TLN Roundtable – Which Restricted Free Agents Would You Bring Back?

The Leafs already did a pretty good job of flipping the majority of their unrestricted free agents for assets at the Trade Deadline, but there’s still a number of players who will need new contracts before they take to the ice next season. Below, our TLN Roundtable discusses Toronto’s current restricted free agents, and decides who’s worth keeping and who’s worth letting go.

Justin Fisher

Let’s get this out of the way first, since it’s obvious that Toronto shouldn’t be letting Nazem Kadri or Jonathan Bernier go by way of free agency. Kadri is the kind of player the Leafs should be signing for four-plus years at as low a salary as they can, and I’m still not convinced it’s time to give up on Bernier. That’s not to say I wouldn’t trade him and roll with James Reimer if the offer was right, but you can’t simply let him walk. Both of the Leafs’ big fish RFAs need to stay.

The role player and minor leaguers are a different story, with some of them certainly earning an extended look and new contract, while it’s going to be easy to pass on others. It makes a lot of sense to re-sign players like Sam Carrick, Greg McKegg, Richard Panik and Tim Erixon- exactly the kind of players you want to keep around during what will likely be some tough years in Toronto. All four could very well be full time NHLers next year, as the Leafs move out veterans and give youth a chance. Panik and Erixon, both 24, don’t have the luxury of many development years ahead of them, but I’d have no issue in handing both of them two-year contracts on the cheap.

Petter Granberg is another player I’d offer a short contract to, even though I have my doubts that he’ll be much more than a seventh defenceman at the NHL level. Still 22, Granberg doubled his point production in the AHL this season with 15 points, and in 20 less games than last year. Even if he doesn’t crack the Leafs’ line up, the Marlies will still need warm bodies, so it’d be smart to keep Granberg around a little longer.

Lastly, the Leafs will need to move on from Andrew MacWilliam, Eric Knodel and Brad Ross. MacWilliam, 25, and Knodel, about to turn 25, have pretty much reached that point where we’ve all seen enough. Despite seeing action in 12 games with the Leafs this season, MacWilliam plays a tough, shut down game that offers little in today’s NHL. Knodel couldn’t stick in the Marlies lineup and spent a good deal of time in Orlando this year, so that’s pretty self-explanatory. Ross, who hasn’t done much since turning pro three years ago, missed 20 games this season due to a banned substance suspension. The Leafs have good reason to move on from all three of these players, and open up roster spots and ice time for younger, higher-potential projects.

Jon Steitzer

To say I want to see this roster blown up is an understatement, and while they’d be relatively easy to bring back, I’m not sure I want to see too many of the RFAs return. Having the Leafs begin the season comfortably under the 50 contract limit would be a huge advantage, and achieving that begins with not qualifying Ross, Knodel, Kozun. I’d also say that two out of three of the Erixon, MacWilliam, and Granberg group can be cut loose. I confess to not knowing if Richard Panik holds any kind of arbitration rights, but with any award under $3M required to be accepted by the team, I would let him walk as well if it avoids a Mark Fraser type blunder. McKegg and Carrick seem like easy decisions to bring back. McKegg is still young enough that he can fit with the Marlies core, and Carrick should be a very affordable fourth line option or 13th forward for the Leafs. 

That leaves the big two: Bernier and Kadri. Kadri is the easy one. Long term for as cheap as you can possibly get him, please. Bernier, you obviously qualify, but I don’t see much point in being a bad team with an expensive goaltender during the rebuilding process. There aren’t a lot of 26 year old (27 at season’s start) starting goaltenders available via trade, and there aren’t any restrictions on where he can go. I’m not going to speculate on what the return would look like, but there’s no reason to believe it would be less than what the Leafs gave up for him as a less proven backup.

Ryan Fancey

Much like Jon, I’d like to see most of this roster sent to the moon, and the Leafs would be smart to get out from under some of these players – not from a cap hit standpoint, but simply to gain breathing room. If next year is a “development year” they’ll want the flexibility. 

There’s basically no upside in Ross, MacWilliam, or Knodel, so the Leafs should consider moving on from those three. 

Kozun I think they’ll keep around because he had that Bochenski preseason last year. Everyone loves a scrappy little underdog, and the Leafs might feel he deserves a chance to bounce back from a season derailed by injury. I’m a fan of Carrick, and McKegg is worth keeping around, though both top out as fourth-line NHLers. The Leafs are probably looking to tank next season but they’ll want a couple vets on the team, and Erixon is someone they might keep around to fill that role as a depth blueliner, which I’m okay with. 

