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Maple Leafs have some decisions to make

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It might seem like the off-season is months away, but the clock is ticking on some decisions.

Saginaw Spirit v Peterborough Petes Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

While the NHL season doesn’t end until June 30, there are some things the Leafs need to look at before that date and the beginning of free agency.

The first one is on April 30, when KHL contracts expire. The Leafs have been rumoured to be interested in depth defence signing Igor Ozhiganov, but they may have their eyes on other players. That conversation runs into the whole month of May, as the World Championships showcase who is hot and who isn’t.

But the other thing the Leafs need to deal with is their stable of previously drafted players. Some rights expire on June 1, and the Leafs have been silent so far on the issue of who they want to sign out of that group.

Pierre Engvall

Engvall was drafted in 2014, and prior to a terrible injury earlier this year, he had one very good season in the Allsvenskan and some serious question marks about his potential. He came back hard from a broken collar bone and played his way up the lineup in a good SHL team, earned the obvious respect of his coach, and scored a decent amount for a player who had spent a lot of minutes on the fourth line.

And then he came to Toronto for the second time and stormed onto the Marlies, much like Carl Grundstrom did last year. He is a fixture on the Marlies playoff roster, and has eight points in nine regular season games and two goals prior to Sunday’s game in the playoffs.

The caveat on Engvall is that he has a history of scoring in streaks for a few weeks and then not at all for more than a few. But there’s nothing obviously troubling about his game so far in the AHL, even if he is not the fastest skater on the team.

He is under contract to HV71 next season in Sweden, but he would be able to play in the AHL if the Leafs decided to sign him to an NHL ELC. Would he take an AHL deal? Maybe not. The Leafs are moving out of their days of having to watch every SPC spot, though. So they don’t have to be quite so conservative with ELCs as they were when they let Dominic Toninato walk.

J.J. Piccinich

Technically still under NHL draft rights, Piccinich is a rookie on the Orlando Solar Bears and doing very well. He’s on an AHL contract, and I don’t expect the Leafs to offer him an NHL deal. I do expect them to offer him another AHL deal, however.

Keaton Middleton

Middleton, who has been a fixture at development and prospect camps the last few years, has now completed four years in the OHL, but he is only 20. He can play an overage year if he and his team want him. He was the captain of the Saginaw Spirit this season.

Many of us expected him to get an official ATO with the Marlies this spring, and he didn’t. We have no information as to why that is, but it doesn’t seem like the organization has soured on him.

Is he ELC material? Well, I think someone has to eventually fill Justin Holl’s skates in the AHL, and Middleton has the potential to be that. Beyond that, it seems unlikely right now, but people can surprise you.

Vladimir Bobylyov

Even though Bobylyov is Russian and now playing in the VHL in Russia, he was drafted as a WHL player and his rights are expiring. He has struggled in Russia to find his niche after first accepting an AHL deal and then leaving without playing any games in Orlando. I don’t see the fit here.

Nicolas Mattinen

Mattinen’s situation is complicated by the fact that his team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, are very much still in the OHL playoffs. He’s scored a good, but not exceptional, amount this season for Hamilton after a trade from London got him a bigger role. I would expect the Leafs to be scouting the playoffs and decide on this player once his season ends.

Bona Fide Offers

We usually ignore this provision of the CBA, but we learned with Jack Walker that it isn’t automatic that every draft pick is given one. Bona fide offers must be made by June 1 following a player’s draft, so they are due for any player drafted last summer, unless they were drafted from outside North America or from college — players from Canadian junior leagues are the ones we need to worry about.

(e) A “Bona Fide Offer” is an offer of an SPC which is for a period corresponding to the Player’s age as required under Section 9.1(b) of this Agreement, is to commence at the start of the next League Year, offers at least the Minimum Paragraph 1 Salary as set forth in Section 11.12 of this Agreement for each League Year covered by such offer and remains open to the Player for at least thirty (30) days after receipt of the offer by the Player. A Bona Fide Offer may be conditioned upon acceptance by the Player within thirty (30) days and carries no right to salary arbitration.

NHL CBA

Essentially, the player is offered a minimum salary ELC deal, which they generally don’t take, but it’s a formality to say the team is still interested. In the case of Jack Walker, who now plays for the Iowa Wild, no offer was made, and the Leafs’ rights lapsed. They did not announce this right away, but did confirm it when a journalist reported on it.

There is a long list of players in this situation this summer, and we should expect to hear nothing about them unless another exception is made with no offer is extended. Given the Walker situation, it’s possible someone might ask outright about the players who are due a bona fide offer. But with the Leafs, you never know what they won’t make public.


Cap Friendly is, of course, your one stop shop for contract information, including their best information on rights expiration.

Once these players are dealt with, the next issue to confront the Leafs, other than the draft itself, is expiring RFAs. We’ll cover that in more depth in the coming days.