Last year’s soap opera in Toronto was the ongoing William Nylander saga which went to the wire then the restricted free agent finally signed on the dotted line just before the deadline. This year’s spinoff features fellow forward Mitch Marner in Nylander’s role with Kyle Dubas back to play the beleaguered general manager.
It’s basically the same story and script so far but it might have a different ending.
With the Leafs recent flurry of hirings, trades and free-agent signings, the club will certainly look different in 2019/20 regardless of what happens with Marner.
After a third-consecutive first-round exit in the playoffs the club decided to keep head coach Mike Babcock but jettisoned several regulars from last season’s lineup. Gone are the likes of Connor Brown, Nikita Zaitsev, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, Tyler Ennis, Calle Rosen and more than likely, unrestricted free agent Jake Gardiner.
And let’s not forget forward Zach Hyman and blue liner Travis Dermott will be missing from action when the campaign faces off due to injuries. If Marner is nowhere to be seen come October the Leafs could be missing as many as 10 regulars from last season’s lineup.
Those heading to the Big Smoke as replacements or in search of making the roster include Jason Spezza, Cody Ceci, Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, Ben Harpur, Kenny Agostino, Nick Shore, Kevin Gravel and Aaron Luchuk. The Leafs also hired 33-year-old Paul McFarland and 50-year-old Dave Hakstol as assistant coaches after former assistant Jim Hiller left and DJ Smith was lured to the Ottawa Senators as their new head coach
The hiring of Hakstol is interesting since he was the bench boss of the Philadelphia Flyers for just over three years before being fired last December. Hakstol went 134-101-42 in the City of Brotherly Love and some feel he’s being groomed to possibly replace Babcock. It’s no secret Dubas and Babcock don’t see eye to eye and the GM could hand the coach his pink slip if the Leafs falter out of the gate. If Dubas should feel fit to send Babcock packing he may already have his replacement in-house in the form of Hakstol.
It’s also interesting to note that several of last season’s penalty killers were shipped out of town. This includes blue liners Zaitsev and Hainsey along with Brown and DJ Smith, who was in charge of the special teams unit. The Leafs were once again eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the postseason and most fans and experts rightfully placed a lot of the blame on the team’s woeful penalty killing during the series.
As far as the Marner situation goes, nobody but the parties involved really know what’s going on. One thing’s for sure though he’s either going to be re-signed, traded, given an offer sheet by another team or will sit out the start of the season if he hasn’t signed.
The easiest solution for Dubas would actually be if his leading scorer signs an offer sheet for x amount of money. This would save the GM the ongoing negotiation process as the Leafs would simply have to let Marner walk away or match the offer. The dollar amount will be in black and white and Marner either stays or goes. If the offer isn’t matched the Leafs will receive compensation in the way of draft picks.
With the current situation being what it is the Leafs don’t really have the salary cap space for anything above approximately $9 million. This year’s cap is set at $81.5 million and even though Dubas was able to shed the contracts of Brown, Kadri, Marleau and Zaitsev etc he had to sign Spezza, Ceci, and Kerfoot to new deals. Once the season starts the team can place Dermott and Hyman on the injury list along with Nathan Horton’s contract to free up some space but both Hyman and Dermott are a part of the team and this will be just a temporary solution. However, the retired Horton’s contract will free up $5.3 million in space. The club is also allowed to go over the cap by 10 per cent before the season gets underway.
The 21-year-old Marner racked up 94 points on 26 goals and 68 assists last year and reportedly wants a deal upwards of $10 million a season. But with just under $4 million in realistic cap space to play with it means Dubas will have to free up some more money in the way of a trade or get creative on an offer to Marner. Perhaps offer a one-year deal and then make up for it with a big-money, multi-season deal next year.
It’s also possible the Leafs wouldn’t match an offer sheet and take the compensation or are willing to trade Marner and use the money saved to sign one or two decent-scoring forwards. With high-scoring blue liner Tyson Barrie being acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the Nazem Kadri trade he’ll likely add approximately 60 points to the squad this season. He managed 14 goals and 45 helpers last year and should be able to replicate that in Toronto, especially since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
With Marner expected to notch about 90 points next season the Leafs will be able to replace 60 of them with Barrie’s production and are only 30 points shy if Marner leaves. Dubas could possibly trade Marner or take compensation and then sign Barrie to a multi-season contract at about $8 million a year. He’d still have money left over to replace Marner’s 30 missing points with a an affordable 40 to 50-point forward.
There are several possible scenarios for the Marner situation and they all seem to be reasonable. The Leafs would like to keep him but their other options are also quite appealing. But with or without him, Leafs fans may need a program to keep track of who’s who next season.
For starters, William Nylander has given up on number 29 and will be wearing 88 this season. With the Marner contract talks at an impasse this has been the biggest news out of Toronto recently.