It’s another rumour column, and my stars do I miss Brian Burke at times like this. The radio silence under Kyle Dubas and Lou Lamoriello during the playoffs drives me mad. This is the one time I miss the bluster of Burke, because by now he’d be promising to acquire a first round pick, if not the first overall pick, and probably already be under investigation for tampering with a free agent. Of course none of that stuff would ever turn into anything for the Leafs, but it made for a brief period of optimism and entertainment before settling for Brad Ross and Jonas Gustavsson.
Instead here’s what is out there at the moment…
Pierre LeBrun was recently exploring what defensemen around the league might have a change of address in the offseason and one of those players mentioned was Morgan Rielly. It seems like the intention on behalf of the Leafs is to negotiate an extension following the late July blitz of Expansion Draft, Entry Draft, and Free Agency and there seems to be mutual interest from both the Leafs and Rielly for Morgan to remain a Leaf.
The interesting bit comes at the end of the section:
Kyle Dubas seemed much more at ease discussing Zach Hyman and Frederik Andersen play out their deals before free agency when I asked him about it on a season-ending media call. It was clear, however, Dubas wasn’t that comfortable doing that this time with Rielly. Either he’s signed this summer, or there’s probably a trade. Personally, I think the Leafs find a way to extend Rielly.
The acknowledgement that the Leafs can’t continue to lose top talent for nothing is promising, although this seems like a lesson being learned years too late. As much as I know the internet hates the term “asset management” (and it does make my skin crawl to refer to humans as assets) the own rental process has cost the Leafs a small fortune in futures, and failed to utilize the cap space of the individuals on long term players.
In the cases of Rielly, Hyman, and van Riemsdyk, those were (or are) incredibly team friendly deals and the Leafs would have to accept a short term talent downgrade by letting them go, but other situations like Gardiner, Bozak, and Andersen seem a bit more like a true opportunity wasted.
The fact that the Leafs aren’t going to explore the idea of trading Rielly until they know if they can re-sign them takes away the prime return window already. Teams will be freshly capped out following free agency, any draft pick acquired won’t be useable for another year, and as for replacing Rielly, you’re stuck with what is left in free agency or attempting to pull off a hockey trade while lacking in leverage.
All of this seems to be steering the Leafs towards a bad situation and while there’s talk of Rielly taking less to play in Toronto, that doesn’t mean that Rielly wants to stay at his same contract. That means he might not be chasing the $8M range he could potentially get, he might settle for $7M in Toronto if he gets 8 years. I think it’s still fair to debate if that’s a good idea.
Signings coming post expansion draft?
We will likely see signings announced after the expansion draft. Perhaps, Wayne Simmonds fits into this scenario. Verbal agreements not made official or registered until after July 21. Some player risk, but helps the clubs doing this with protection strategy.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 28, 2021
While the Wayne Simmonds situation is a bit of a swing and miss by Dreger, and one that might lead you to question how much insiders really have for insider information, there is a truth to what he’s saying.
Simmonds likely isn’t in any danger of being selected by Seattle, and the Leafs felt confident in signing him before hand. They also could be very comfortable with Simmonds being selected over some of the other options they could lose and he might be bait in that regard.
Of course there are other players where Dreger’s tweet does apply. Alex Galchenyuk, if signed, would probably be on a friendly deal, and one that could make him worth exploring as a reclamation project on a team that isn’t going to be short on reclamation projects.
Another player that the Leafs might be wise to wait out is Zach Bogosian. If the intent is to bring him back, the Leafs likely wouldn’t be protecting him in the expansion draft, so that’s taking a lot of flexibility away from the player. The Leafs might want him signed, but Zach probably would prefer to have more control over his situation and not be interested in committing early.
A player like Travis Dermott might also fit into this category, as the unknown of his contract could deter Seattle, as well as the Kraken are limited in the number of players they can bring in without a contract and will need to hit a minimum cap hit via the expansion draft.
In short, Dreger is right in a general sense, but was hilariously wrong on Simmonds.
There’s chatter about the Flames
Now as far as I can tell most of the stuff about Matthew Tkachuk and the Leafs is based in two things. The first being that there was a radio hit by Shane O’Brien suggesting that Tkachuk wouldn’t mind a trade to his hometown of St. Louis, and the fact that changes are coming in Calgary and no one appears to be safe. Beyond that this is just Leafs fans seeing something they want and being vocal about it. That’s fine. My Rumours post last week was about Dylan Strome and there is nothing connecting him to the Leafs at this point, so talking about Tkachuk is fair, but I think there are some other Flames worth mentioning as well.
Tkachuk definitely fits with the desire to add more toughness, agitation, and the general desire to make the Leafs harder to play against. The appeal for Tkachuk is there, and his $7M cap hit (for one more season) seems workable for the Leafs. There’s the small matter of trying to out what Calgary would want back, and it’s not going to be a small ask, and realistically they can ask for pretty much anyone not named Auston Matthews as part of that return.
I’ll stop there on Tkachuk because I really can’t see this happening in any sense of the imagination. Would I be thrilled if it did? Sure, but I’m not willing to commit to this and think the Flames are far more likely to build their team around Tkachuk than to ship him out.
As for other Flames that might be available, I do want to float the idea of exploring what the cost would be of bringing in Sean Monahan. There has been a rather steep decline from the point per game play, and 30 goal performances of Monahan a couple of years ago to his .63 point per game pace over the last two seasons. With a $6.375M cap hit for the next two seasons, that might be a better example of salary that the Flames would readily make available and one that, while difficult for the Leafs to absorb, offers them an opportunity have a solid third center option, one that can potentially move up to the top six during injuries to Matthews or Tavares, or one that could allow Tavares to spend some time on the wing.
While Monahan represents a risk, he represents less of a deck chair shuffle move like the Leafs would undertake with a Tkachuk trade. While I can appreciate the need for the Leafs to get tougher, paying the premium for toughness rarely benefits the team acquiring it.