It was another busy offseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the front office led by Kyle Dubas once again had to try and make up for a disappointing finish to the season. The Leafs were once again faced with a cap crunch, trying to replace talented players who priced themselves out of town with cheaper options, while still trying to improve the team enough to ice a roster that can finally bring the Leafs past the first round of the playoffs. Key cogs of last year’s team like Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev will not be in Leafs uniforms when the season kicks off in October, and it’s up to newcomers like Matt Murray and Calle Jarnkrok to fill those holes in 2022-23.
With just a couple weeks remaining in the offseason, there could very well be a couple of moves still to come from Dubas and company, as the Leafs will need to find a way to get cap compliant, while retaining young defenceman Rasmus Sandin. But for now, let’s take a look at all the moves the Leafs made this offseason, giving each one a letter grade. Obviously, none of the players involved in this summer’s deals have even played a game for the Leafs yet, so any one of these grades could prove to be horribly wrong within a couple of months, but regardless, let’s get started.
For simplicity, we’ll only look at moves made that involve players who will challenge for a roster spot this year. A third round pick for a fourth and a seventh doesn’t have enough information to grade.
May 22: Mark Giordano re-signs
This was a really tidy piece of work by Dubas, locking up Giordano for two years at a ridiculously low $800k a season. For a veteran blueliner who’s capable of playing top 4 minutes, Gio could have almost certainly picked up a much prettier penny on the open market, but the Toronto native elected to take a hometown discount to stick around with the Leafs for the next couple of years.
June 27: Timothy Liljegren re-signs
Liljegren was signed to a 2 year, $1.4 million contract a little over a month after Giordano inked his deal. With the added hindsight of knowing how long the Rasmus Sandin negotiations have stretched, this deal feels more and more like a win. Liljegren, the Leafs 2017 first round selection, finally cemented a role for himself on the Leafs blueline last season, showing a lot of promise playing alongside Giordano. If he continues to improve, this could be a really good price point for the defenceman, but he’ll definitely get a pay raise a couple of years down the road.
July 7: Petr Mrazek traded
After a disastrous first year in Toronto, Mrazek was traded to Chicago at the draft along with the 25th overall pick, in exchange for the 38th overall pick. The move cleared out $3.8 million in cap space for the Leafs to work with, and gave Mrazek a chance for a fresh start in 2022-23. In a vacuum, you never want to be trading down in the draft without getting something extra in return, but considering how much cap space Mrazek was taking up, for how little he had given the Leafs in 2021-22, Dubas had to do something to move him, and to only move down 13 picks in the draft wasn’t bad at all considering the circumstances:
July 11: Matt Murray acquired
This was likely the biggest head-scratcher of the entire offseason, and perhaps the biggest of Dubas’ tenure at the helm of the Leafs. A couple of days after the draft, Matt Murray was acquired from Ottawa, along with a third round pick and a seventh round pick. Despite his cup winning pedigree, Murray had struggled mightily in Ottawa for the past few seasons, and was coming off a tough season that saw him get demoted to the AHL in November. On top of Murray’s struggles, the Senators only retained $1.56 million of his $6.25 million contract, meaning the Leafs will be paying just under $4.7 million to their new goaltender for the next two season. That’s a big bet, on someone who just hasn’t had it since he left Pittsburgh.
July 13: Ilya Samsonov signs
With a starter who seems to be more of a question mark, the Leafs needed to shore up their goaltending depth. Erik Kallgren was a pleasant surprise last year, but not the kind of guy you’d want to rely on for a long stretch if Murray were to go down with an injury. So Dubas brought in another goaltender with pedigree who hasn’t lived up to the hype, adding Ilya Samsonov on a one year, $1.8 million contract. Samsonov was a first round pick of the Washington Capitals back in 2015, but never took a starting job and ran with it. He’ll push Murray for minutes this season. A nice low-risk, high-reward move by Dubas.
July 13: Nicolas Aube-Kubel signs
The Leafs bottom-six took a little bit of a hit this offseason, with Ilya Mikheyev departing for Vancouver and Jason Spezza hanging up the skates, so they were quick to bring in Aube-Kubel on a one year, $1 million contract. Aube-Kubel, fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Avalanche, brings some toughness and tenacity to the bottom of the Leafs forward group, and should be able to be a part of a solid checking line this season.
July 13: Adam Gaudette signs
A one year, league minimum addition who will challenge for a spot on the fourth line. With Pierre Engvall potentially out for the start of training camp, there may be an hole on the wing for Gaudette to fill and run with.
July 14: Victor Mete and Jordie Benn sign
Very similar to the Gaudette signing, but on the blueline. Two players on one year, league minimum deals, who will be insurance in case of any injuries on the Leafs back end.
July 15: Calle Jarnkrok signs
At the time, this move seemed like a sure sign that Alexander Kerfoot would be gone by the start of the season, as the Leafs added Jarnkrok, a player who could fill Kerfoot’s third line centre role, on a 4 year, $2.1 million contract. As of September 20th, Kerfoot is still a Maple Leaf, so it will be interesting to see which of the two players can take that role and hang on to it. The four year term on Jarnkrok’s deal feels a little bit long, but at a $2.1 million dollar rate, he’ll provide another solid defensive presence for the Leafs forward group.
July 17: Pierre Engvall Extends
It feels like the Leafs have lost so many of this kind of player recently, a solid bottom six player who can provide offence and be responsible defensively. Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Ilya Mikheyev all come to mind, so it was nice to see Engvall return to the Leafs on a one year, $2.25 million extension in July. He’ll be a key part of their third line, and will be a key part of their penalty kill, using his long reach and quick skating to disrupt opponent power plays.
September 9: Zach Aston-Reese signs PTO
This was about as low risk a move as you can get, a professional tryout contract with no long term obligations. Aston-Reese, who has been a defensive stalwart and analytical darling for the past few seasons in Pittsburgh and Anaheim. The Leafs seem to be working towards putting together a shut down line in their bottom six, and ZAR will certainly be given the opportunity to be a part of it through camp.
So, with most of the Leafs moves for the summer complete, there are your transactions grades. With the cap crunch the Leafs were under, it was definitely difficult for them to find ways to improve, so there are definitely some question marks that will still hang over the team, and will continue to do so until the find a way through the first round of the playoffs and beyond.
Overall grade: C
More from TheLeafsNation.com:
David Kampf will once again be a critical component of the bottom-six by Michael Mazzei
- Are the Leafs’ past failures part of the organization’s identity? by Dylan Murphy
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