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Photo Credit: © Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Who will be back in 2020-21? – The forwards

The Leafs are well into their offseason, and while there’s still hockey to be played, the Leafs focuses are on next season and what improvements they can make to the roster to finally put them over the hump.

The good news for Kyle Dubas is that this will be, to some extent, his easiest offseason. He doesn’t have to pull all-nighters to win over John Tavares, he doesn’t need to go down to the wire to extend William Nylander, and he certainly doesn’t have to deal with Darren Ferris. But, he does need to address the holes the Leafs have on defense, whether it be through trade, free agency, or internally, and also continue to add prospect depth to the organization, something we’ve been lacking due to the disasters that were the 2016 and 2017 drafts. We might be looking at a similar team as last year, or a completely overhauled roster, as Dubas appears to not be letting any emotions get in the way of his moves so far.

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.

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Auston Matthews

Status: Will be back

I’m of the belief that, especially after this season, anyone should be looked at as a trading option. However, unless the return is Connor McDavid, there probably aren’t too many options for our franchise almost-50 goal scorer. He’s not going anywhere.

John Tavares

Status: Will be back

Tavares had a down year this season (if you call 26 goals and 60 points in 63 games a down year), and he’s just a couple weeks away from turning 30, so there is some concern if Tavares is starting to decline, but I wouldn’t say this is the offseason where there is actually going to be action on those concerns. Besides, he’s the Leafs first captain since 2016, so trading him after one season would be really bad optics.

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Mitch Marner

Status: Will be back

Kyle Dubas was pretty adamant in his exit press conference that he believed in Mitch Marner, and that he won’t be traded this offseason. While I think if there’s any of the big four in terms of contract and value that you might look to move, it’s him, I also don’t think any of the big four should be dealt this offseason, so he should definitely be back.

William Nylander

Status: Probably coming back

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Look, I hate playing into the rumours, but they’re out there, and considering that the Leafs are under a lot of pressure to bring in a top four defenseman, Nylander is a valuable asset to acquire that. I don’t think it’ll actually happen, but it’s a lot more likely that he gets dealt than the other elite forwards.

Alexander Kerfoot

Status: Might be back

I personally don’t think Kerfoot should be dealt. I thought he had a solid year considering that he had one of the worst on-ice save percentages on the team and was adjusting to a new system, and I think he should probably get a second chance, especially since he’ll probably get a better opportunity on the power play. But, if he has trade value around the league and could get a good return, I’d have no problem dealing him as long as it’s a smart trade.

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Andreas Johnsson

Status: Might be back

Johnsson is coming off a down year, mostly due to injuries, and at $3.4 million, he might not be worth it to keep around in a cap crunch. I’d personally give him another chance to stick around, especially if his trade value is low, but if the cap is tight, he’s also the person I look to deal next, hopefully for the right deal.

Kasperi Kapanen

Status: Will not be back

Ok, I created a special category for this one because he’s already gone, but Kapanen’s time was definitely up in Toronto. He was the one player making a decent chunk of money that showed he couldn’t play in the top six. Also, I keep talking about how I don’t want players traded unless it’s for the right deal, and Kappy was a textbook example of that, as the Leafs managed to deal him for a pick, prospect, and a player whose underlying numbers might actually be better than Kappy’s to begin with.

Zach Hyman

Status: Probably coming back

Hyman proved himself as a legitimate top six forward this year, and at $2.25 million next year is still amazing value for the Leafs. While his value should certainly be explored, particularly with one year left on his deal, but he should still probably be looked at as someone who sticks around.

Evan Rodrigues

Status: Might be back

The aforementioned depth player from the Kapanen trade, Rodrigues is an RFA with a $2 million qualifying offer, so that could put a wrinkle in the Leafs signing him, but if they can convince him to come in on a sub-$1 million deal, he could be a solid option as a fourth line centre.

Kyle Clifford

Status: Likely gone

I liked Clifford on the Leafs this season, and thought he brought some important elements to the team, and normally I wouldn’t expect him to cost the Leafs a ton to bring back. In a vacuum, I’d bring him back. Unfortunately, him re-signing with the Leafs comes attached with a conditional 3rd that becomes a 2nd, and I don’t think that’s a necessary cost when we can also sign someone like him in free agency.

Ilya Mikheyev

Status: Probably coming back

He’s an RFA, and his poor playoff performance will probably cancel out his surprising breakout rookie season, meaning the Leafs should probably be able to sign him to a pretty cheap bridge deal. He might be dealt because of his RFA status and uncertainty, but there are a good chunk of players who probably get dealt instead.

Pierre Engvall

Status: Probably coming back

Considering he signed a two year extension this season, I’d imagine Dubas probably wants him around, especially considering Engvall’s versatility in the lineup.

Denis Malgin

Status: Might be back

Another RFA, this one is probably dependent on Malgin’s asking price. Considering he didn’t do too much with the Leafs, he probably doesn’t have much of a case for a ton of money, so he’s probably back, but I wouldn’t sign him if he asks for more than $1 million.

Jason Spezza

Status: Might be back

Spezza is a UFA, but he’s so far implied that he wants to keep coming back on league minimum deals to stay in Toronto, but there also have been no conversations that we’ve heard of between him in the Leafs. He wants to come back, so it’s all on the Leafs if they want him back or not.

Frederik Gauthier

Status: Probably coming back

I hate to say it, but I really don’t see why Gauthier isn’t back next year. He’s solid depth, but hasn’t done anything to be worth more than $1 million, so he won’t cost us much cap space, and he’s an RFA. It’s likely coming back next year.

Yegor Korshkov

Status: Will be back

He’s currently on loan in the KHL, but he’ll probably get a chance at camp to make the team next season. He’ll probably start with the Marlies, but he’ll get his shots next year.

Nick Robertson

Status: Probably coming back

I only have him as probably because he’s still a prospect, and unless he’s part of what gets us a good defenseman, I doubt he’s traded, and even then, I don’t think his value with the league is quite where his potential is yet.

Nic Petan

Status: Probably coming back

He’s still locked up for another year, isn’t making much money, and doesn’t have much value to be part of a trade that really impacts the Leafs. Unless he requests a trade, he’s probably sticking around next year.

Adam Brooks

Status: Probably coming back

See: Nic Petan