As for Bernier and Kadri, I think you just sign Naz as long as you can to keep his cap hit down, and trade Bernier’s rights. At worst Kadri is going to be a skilled second-line center through his twenties. Bernier likely has some value on a goalie market that’s otherwise not good for sellers, so you strike on that now. A 5-million dollar goaltender who hasn’t clearly shown to be above average is not really something you need going into the Auston Matthews tank wars, or in general really, plus the new folks in management simply don’t appear to be the types to bog down cap dollars in the crease.

Bobby Cappuccino

While the Leafs and myself want to scorch the earth and trade every player for picks and prospects, there are – gasp – some players worth keeping. A few of those are RFAs. The big one is Nazem Kadri, who for my money, is the best player on the team. As much as people harp on him for what he isn’t, what he is is a gifted high-end 2C (that I believe could be a 1C if given the long-term opportunity), that has improved defensively. Additionally, for a team and city that preaches compete so much, it amazes me that Kadri doesn’t get praised for his – few players try as hard as him night after night. I’d love to lock him up long-term, and with this past season, you could probably do so at a great price.

After Kadri, there are few RFAs of consequence. Jonathan Bernier would be the big one for many, but I don’t think he fits long-term here and would trade him to the highest bidder at the draft. Getting a 1st for him would be fantastic. I’d probably re-sign Carrick and McKegg for the Marlies, with Carrick getting an occasional look as the 4C on the big club. I’d re-sign Panik as well. He is a great utility guy that I think can be a nice bottom-six piece here, and he’ll come cheap. I’d also give Tim Erixon some thought. He’s probably a 6-7 d-man, but he’ll be cheap as well, and when next year promises to be a development year, giving guys like Erixon a shot to develop can only mean good things.

  • silentbob

    I wouldn’t be so fast to walk away from guys like MacWilliams or Ross.

    I don’t really see a lot of upset in them, but having said that the Leafs still have to ice a team next year. I’d much rather they throw “older” young players like Ross and McKegg and MacWilliams and Kozun and Erixon in Leaf jerseys for the next 1-2, maybe 3 years while players like Nylander, Percy, Gauthier, Brown Johnson etc… stay and develop with the Marlies and get moved up when they are ready.

    Best case, someone in the first group surprises and proves they can be part of the team moving forward, if not…..oh well nothing lost.

    • silentbob

      ross sucks. 18 ahl points in 75 ahl games. can’t even crack the ahl let alone the nhl. bust. time to move on. devane should go too if he’s a free agent same with biggs. those guys don’t even have 20 ahl points in 2+ seasons. keep them around to get auston matthews though lol

  • silentbob

    The pros and cons of the 2014-2015 Leaf seaaon:

    Pros:

    – Added Leipsic – Development of Nylander – Added Nashville’s 1st,Pens’ 2nd (2016), Pens’ 4th, Anaheim’s 5th, St.Louis’ 6th (at least) – TRADING CLARKSON’S CONTRACT – Marlies season end run – Richard Panik waiver claim – Season end play of Reilly and Gardiner. – 4th overall pick this year

    Cons:

    – Traded a 4th+Gunnerson for Polak – Lost trade value in Lupul and Kessel (maybe) – Missed playoffs

    To be determined:

    – Free agent signings (Bailey and Soshnikov) – Roman Polak Trade – Hunter as head scout – Decisions on next GM and Head Coach – Adding back TJ Brennan might be useful

  • silentbob

    Wow, who knew? Bobby C can actually put together a concise and informed opinion piece. Stick with this style. You’ve failed trying your own Stephen Colbert-esque schtick. Show us you do have a brain.

    • silentbob

      I actually skipped his section the first time I read this post because I assumed it was just more of his un-entertaining, un-funny, un-inspired schtick. Thank you for pointing out that when he drops the ridiculous act he can produce some stuff worth reading.

      In response to what Bobby, I think the biggest reason Kadri doesn’t get the praise he deserves and/or more criticism then he deserves are the unreasonably high expectations many had for him. He didn’t make the NHL as fast as many wanted and hasn’t reached the heights many thought he would (especially after the 48 game season), so even though he is a pretty good player he still viewed as a “disappointment” by some.

  • silentbob

    Man- how quickly everyone has turned on Bernier.
    a year ago he was anointed #1 star by almost everyone.

    I think different team in front of him you will see
    a different goalie.
    His main problem in my eyes is propensity to let in
    an early (often soft ) goal-which is known as the Toskala phenomenon.
    He can be signed cheaply and I don’t think he is going anywhere.

