A Leafs off-season game plan. (Not necessarily a good one, a plan nevertheless).
Written on April 18, 2018
If you are reading this the Leafs are no longer in the playoffs. Hopefully you are reading this in June after the Leafs Stanley Cup parade, most likely you are reading this after game five against Boston. Are people making “It was 4-1” jokes? Of course they are. The internet is awful, but predictably so.
Anyway, now is the time when it’s most interesting to talk about the Leafs. The off-season! Sorry, you can only miss the playoffs so many times before your fans become trained to care about this more than the games. I’ve put together a few thoughts on what the Leafs should be doing through the summer.
This is entirely my (correct) opinion, and I’ll likely address some of these specifics more in later posts, but for now you get the rambling laundry list of ideas I put together before Game 4 on a day when I should’ve been focused on work.
My 20 Point Plan:
- Don’t send anyone to the World Hockey Championships. There’s no point, everyone has played enough, and you don’t need players hurt in meaningless hockey. Just. Don’t.
- Name the new GM. Whether he wants back or not, it’s time to move on from Lou. He’s served his purpose and given the current AGMs some experience in navigating the old boys club of the GM world. The obvious choice would have to be Kyle Dubas, and probably the most likely one too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. We’ll worry about specifically who should have this job another time, but for now we’ll just focus on how this needs to be the most immediate thing to happen since the new guy needs as much time as possible to prepare for June, and particularly the draft. Watching the Hurricanes shoot themselves in the foot by not addressing this priority has been somewhat painful when it hasn’t been hilarious.
- The new GM then needs to confirm who his coaches are. Odds are we’ve still got Babcock and the assistants of his choosing. Fine. Let’s just land on that as soon as possible so we know what we’re dealing with. Potentially D.J. Smith and Sheldon Keefe will be getting some interviews elsewhere this summer and let’s try not to lose our shit over that. They seem like they could be good coaches, but they aren’t the last two good coaches and that’s okay.
- Watch the Draft Lottery and laugh at the Senators (hopefully). I’m adding this in here just to put a bit more of a timeline to this list and the Leafs will be picking somewhere around pick 24 (‘sup Blade Jenkins?) and the draft lottery doesn’t mean a whole lot. What does mean a lot is that 14 teams that were hoping that Dahlin was going to fix their team next year are now in the market for other options. If they were specifically looking for a right shooting defenceman we’ve found a market that might be desperate enough to trade for Nikita Zaitsev, or could overpay for Connor Carrick.
- Name a captain. There are few things I care about less than the captaincy, but if the Leafs can make a big spectacle of this in the middle of the playoffs and take focus away from the teams playing, that’s just good trolling.
- Send out qualifying offers to William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson. This seems like a no brainer, but we don’t need a Dale Tallon moment here. Also, there are a lot of other restricted free agents on the Leafs, and they are either arbitration eligible or Freddy Gauthier. There is no reason in the world to bring Gauthier back, and of the rest the two that would be missed most would be Connor Carrick and Miro Aaltonen. If they can get signed for reasonable deals prior to free agency, you’re rolling the dice when it comes to what an arbitrator will award them, and is it worth it for a guy the coach refuses to play and an AHLer?
- Take out giant ads that Nikita Zaitsev and Matt Martin are available cheap. I really don’t think this one needs to be explained a whole lot, since there’s no good reason to keep Matt Martin around and Nikita Zaitsev is a disappointment with an even more disappointing contract. Someone out there besides Babcock has to like him and let’s find that person. Both Martin and Zaitsev have signing bonuses that will pay out at the beginning of July, so don’t worry if nothing happens before that point, but the Leafs should have deals in principle in advance of this.Oh yeah, and trade Josh Leivo too. If he hasn’t earned a spot by now, he’s never going to and it’s giving Oilers fans a heart attack that they haven’t acquired this guy yet.
