Now three roster players richer after an inefficiently efficient UFA week, the Toronto Maple Leafs have some decisions to make in the coming months. There’s a massive surplus of NHL ready depth on the bottom lines and pairs, and the team is approaching the 50-contract limit with 47 players signed and two RFAs sitting and waiting.
Something will have to give at some point; there are simply too many players on the bubble to keep everybody happy; not to mention, keep the roster compliant by size or by cap hit. So, with that said, here’s a look at some players who might be in a bit of a bind moving forward. Note that, despite all the speculation involving moving 2018 UFAs James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, I’m running with the idea that the Leafs might want to have a stacked Top 9 (and boy, is it ever stacked right now) and have left them off this list.
Yeah, yeah, let’s just get this one out of the way. I’ll preface this by noting that Martin probably isn’t going anywhere. Mike Babcock loves him, they committed term to him, and all that fun stuff. But the bottom of the lineup is starting to get crush loaded, and while Martin isn’t a bad player, it’s getting harder and harder to argue that he needs to dress every single night. He was the “displacement” forechecker on the fourth line last year, but if Patrick Marleau is taking Zach Hyman’s spot on Auston Matthews’ left wing this year, that’s a role that Hyman will likely take on the bottom line.
With Dominic Moore (25 points last year on Boston’s fourth line) slotting in the fourth line centre role to replace the carousel of Ben Smith, Brian Boyle, Frederik Gauthier, and Byron Froese (10 points combined), you can expect the line to get faster and more offence-oriented. Given that Martin’s career high in goals for is 10, I’m not sold that he’s the finisher on that line. With Marleau, Moore, and Ron Hainsey in, and a year of experience now behind the rookies, the team’s need for veteran mentorship is likely not as desperate. He “suppresses shots”, but mostly because he plays against other fourth liners that aren’t really trying to score, and even then, he was outclassed in that regard by Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen in their tours of duty last year.
Martin’s competitive advantage compared to the over half dozen players fighting for that 12th forward spot is, well, his fighting. He did that a lot last year, fighting more on his own (13 times) than the Pittsburgh Penguins (12) and Carolina Hurricanes (6) did as teams, and often of his own volition and not in a “protect the kids” score-settling effort. He’s a fine player and probably better at the actual game than most other enforcers, but you can’t help but wonder if it makes more sense to throw a player who is a bit more gifted with the puck on the left side if Moore and Hyman are your other two regulars on that bottom line. Especially given the market for role players at the moment; if Ryan Reaves can move you 20 spots up the draft and into the first round, someone would give up something for him, especially with his raw dollars owed over the next three years ($5 million) now trailing his cap hit owed ($7.5 million) by a fair margin.
Again; a useful hockey player, and someone I’d like to have in the rotation on some nights, but this team has too many good forwards to prioritize him for all 82. Perhaps that’s the proper request; not to move on from him entirely yet, but to at least not have him in the lineup every single night.
Fehr played one game for the Leafs and it was a lot of fun. He’s mobile enough and because he was trying to hold a spot in the lineup, he was throwing around his body with no regard for anybody’s life, including his own. Because of this, he found himself with an injured hand from blocking a shot by the end of the third period.
It was fun while it lasted, even if it didn’t last long. While he seems to be a useful bottom six player to a team, there’s nearly zero chance that he’s getting regular minutes next year on a completely healthy lineup. While Fehr was brought in as a salary cap dump in March to help the Pittsburgh Penguins, he becomes a little more palatable to the other 30 teams in the league now, thanks to his impending UFA status. The cap hit of $2 million might be a little rich for some, but if a team is looking for energy line depth that could get you 20 or so points over an 82 game season, he might be worth taking a look at before committing term elsewhere.
The Leafs have two options with Fehr: Include him now in a trade package if they plan on making one more big acquisition as cap leverage, or wait until after they make their LTIR placements in the fall to move or waive him, maximizing their potential cap relief. He could supposedly be the 13th forward as well, but I’d imagine that would only happen if some of the younger waiver-eligible players get moved.
Marchenko was claimed off waivers by the Leafs last season in hopes of giving them some extra depth on the right side and spent most of his time hanging out in the press box. He played just 11 games, and when Roman Polak got hurt in the playoffs, they opted to bring in Martin Marincin and deal with the skewed left/right balance over playing him.
I can’t imagine he sees much time on this team, especially now that they’ve added two players that can play both sides in Ron Hainsey and Calle Rosen. I also can’t imagine he has much trade value, being a bubble player that has a cap hit that exceeds the waiver buffer. Maybe they find a team that takes him in a package, but it’s more likely that he gets waived, he clears, and the Leafs get partial relief while the Marlies get a third rightie.
The soon to be 24-year-old Soshnikov didn’t make the big leap that many had hoped of him last season. Though playing on the Martin-Smith line probably didn’t do him too many favours at even strength, 9 points in 56 games is still a far cry from what people expected after an 18 goal season with the Marlies in the year prior.
