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Photo Credit: @Canucks

Who will be back next year? – The forwards

With the Leafs season now over, we look ahead to the draft and free agency as the big events left on the Leafs schedule for the 2018-19 season.

Now that the big three plus Tavares all have or will need their big contracts, the cap crunch is coming, and combine that with a disappointing playoff run, and suddenly, the Leafs might have a completely different roster come next season.

So, let’s look at the team from top to bottom, and figure out who will be back. I will throw people into one of four different categories: Will be back, probably coming back, might be back, and likely gone. Today, I’ll start with the forward group, and only the ones that played for the Leafs this season.

Auston Matthews

Status: Will be back

First overall pick, face of the franchise, just locked up for five more years, apparently he might be starting next season with a C on his chest. I don’t see him leaving.

John Tavares

Status: Will be back

Yeah, I highly doubt the Leafs are going to trade Tavares after all they went through to sell him to join the team. It would be hard to sell other big ticket players on joining them if they develop a reputation of trading them after a year.

Besides, he scored 47 goals, and while his offense in the playoffs wasn’t amazing, he was mostly tasked with shutting down the Bergeron line, which he did a great job doing. No complaints with his play, and I can’t wait to have him back next year.

William Nylander

Status: Will be back

To say this was a good year for Nylander would be lying. He held out for the first two months, came into the season in December being completely behind the rest of the league physically, was a non-factor for the first month, and then got back into it, drove possession but still didn’t really contribute offensively.

But, a lot of that ties into holding out, which won’t happen next year, so this probably won’t happen to him again. Dubas gave him his word that he won’t be traded as long as he’s here, and it would be really dumb to trade him while his value is low. Therefore, he’ll be back.

Patrick Marleau

Status: Probably coming back

Marleau is going to be making a lot of money next year for someone who can’t really do much at this point of his career. I’d try and explore every option possible to get rid of this contract, but it’ll be hard to see him waive his NMC to do so. And considering his iron man streak, you probably couldn’t get away with putting him on Robidas Island either.

Nazem Kadri

Status: Probably coming back

Considering that he’s an excellent third line centre on an amazing deal, he was very close to being under the “will be back” category, but his suspension in the playoffs leaves a bit of uncertainty. It’s more likely the Leafs explore a rehabilitation process, but Kadri’s suspension history leaves some risk for the Leafs especially considering the importance he plays to the team. I doubt he’s traded, but it’s not out of the question.

Zach Hyman

Status: Might be back

You’d think that a cheap winger coming off a career year would be a lock to come back next year, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Of his 21 goals, only 14 came at even strength, and this is with a 11.11% 5v5 shooting percentage, and while playing with Marner and Tavares. This might be a good time to sell high on Hyman, and Dubas is probably smart enough to consider this. Obviously you don’t actively shopping him, but if a team desperate for scoring wingers wants him, you could probably get a bit more for him than you normally would.

I doubt it happens, but I’d at least consider it.

Connor Brown

Status: Likely gone

He’s making $2.1 million next year, and really isn’t anything more than a fourth liner. With the cap crunch coming, that’s some extra dough that doesn’t need to be tied up into a fourth liner.

Also, if you really want to make a point to your stubborn coach that he needs to smarten up, you get rid of his toys.

Mitch Marner

Status: Probably coming back

The only uncertainty with Marner returning next season is the absurd amount of money he’s demanding in his negotiations. Whether you think Marner is worth Matthews’ money or not (and considering that he isn’t an elite goal scorer that plays centre, I would argue that he isn’t), the Leafs can’t afford to pay him that much, and with the threat of an offer sheet (although I think Point gets one before anyone else), there’s a reality that he doesn’t come back next year.

That probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do, but when a player wants $2-3 million more than they’re worth, it’s simply a situation of uncertainty.

Nic Petan

Status: Will be back

He has upside, can play center, and he’s signed for under $1 million for two more years, he’s the kind of player the Leafs need in the cap crunch.

Kasperi Kapanen

Status: Might be back

Whether Kappy is back next year or not is kind of a waterfall effect. It probably depends on what happens with Marner, and then the Leafs will probably go from there. If he’s signed in the $2-3 million range, he’d be great to have back, but there’s a chance that he might not.

Andreas Johnsson

Status: Might be back

Whether Mango is back next year or not is kind of a waterfall effect. It probably depends on what happens with Marner, and then the Leafs will probably go from there. If he’s signed in the $2-3 million range, he’d be great to have back, but there’s a chance that he might not.

Frederik Gauthier

Status: Probably coming back

Considering that he had a solid year and has another year on his contract, it’s likely he’ll be back, but considering that he’s at the bottom of the Leafs roster, all it takes is a couple impressive camps from unsuspecting players and suddenly he’s on waivers or starting the year with the Marlies.

Tyler Ennis

Status: Might be back

Ennis was an excellent deal for the fourth line, with 12 goals in 51 games while making league minimum, but it’s unlikely that he signs for league minimum again, so it’s likely that he signs somewhere else in free agency and is just replaced with another good, undervalued free agent.

Trevor Moore

Status: Will be back

Moore finally got a chance to show his worth in the NHL, and he ended up winning the favour of Babcock and being an NHL regular. He’ll be making $775k for the next two years, and like Petan, he’s the kind of cheap depth the Leafs will need next year. Highly unlikely he’s dealt.



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  • Stan Smith

    I would put the following players in each category.

    Will be back. John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner,

    I include Marner in that because I do not see any scenario where Dubas lets him walk.

    Probably will be back. William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Frederik Gauthier, Nic Petan, Trevor Moore.

    With Nylander, Kadri, and Hyman. The Leafs need to clear cap space. Nylander probably stays for one more season, but I don’t think he is no longer considered untouchable. If the right offer comes along…….. I think the Leafs want Kadri back, but he is probably the easiest person on the team to deal. I almost put Hyman in the sure to be back category, because he is probably the best value on the team,but for that same reason he could be valuable to another team. Moore and Petan because they make pretty much league minimum. I’m not sure Petan will be a regular though.

    Might be back: Patrick Marleau, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson

    With Kapanen and Johnsson, the Leafs might not be able to afford both of them, so one of them could have to go. My gut tells me that the Leafs are going to figure out some way to divest themselves of Marleau’s contract. To those that say they can’t deal him because of his no trade, I think all they have to is tell him they don’t guarantee they will play him every game.

    Probably won’t be back: Connor Brown, Tyler Ennis

    Brown and Ennis will more than likely be gone because the Leafs have players to replace them for less money. I expects someone offers Ennis more than the minimum this summer, which is more than the Leafs will be willing, or able, to pay.