- While you’re at it, find out the status of every person who has ever played a moment of defense and has shot the puck right and find out what it will take for them to become a Leaf. In a perfect world the Leafs won’t have Hainsey, Polak, and Zaitsev back on their blueline next season. The reality is that at least two of them will be and for reasons unclear to me (beyond the arbitration risk) Connor Carrick will be the odd man out. If Hainsey can be traded, great, if not, one year of an overpriced seventh defenseman who can play either side isn’t the end of the world. Polak returning is the end of the world. Zaitsev being back is very unfortunate but a grave this team dug for itself.If I’m the Leafs I’m shopping guys like Connor Brown, Jeremy Bracco, Dmitri Timashov, and the first round pick to try and get something done. Since most of that isn’t going to land a hell of a lot, I’m one to debating whether Jake Gardiner should be expendable to fix the right side. I could still be very happy with a Rielly, Dermott, Borgman/Hainsey left side.
- Let’s say its draft time. Remember that wonderful draft when the Leafs fell in love with taking undersized skill wingers and made it so we’d never need to worry about goal scoring again? That was a fun draft. Let’s have another swing for the fences draft, that isn’t necessarily taking goal scoring hobbits, but isn’t the opposite where the team stocks up on overagers and giants. Ideally I want to believe the Leafs have dealt their first round pick since I have enough faith that some sacrifice of the future can be made for the now, if the now plays 20+ minutes a night of defense. This also feels like a very limited high end blue chip draft, but one that is overflowing with high risk/high reward players.
- This probably should have been a lot higher than here, but I guess I’ll fit in since it aligns with the unrestricted free agent discussion period, but the Leafs will need to figure out what they are doing with their UFAs.Not bringing back Plekanec, Moore, Lupul, and Baun is easy and I’ll assume is done. You’d think the same about Roman Polak, but you would’ve also thought the same thing about Roman Polak last year and here we are. So let’s just say it, “They shouldn’t bring Roman Polak back.” That goes for Leo Komarov too, but it seems like a tougher sell with this organization. Tyler Bozak is probably priced out of what the Leafs would give him, and moving on from him is a relief as well. Ben Smith and Colin Greening seem like easy decisions to have depart, and in my to-do list they are as good as gone, but I suspect that might not hold up in the real world.And now it’s time to talk about James van Riemsdyk. Over the course of the season I have seen the light and now find myself in favour of bringing back James van Riemsdyk provided it’s around the cost of T.J. Oshie. The Leafs may be deep on wing, most of the roster is younger, but at some point you have to start keeping your good players and paying them, especially when it seems like they want to stay and be a part of what they started. I’d go so far as to say, if bringing back JVR costs the Leafs a shot at Tavares, I’d be fine with it, though I suspect keeping more talent players around will increase the chance of getting John Tavares.
- Speaking of John Tavares, the Leafs need to be speaking with John Tavares. A lot. Like Kyle Dubas camping on the sidewalk outside his house a lot. Matt Martin holding a boom box blasting “In Your Eyes” outside his window a lot.Yes, I mentioned Matt Martin. The Islanders players, much like the Leafs players seem to love Matt Martin. If keeping Martin around for another year gives us seven years of John Tavares, you happily make that trade off.You try to do everything to make this happen, but the reality is 30 other teams should/are going to be doing the same thing.
Oh yeah, talk to other guys you want too. We’ll touch on worthwhile targets a bit further down this post, but as things sit on midday April 18th, there are a handful of other guys worth discussing.
- We haven’t talked about re-signing William Nylander yet, but that’s something that definitely needs to happen. My personal preference is sooner rather than later and having a bubbly happy summer rather than leaked offers and threats of not reporting to camp. Get the deal done quickly before more someone offers more money to worse player and we start living in that world. Right now the Leafs can hopefully pull off a copy and paste on the Pastrnak deal, but even that seems too optimistic. A signed Nylander before July 1st also establishes what the Leafs can do with Tavares and/or others.
