How much of the Leafs’ “core” could McDavid keep around?

Connor McDavid has a decent chance of becoming a Leaf. No really, it’s true. He has a better chance of becoming a Sabre, Oiler or Coyote, but this year’s draft lottery is a lot different – the chances of winning significantly less weighted toward the true cellar dwellers than in years past. Hell, even the Sharks have a 5% chance of drafting first at this point. 

As it stands, and as you likely already know, the Leafs hold down a 9.5% chance of drafting the generational talent, and that’s certainly enough to make us say “this might actually happen”, but what would it mean for Toronto’s rebuild and supposed “scorched earth” approach they’re committing to?

Everything appears to be on sale for the Leafs right now, except perhaps Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. We can argue about whether guys like Gardiner and Kadri will also stick around (and I think they will), but you get the idea. This “core” is finished, and it’s even gotten to the point where it seems Kessel and Bernier are as good as gone. That’s scorched earth. That’s hitting the reset button. 

But a lot of the discussion around this plan takes place under the assumption that the Leafs go forward with a paltry lineup next season while they send Mitch Marner or Dylan Strome (their two most-talked-about draft targets) back to the OHL for a year and start the player the development cycle. If they hit on their 1-in-10 chance to draft McDavid, however, it would be like getting the whistle in Mario 3 and going into some sort of rebuild warp zone. 


How would this accelerate things, and who gets to stick around and take part? Surely the Leafs would have to completely re-evaluate their entire roster, and perhaps they’ve already begun discussions based on both paths: Life with McDavid or without. 

I think there are players on this current roster beyond saving. As declining assets on questionable contracts, Phaneuf and Lupul are surely gone if other teams want them. And with a front office that appears to finally have some smart people working in it, Tyler Bozak’s departure should be a forgone conclusion as well. But when you get into the names like Bernier, van Riemsdyk, and most importantly Kessel, things get a little more difficult. 

McDavid likely becomes a top center in the league within two years (maybe even one), and the thought of him centering an elite goal-scorer like Kessel is almost frightful. Marner or Strome, as good as they are, won’t have that kind of impact. Most number ones don’t, for that matter. But we’re talking about a Crosby/Ovechkin-like player here, a franchise cornerstone with immediate returns.

In the much more probable case that McDavid doesn’t pull the Leafs from the depths of hell, mowing down the rest of this roster is something I’m totally on board with. Kessel, Bernier, whoever, goodbye. Tank it for the next couple years, I don’t care. But if Bill Daly awkwardly opens that envelope and there’s a big blue Leaf on the card, this summer reaches a new level of excitement for fans, while in some ways perhaps it presents more difficulty for the decision-makers in the front office.

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  • BarelyComments

    I would say in this unlikely event that the players that have been talked about in trades who we should definitely keep around are players like JVR, Kadri, Gards and Bernier. I would still definitely be in favour of moving out Bozak, Kessel and Phaneuf (too old and are responsible for too much of the negativity surrounding this core). The one interesting case I would say is Lupul, if we are able to get significant value for him (i.e. more than a second round pick) , then I’m for sure all for moving him. But if it’s a second or less I’m not sure that value is worth what he could potentially provide to an extremely young core next year, even though he’s often hurt he has always been a good guy in the room and a role model for dealing with media as well as he allows you to still play McDavid with two talented wingers in Lupul and JVR…

  • BarelyComments

    maybe Bozak stays for 1 more year so McDavid could centre the 3rd line rather than being forced higher in the lineup too early.

    I’d probably keep Lupul and play him with McDavid as a mentor (it may also increase Lupul’s point totals so we could get a decent return for him).

    then I’d keep JVR to play with kadri.

    I think Kessel and Phaneuf both need to go to bring back good young talent and/or high draft picks.

    Who knows who we’d get back for them.

    If that happens I wouldn’t be against bringing Franson back to play with Rielly, then Gardiner with Polak, and Percy with Robidas (or literally anyone else).

    • BarelyComments

      There are only 3 years left in his deal… If we are moving out Kessel, Bozak and Phaneuf with Clarkson all ready gone cap space is NOT going to be a problem for us before his contract expires… Hitting the cap floor might.

  • silentbob

    Whoever they draft this year should have no impact on dismantling the core of this team.

    They decided to dismantle it for a reason, adding McDavid doesn’t change that.

  • Kanuunankuula

    As long as we get of Bozak. At this point I don’t even care what we get back. As long as he is here, his gonna be on the top line with Kessel, being terrible. Kadri needs to get some games with Phil, it’s just not gonna happen with Bozie here.

  • Kanuunankuula

    i don’t care if we get rid of bozak for a 7th round pick. as long as we don’t retain salary, i’m a happy camper! if we got rid of holzer for a 5th round pick, we can get rid of bozak for at least a 3rd-4th with an expiring/bad contract coming back. i hope the leafs use that mlse money to bribe the league or else what is that money good for?!