    Everyone is saying how trading Kessel might be a mistake, because we would be selling low, but look at the pictures of Phil at the end of the season-his hair was turning grey. Phil might have a great year next year-but it will never be in Toronto, it is time to get what we can for him, because if he starts out the gate like he ended the season-his value will plummet.

    As well I don’t want the situation with players who
    are not happy to drag on like the Lulongo situation.

    As far as the Leafs tanking next year ….the new formula doesn’t reward teams that tank. So Better to change the culture quickly and start working on developing our young players in a progressive environment.

    • silentbob

      Bernier is unnecessary if the Leafs are doing a full rebuild. The Leafs don’t need both Reimer and Bernier and the one who fetches the higher price should go.

      I’m looking forward to the future. I often felt over the years the Leafs let go of all the prospects before they ever showed they can shine. They will now have to play the kids and who knows, we might have a real gem.

      • passelin

        Oilers fan here – settle a question for me over on the Oilers nation page.

        Would you take Leon Draisitl as the main piece in a trade for Bernier and Phaneuf (and maybe even take salary)?

        • TGT23

          That strongly depends on how much salary and what other pieces come in return.

          I am personally of the belief that the Leafs are dealing from a strong position. Neither Dion nor Phil are expiring deals so they can afford to sit on them until the right deal comes up.

          We’ll have to retain salary, doesn’t mean we also have to give him away (which you aren’t suggesting). At 5m (we retain 2), Dion is a bargain for teams… A bargain any Leaf fan expects teams to pay for.

          And if we keep em another season… So what? Team can tank with them, too. Better hold onto them then give them away for nothing.

          So, yeah. Drai is a great start. Would probably take a few more pieces or picks. Surely Dion and Bernier would help Edmonton a ton so it’d work for both teams.

          I couldn’t tell you what those pieces are though. Probably talking a future 1st and Edmoney probably wouldn’t want to pay that given their track record.

          • passelin

            You guys should keep them both – you won’t get a reasonable return on Dion and Bernier could be good – but otherwise we’d take ’em at the firesale price.

          • silentbob

            And what if he doesn’t? Then he might end up becoming another Kulemin or Kaberle, a player we look back and say “if only they’d pulled trigger when they had the chance”. What will you say then?

            The problem with the Rask deal isn’t that they gave up Rask, its that they didn’t get anything in return. If they move Bernier and he becomes a star goalie its not a problem if the Leafs get a good return, like Draisaitl, for him.

          • First if we trade Bernier now we are trading low.

            2nd -Kaberle was a very serviceable player and even when he was traded past his prime Burke pulled a miracle -Kaberle waived his no-trade clause for a deal to the Boston Bruins, with the Leafs receiving touted prospect Joe Colborne,(who is a large center playing now for the Flames -going to the 2nd round).
            Boston’s first-round pick in the 2011 Draft-which the Leafs wasted on Tyler Biggs and a conditional pick.

            Kulemin if the Leafs were in a rebuild and same as McArthur and several others we let walk because the Leafs were trying to get to the playoffs-so the Leafs kept them at the trade deadline. I heard at one point the Leafs were offered 3 first rounders at the deadline including one for Reimer.

            About Bernier -he has great rebound control-this is something that Reimer has got better in with Bernier as his tandem partner. Bernier has skills that he is still developing and he still has a greater up side then Reimer.
            Leafs are talking about bringing in Burke which cant hurt-even if he will be in the front office and not the goalie coach.
            You build from the net out and our prospects from the Marlies are not ready next year. You dont want to trade our #1 goalie because it creates a hole.
            If the Leafs are going to be playing alot of young players next year, and it will be bad if everytime someone makes a mistake it ends up in the net.

            I think the market for the Leafs on the block will be much better than at the trade deadline. That’s why they waited. Impatience has been at the root of most Leafs mistakes.

          • silentbob

            Maybe, but if Bernier plays the same or worse next year what will that do to his trade value? The idea that his trade value is low swings both ways – do you hold onto him and hope it gets better or trade him now before you his value drops anymore…. He isn’t an unproven prospect like Rask was and its 50/50 at his point if he’ll better or worse next year. They should absolutely be looking to move him if there is a good (which doesn’t mean ridiculous over payment) deal to be made for him.

            They got an ok deal for Kaberle, but would they not have gotten more had they dealt him 2-3 years earlier when he was playing better?

