loud as last season, mostly because, I believe, people in the media genuinely believed the Leafs were going to trade someone. They just seemed to think the team had to. And yet, no move can be just made easily because of no-move clauses in contracts.

After a month of, "They need to," but, "They can't," but "They will find a way," but, "There is no way," and "Maybe they won't," we now have, "They have to wait until next year." Which means it's back to trying to fit in the best possible support players the cap space allows. Something the Leafs have tried very hard to do since the beginning. And that means players leave before they get paid more. I don't know about everyone else, but I don't have a lot of regrets about those cap casualties, save for the big one – Zach Hyman.

The UFAs this year are all mostly leaving.

Matt Murray

Trading for Matt Murray was a clever scheme on Kyle Dubas's part. And for one brief moment when he was fully healthy, he was pretty good. The Leafs did that very Leafy thing (the true meaning of that word) and helped him recover form his injury with all their resources even though he was never playing for them again. What his future will be is unclear because the only thing more difficult to understand than a goalie who has played is one who hasn't.

I'm not sure he's going to make a comeback, though.

John Klingberg

A mistake of a signing with fully foreseeable on-ice results, John Klingberg actually got worse than his former status as one of the worst defenders in the NHL. I take a hard line with evaluating this player. I don't think he's been a top-pairing player save for a few years at his peak performance age. His points obscured his overall negative value as he declined long before he hit Anaheim. Brad Treliving got lucky that his clever scheme, like Dubas's before him, was injured enough to go on LTIR.

I have no idea if he ever plays again.

TJ Brodie

Speaking of decline – it was a theme of this season for the Leafs. It was tough to watch TJ Brodie fail at defence after three years where he was Toronto's defence. He was unplayable by the playoffs. At 34, a change in usage is coming for him, but it won't be on the Leafs.

Mark Giordano

Which is sadder, Brodie, suffering the loss of his father last summer and not finding his game on the ice or Giordano, losing his father in-season and struggling to hold onto a third-pairing job. Giordano is actually, at 40, still playable. He had a significantly better season than the two guys above him on this list. I don't want his career to end this way, and he says it hasn't, but it's painful that he couldn't have gotten more chants of "Gio" at the end of this season.

Ilya Lyubushkin

I think his window of playing a simple NHL game that adds value has closed. Which means he'll get passed around from team to team to deliver big hits for a few more years, but there's not enough speed there to carry him when the hitting stops.

Ilya Samsonov

Signing Samsonov was a nice try at finding a goalie whose bad seasons in the past were a fluke. Turns out it was the good one in Toronto that may have been the anomaly. It's amazing to realize Toronto played their worst goalie for 40 games and started him in the playoffs. But they won't be re-signing him, and the Star story linked above has that as sourced information if you needed confirmation.

Martin Jones

What seemed like a last desperate signing to get a third goalie who could clear waivers turned out to be the best choice made about netminders last year. Nothing causes more trouble than success though. Would he clear now as a number three again? The Leafs might consider him for that role, but I bet someone will be convinced by the .902 Save % to give him more money as a backup.

Joel Edmundson

I was surprised by how much I liked him on the Leafs. He isn't Giordano level, he never was, but for a low price he's worth it as a third-pairing and PK guy. The Leafs might do that, but they might also look to get that for less money, which they should be able to do.

Kyle Clifford and Dylan Gambrell

These two played the whole season in the AHL where they were both regulars. I don't think either have any recall potential to the NHL. I assume they'll find new homes.

Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi

My read on reports, and more crucially what hasn't been said, is that the Leafs want to sign Bertuzzi and will make it work but aren't willing to pay in AAV or term what Domi wants.

I'm guessing the Bertuzzi discussion is mostly that thorny issue of AAV and term as a linked pair. Here's a ruthless Vegasy way to look at it. Give Bertuzzi lots of term to get the AAV down, and assume that a guy who plays like he does will finish his career on LTIR anyway. Sometimes you really shouldn't worry about the final couple of years in a contract.

That's the UFAs, and the RFAS are a mixed bag:

The AHLers

Keith Petruzzelli has arbitration rights, and the correct course of action is to not qualify him. He was only ever signed to be the emergency goalie hologram.

Max Lajoie is a borderline NHLer who has such a negative impact on offence, he likely won't ever stick beyond emergency recall duties. He also has arbitration rights, and I expect him to go unqualified.

Issuing a Qualifying Offer lets the player in these salary categories get a raise by default. For players who legitimately should be earning minimum salary, it's much more likely they go unqualified and then re-sign or go UFA and sign a minimum salary deal elsewhere.

Alex Steeves and Matt Ellis are both 24, both AHLers and both are on minimum salary deals. The only way they're returning is with something similar. The Leafs may qualify Steeves as a maybe NHL recall option, but he's shown zero reason to consider him for the NHL so far.

The Depth

Connor Dewar has arbitration rights, and was signed to an $850,000 AAV deal by the Wild. The Leafs would be wise to re-sign him, but they will likely want him at less than that.

Noah Gregor has arbitration rights and should not be qualified.

Nick Robertson does not have arbitration rights, and his qualifying offer is $813,750. The Leafs should re-sign him at a low price since he has some value as a depth scorer. He is only 22, has no real trade value and is not a player anyone should wring their hands over regarding waivers.

Timothy Liljegren

I assume he'll be traded, likely before or at the draft, but for sure before any arbitration hearing could happen. He's 25, at peak age, and not likely to get better any way but by finding a better fit. He is an NHL depth defender, and a right shooter, with the kinds of tantalizing skills – agility, puck skills and a big shot that looks better than it is – that will tempt someone to assume Sheldon Keefe just didn't understand him.

That's the lot. I don't feel any sadness this year for anyone but Gio and Brodie. That got used up by Zach Hyman and the trade for Rasmus Sandin. Last year was bittersweet to have to see one of my favourites, Ryan O'Reilly, leave after not really working out. This year I'm just afraid I'm wrong about my guesses regarding who gets re-signed.

June is not when you should form your opinion of the team for next year, and yet we will to some extent. Even July 1 is too early. The Leafs need to do very smart things in free agency to set themselves up for this year and the future. Last year was the easy job of just filling the gaps for the short term. That strategy was plainly telegraphed by Brad Treliving when he was hired. I think they've now reaped what they sowed with their own caution and delay by not being able to trade anyone, but that is what it is, and the new, harder job has to get done.

No more John Klingbergs though, eh?