Soshnikov’s greatest value to the team last year was likely on the penalty kill; his -26.1 relative shot attempts against per hour as the second best among all NHL forwards last year. But you only play on the penalty kill so often, and with the Leafs replacing some of their most frequent minor penalty takers with mobile skaters who are more likely to draw them, they’ll likely be doing so even less. That makes his even strength play even more important, and others have chased in on the depth chart.
Teams will likely be intrigued by a top-end penalty killer with some upside, though, which could make him a useful trade chip. At the same time, the Leafs won’t be in a rush to pull the trigger; his waiver exempt status (for three more NHL games) will make him a prime candidate to start the season with the Marlies if he’s still on the team in camp, both to keep that flexibility and to re-invigorate his offensive game.
Rychel, unfortunately, doesn’t have the same flexibility as Soshnikov has. Despite not playing a game for the Leafs this year, his time is up in terms of waiver exemption and would need to pass through to play in the AHL. Given that the 22-year-old just led the Marlies in scoring (19G and 33A in 73 GP) while adding some power forward-like elements to his game (including five fights), and that he’s just four years removed from being a first-round pick, it’s a pretty safe bet that someone will claim him.
While I’d like to say it’s as easy as just giving him Martin’s spot as the guy who draws in on nights where the Leafs need to be a bit heavier, it won’t work that way. Don’t be shocked if Rychel is used as a sweetener in a trade package before October, or if the Leafs end up losing him for free.
Lindberg is a really interesting case, because I think he can still be a legitimate prospect. However, his first two AHL seasons have been riddled with injuries, and as a winger, the 21-year-old is stuck climbing back up a ladder filled with a long list of players. It’s getting hard to find a spot for him on the Marlies, let alone the Leafs, and that’s no way to develop a prospect. I don’t know what the 2013 4th round pick’s value is at this point, but unless the team plans on using higher-profile prospects in a bigger trade that makes room for him to play, this might be a case where you move the kid solely out of fairness and to avoid gaining a reputation where project prospects don’t get a chance.
I still like Martin Marincin. He doesn’t score and he looks awkward as all hell when doing literally anything, but there’s something to be said for his gap control and the fact that other teams just plain shoot less when he’s on the ice. I don’t think he has the mobility or puck skills to consistently be in Toronto’s lineup, but don’t mind him as a #7.
However, making him a #7 for a second consecutive season is unfair to him as a 25-year-old in a crossroads, and also nerfs any potential trade value he may have. For that reason, he’d probably be the first defenceman I’d offer up in a deal; I think he’ll be more successful elsewhere, but ruining a dude’s chance at a career so nobody can say I told you so later doesn’t seem right. The Leafs have a ton of lefties (Dermott, Rosen, Nielsen, Borgman, Valiev) coming up behind him that can be called up in a pinch anyway; if there’s value to cash in on Marincin and his remaining $1.25 million, you may as well do it.
I really wish there was a hard over-ride button here and that I could slot Leivo on the left wing of a scoring fourth line and be done with his argument. I’m not sure what he has left to prove to stay in the lineup; He has 15 points in his last 25 NHL games and really tilted the ice when he was on it last year. Even if he’s not going to score at a 60+ point pace like he did last year, even if he gives half of that to the fourth line, that still makes them one of the most impactful fourth lines in hockey while still playing a style that Babcock likes.
Alas, I wouldn’t bet on this happening. It might make sense to move Leivo now while teams are curious as to whether he can repeat his efforts or not, since leaving him to rot in the press box won’t do much good and he hasn’t had waiver exemption since 2015/16.
Komarov is the only “Top 9” piece that makes this list, and that’s mostly because of who he has breathing down his back. I don’t particularly want to lose a pesty player that can get you 30-35 points and does excellent work defensively, but Kasperi Kapanen’s play with the Marlies showed that his offensive side is starting to blossom, and his play in both leagues showed that he’s willing to be more aggressive and that he can backcheck and draw penalties as well.
Kapanen’s natural progression is to become a version of Komarov that talks a little less smack but adds an extra gear in mobility with slipperier hands. If you believe he can do it now, Uncle Leo becomes a valuable trade chip for practically any NHL team willing to take on the last year of his deal (1 year @ $2.95M, both AAV and cash). I’m also okay with keeping him for one more year and “over-ripening” Kapanen, but it can’t go beyond this year.
This one’s pretty straight forward. If they can find a way to move Lupul’s contract, it would be of massive interest to them. Toronto can’t use all $10.55 million of his and Horton’s LTIR relief, because teams can only go as much as 10% over the salary cap ($7.5 million) in the offseason. In effect, if Toronto is really looking to stretch out their budget, moving Lupul over to another team without taking anything back would give them $2.05 million more in wiggle room; it would also give a budget team looking to hit the floor some savings, as Lupul is only owed $3.75 million in real dollars compared to his $5.25 million cap hit. Presumably, if he really is too hurt to play, insurance will be footing the bulk of the bill anyway, making the situation even better. I don’t know if there’s a fit here with another team, but if it doesn’t cost too much (Maybe you use a guy like Rychel as your sweetener?), it’d be nice to gain those extra few dollars of breathing room.