            You don’t have to build from the net out, and if the Leafs are 5+ years away from being a playoff team, to say nothing of a contender a soon to be 27 year old, maybe improving goalie isn’t something they need to cling too.

            Isn’t good if they allow a lot of goals next year?

          • I guess I have more faith in Bernier than you.

            I like Draisaitl but though he’s a good prospect he is an unproven commodity. I advocated for the Leafs trade for him at the beginning of the year along with Flip Forsberg….but no one listens LOL

            The Leafs should keep MacWilliams if he has a good camp, but I’m not too high on Erixon from what I saw.

            I look forward to see what the Leafs line up looks like next year.

            A lot of trades at the draft I think- the Bruins and Pittsburg, Kings & Sharks I think will all be moving players -likely these teams are going to be the destination for some of our trade assets.

          • silentbob

            Its not a matter of faith, we do not know. Its 50/50 whether he plays good enough to raise his trade value or not. It doesn’t matter how much you believe that coin flip with end up heads, it doesn’t change the out come.

            Draisaitl is an unproven commodity, but so is Berniers future level of play. Its not fair to say Bernier will get better while with Draisaitl we don’t know. Sure it could be a Rask/Raycorft deal, but it would also be a Schenn/JVR deal.

            I’m not really high on either of those guys either, but I’d sign them for 1-2, maybe 3 years because…..why not? They need to play someone, I’d rather play them then rush some of the better prospects they have. And best case, maybe they surprise us all. If not, meh, nothing lost.

            Last year you would have said – Look at the Avs – instead of the Flames, and where did the Avs finished this year? The Flames may very well just be having “one of those years”, and even if they aren’t, do they really look like a team posed to make a serious run a championship anytime soon? I say 5+ years because it will most likely take 5+ years, if they rebuild the right way and don’t try to quick fix it.

          • I think you cant compare an NHL goalie -Bernier with
            a minor league prospect Draisaitl.
            Some prospects just dont suit the NHL no matter how much they are touted.-and really I have no faith in the Edmonton development system whatsoever.

            Look at the Minnesota and Winnipeg goalies with a better team in front of them they looked good.

            Ben Scrivens looked great in LA but everyone says he is inadequate in Edmonton……now why could that possibly be……

            There is nothing wrong with Bernier that a better defense corp in front of him couldn’t cure and perhaps a little smelling salts so that he gets into the game before the first goal is scored on him.
            (he is just way too laid back).

            As far as the Avs -the west division is tough and they lost Paul Stastny which I think was a big loss
            for them. As well as everyone says the margins are
            quite small between a playoff team and a non playoff team.
            The Leafs were a couple of points behind first place Montreal at one point -but they finally decided to tank…and really if they had lost a few more games they could of overtaken Edmonton and they would of drafted McDavid.
            Anyway by unloading their restricted free agents they are in a far more advantageous position now than if they had made the playoffs (looks like the Leafs have finally learned a lesson)
            In fact for Kessel Bozak and Phaneuf they could be accumulating several more prospect and draft picks.

            Hopefully people will be complimenting the Leafs work ethic next year and we wont be seeing our first line being pinned in our own end, with our first line circling like the ice capades and the opposition playing keep away.

            I think the Marlies will be stacked next year.
            A change a culture on the Leafs will make all the difference in the world next year.

          • TGT23

            About Rask -the Leafs had the choice of trading Pogge or Rask for former Calder Memorial Trophy-winning goaltender Andrew Raycroft. At the time it seemed like a good deal and Raycroft won a lot of games for the leafs at the beginning but ended up being a disaster.

            If you are confident in your system and coaches to develop players i think it is better to wait to make sure what you got. It is unlikely Berniers’ value will decrease in a year (as it is low at the moment)
            better to make sure what we got and wait til the goalie from the Marlies get some more seasoning.

            I think the Leafs will concentrate on the players
            they want to trade to change the culture -then see if there are any players they like at free agency to fill their holes.I think next years camp will be very competitive.

        • If the return is Draisaitl the Leafs should be willing to eat salary on either a Phaneuf or Bernier deal.

          For Leafs fans, it should be noted that eating salary probably means taking on only one year and it would probably be Purcell or Nikitin. The two year options would be Hendricks or Ference, but all are worth it to get Draisaitl. Those are all players who could easily be flipped at the trade deadline too.

        • silentbob

          Another Oilersnation member here. Edmonton doesn’t want or need an overpaid 2D or 2G. Enough already. We need proven talent at good value.

          Trading a stud prospect for middle career average players makes no sense. If you want to move Leon it has to be for a 1G or 1D.