- July 1st Martin and Zaitsev just got their bonus checks, and now are more moveable. You can now re-sign Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen as well. The first two being the ones likely to happen, as Kapanen probably wants his time in the NHL next season to drive his next deal. Most importantly it’s free agency season!The priority here is still Tavares. He is the game changing talent available and adding him would give the Leafs the best 1-2-3 center combination in the league.Other names that need to receive heavy consideration are John Carlson (who addresses the need for top pairing right side defender; Joe Thornton, who upgrades on the departing Bozak and might slide in for a one deal that wouldn’t overlap the new Matthews and Marner contracts; Mike Green, since it’s going to be tough competition to get Carlson and even if the Leafs did, it’s not like they couldn’t use two guys on the right side.
Lastly, if we’re throwing out filler and depth options in free agency that might be available a little cheaper I’d consider Patrick Wiercoch, Riley Nash, and Matt Stajan.
- It’s the middle of summer and we’re restless, release a third jersey or something.
- Remember that KHL defenseman that was rumoured to be joining the Leafs this season? Is there any way they can cancel that? No. Well, it’s probably time to sign him. At best here’s someone to compete for the bottom pairing or backfill the Marlies in the event that Justin Holl can’t make his triumphant return.
- Geez, I dunno, maybe we find a nice summer league that will let William Nylander play some center.
- This isn’t really a big thing, but you know how the Leafs always start the season at 50 contracts or in a good year start the season with 48 or 49. Maybe available contract space needs to be considered an asset and instead of bringing in a veteran fourth liner for the Marlies on a pro contract, maybe, just maybe the Leafs start the season at 45 contracts and have greater flexibility with waivers, pro tryouts, and entry level deals. Heck, if they save a bit of cap space they might be able to quickly add players in exchange for draft picks throughout the season. What a nice luxury. This really isn’t a to-do list thing as much as it’s a “for the love of god, please don’t” thing. As starved as we might be for things to happen in August, nothing lets the air out of your tires like signing Chris Mueller and Vincent LoVerde.
- Find a happy home for Curtis McElhinney. This probably could have been done sooner, but really we’re tying up loose ends at this point, and will need something small that we can overanalyze before camp and this is it. I wasn’t fair to McElhinney, who was a solid backup for the Leafs, largely because I wanted to see Calvin Pickard in that backup role last season. And as much as it seems plausible to bring McElhinney back, I still can’t shake the fact I want the Leafs to go with Pickard (ideally) or Sparks (sigh) to see what the Leafs have.
- Why the hell did I make this a 20 point plan? I don’t know, let’s revisit that Zaitsev and Martin thing. If the Leafs brought in a RD, they should now be taking whatever they can get for Zaitsev to clear him out provided that player fits a need, is cheaper or on shorter term, etc. If not, you rely on Zaitsev as third pairing guy. Hell, put him on waivers before camp as well to see if someone will pick up his contract and open yourself up to putting Zaitsev on the Marlies if needed.With Martin, if you haven’t brought in Tavares and Martin being a Leaf isn’t part of what got Tavares to Toronto, you sit Matt down and have an honest to goodness talk about how he’s not going to play and his options are Marlies or retirement. I mean, if you haven’t traded him by now, it’s time for the serious talk about how he isn’t an NHL player anymore.
- Invite everyone to training camp. Pro Try Outs are free and keep roster players out of exhibition games. There are bound to be a few Cody Franson type players that will be available for a look, and since you haven’t maxed out contracts you can seriously consider these players.
That’s it. A long way of saying this team should try very hard to get John Tavares, but desperately needs to upgrade its right shooting defensemen. If that happens, this plan seems reasonable. If that doesn’t happen, I’m the worst. Let’s reset that. Missing out on Tavares isn’t the end of the world, but missing out on Tavares and not having JVR or someone of similar ability as the fall back would be the worst.
As for a right side defenseman. That’s a non-starter. That’s been an issue long enough with this team that there isn’t any excuse for not stepping up now, after two years in the playoffs and legitimately in the conversation as one of the top teams in the league. If it’s Mike Green, I’ll shrug and go, “it’s something,” but something needs to be done and the Bruins series has underline and circled that fact repeatedly.
The nice thing is that this gives us a lot to talk about. At least up through the first week in July.