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Maple Leafs have a few more RFAs to sign

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With the big RFA contract already done, there’s a pair of NHL regulars left to sign and a few top AHL players as well.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs got busy early and signed Nikita Zaitsev, their really big looming RFA deal. Because they’ve got so much compete, I put a list together of the rest of them needing contracts.

2017 Toronto Maple Leafs RFAs

Name Position 2016 Salary Arbitration Eligible Waivers Exempt Next Season
Name Position 2016 Salary Arbitration Eligible Waivers Exempt Next Season
Zach Hyman F 900,000 Yes No
Connor Brown F 686,667 No No
Sergei Kalinin F 800,000 Yes No
Justin Holl D 742,500 Yes Yes
Antoine Bibeau G 655,000 No Yes
Seth Griffith F 625,000 Yes No
Garret Sparks G 575,000 Yes No

How this all works

The key dates in RFA signings are a little different this year. In order for an RFA to meet the exposure requirements for the expansion draft, they must be under contract for next year. For goalies, they must have at least a qualifying offer.

“Huh?” I hear you saying.

The rules for the expansion draft are explained at the top of this post, but in brief, each team must expose two forwards, one defender and one goalie who meet the requirements.

The qualifying offer is the base level contract that a team must give a player to keep them as an RFA beyond July 1 if they don’t have them signed to a contract.

The Leafs have only one goaltender under contract for next year who isn’t exempt from the expansion draft. And they aren’t exposing Frederik Andersen, so sometime between now and June 17, the Leafs either have to issue a QO to one of Garret Sparks or Antoine Bibeau, or they have to sign some other goalie to a contract for next season.

With that wrinkle out of the way, the rest of the timeline is as follows (last year’s post has a deeper explanation of all this if you want it):

Teams retain exclusive rights to negotiate a new contract with an RFA as long as they extend a qualifying offer by the deadline. That deadline this year is 5pm New York time on June 26, 2017.

If the QO is never issued and no deal is signed, the RFA becomes a UFA on July 1.

Will the Leafs just sign everyone?

Not likely. Sergei Kalinin is heavily rumoured to be going to the KHL. But other than him, the biggest question is how much will those top two get, and will the Leafs cut bait on some of those AHLers. None of them are going to be expensive, so there won’t be a Stu Percy issue where he was just too much money for an AHL player.

The second biggest question is the goalie issue. It’s complicated by the waiver and arbitration eligibility.

The goalies

Garret Sparks sure seems to be the number one goalie for the Marlies when he’s healthy, with Kaskisuo as the number two. Which might make you think that Bibeau will be qualified only to fulfill the exposure requirements, and then let go if Vegas wants him. But hold the phone, Sparks is still exposed. Either could vanish.

And it’s Sparks who is both eligible for arbitration and not waivers exempt next year. The Leafs like flexibility, and an arbitration inflated contract and no waiver exemption might not be what they want. The Leafs kept Sparks’ NHL salary low this year by giving him a guaranteed AHL salary of $150,000 no matter how much he played.

Kaskisuo provides flexibility with his waiver status. So does Bibeau. Sparks, who likely would clear waivers, is still a potential headache. The Columbus Blue Jackets likely thought Curtis McElhinney would clear easily too.

Maximum flexibility would be QO to both Sparks and Bibeau and the issue of who to keep can get solved later, maybe in training camp or maybe next season.

Brown and Hyman

They’ll both be signed to extensions. When and how much? Soon and not a lot, is my guess. I can’t see a convincing reason for them to delay. And I don’t think Hyman’s arbitration rights would get him more than the Leafs will pay him. It will be millions between the two of them, but it won’t be four and half of them each like Zaitsev got.

The hardball games the Leafs played last year with Martin Marincin, Josh Leivo and Peter Holland were telling. And the results so far have been none of the above playing much with the Leafs this year. I don’t see the team taking that line with either of their young and versatile utility players, however.

The Marlies

Justin Holl

Holl’s name gets bandied about as a potential third pair on the Leafs next year, mostly, as near as I can figure, because people think prospects are an assembly line and they all get promoted. I think Holl is the natural and suitable inheritor to Andrew Campbell as captain of the Marlies. Holl will be 26 next year, and it’s not unheard of for players to suddenly become NHLers when they’re almost UFA age, but it’s really rare.

Brendan Leipsic

Leipsic’s name gets bandied about as a lock for the top line wing job next year. I don’t think anyone not named Nylander has that gig locked down. If Leipsic doesn’t get moved in a trade this summer, he’ll be there in camp trying to earn it, but he is either on the Leafs full time, or he’s next year’s Josh Leivo. I fervently hope the days of a non-waiver exempt player stuck in the press box are over. Leipsic will get his QO at a minimum, but I’m not sure the Leafs are sure about his future.

Seth Griffith

Griffith is in exactly the same boat as Leipsic. The waiver revolving door last season was frustrating for everyone, and he’s either got to crack an NHL lineup next year at going on for 25, or he’s out. I’m not sure the Leafs are sure about him either, but he has arbitration rights, so he might be the one the Leafs let twist a little before they sign him.

Both Leipsic and Griffith are in play for trades because of the expansion draft and the number of forwards the Leafs have to protect that they really are sure about. Someone is exiting this roster. And given the number of contracts and the draft picks about to go pro, maybe what looks like a no-brainer extension in another year isn’t in this one.

The picture will become clearer next month when the expansion draft and the trades that will go with it are settled.