Keefe is only going to slow things down, unqualified RFAs, the Dubas factor: Leaflets

Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
It’s officially the Treliving era and perhaps the most exciting part of it is the fact that it is painfully unclear what direction he is going to take with the Leafs. We can certainly assume there won’t be a drastic overhaul that would jeopardize their playoff contention, and there is going to be pressure on him to put a stamp on the team that shows as an upgrade.
Since we really don’t know what Treliving is going to do, I guess we can get back to wild speculation or simply talk about what we would like Treliving to do for the Leafs. That suits me just fine. Here are a couple of thoughts to that point:

Just move on from Sheldon Keefe now

This history of the NHL says that a coaching change is coming. Whether it is now, two months into the season, or Keefe is simply not renewed next year, a new GM is going to want a say on who their coach is and while I’m sure Sheldon Keefe will conduct himself professionally, there isn’t any doubt over where his loyalties lie when it comes to the MLSE and Dubas falling out.
The biggest selling point on Keefe was always that he would play the players that Kyle Dubas brought in the way that Kyle intended for them to be used. The partnership approach worked with the Greyhounds, the Marlies, and did pretty well with the Leafs too, but it is unlikely that Keefe will ever be on the same page with anyone as much as he is with Dubas.
When it comes to Brad Treliving’s history with inheriting a coach, Bob Hartley did get two seasons before Treliving moved on and he did wait until the end of the season to make the call.
The Leafs are very much in a different situation than the Flames were when Treliving came in, so I’m not sure how much the one precedent is going to apply. Instead, the Leafs are looking for a way of putting themselves over the top and to date Sheldon Keefe has shown capable of a strong regular season approach but has struggled when matched in a series against a prepared opponent.
I’m willing to bet one of the deciding factors in what comes next for Sheldon Keefe will come from the initial conversations with the Leafs roster, especially Auston Matthews, and if they are supportive of moving on, Treliving will make that call.

Two potential RFAs who won’t receive qualifying offers

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of my favourite tactics of Kyle Dubas was to pursue RFAs who didn’t receive qualifying offers from their teams. Ilya Samsonov is a success story, Nick Ritchie is not. Signing both was the right decision and there are a couple of options out there this year who could be interesting as well.
Jesse Puljujarvi had a rough time in Edmonton. His initial time in Carolina somehow went worse. It is safe to say that Carolina isn’t looking to spend another $3M a year on figuring him out and if they can’t get him to swiftly agree to a deal below his qualifying offer, he’ll test the waters of unrestricted free agency.
For a lot of people the appeal of Jesse Puljujarvi is going to be top five pick upside. That is never going to show up. It is unlikely there is a landing spot that makes him a consistent top six winger that excels at both ends of the ice. The appeal in Puljujarvi is that he has the potential to be a bigger bodied version of Alex Kerfoot and Puljujarvi seemed to be just beginning to grasp the concept that a mean streak will pay off for him in this league. That’s what the Leafs should be interested in and that’s what will likely cost them less on July 1st than re-signing Michael Bunting or Alex Kerfoot.
Another name to watch is Mackenzie Blackwood. I’m not sure if the Leafs will catch lightning in bottle twice with RFA goaltenders, but Blackwood would require a qualifying offer north of $4M on a season that he had a .893 save percentage in 22 games. The two preceding years didn’t go all that much better, but there are still those .918 and .915 save percentage introductory seasons that keep some hope alive here.
Blackwood would add to what has the potential to be an interesting trio. He likely slots in behind Samsonov and Woll at this point because the curiosity around Woll and the fact that he’ll require waivers seems to force him into that 2nd spot. Blackwood as an expensive third string who would get development opportunities and a chance to play given that neither Samsonov or Woll have established they can handle a half of a season workload would make him a potential option. There will be others, but Blackwood still has some upside to chase.

What will the impact of Dubas in Pittsburgh be on the Leafs?

There is a fear, assumption, general feeling, that now that Kyle Dubas is Pittsburgh that the majority of the Leafs front office is going to magically show up there next week and that it is only a matter of time before Brandon Pridham, Wes Clark, Jason Spezza, Darryl Metcalf, Sheldon Keefe, Ryan Hardy, Mike Dixon and Vic Carneiro are all part of the carefully curated Dubas front office that needs to be relied on.
Of course, it’s very likely we see one or two show up if there is a promotion waiting for them or Treliving cuts their time in Toronto short. Jason Spezza has made himself a free agent and could be there tomorrow, but there doesn’t need to be a sense of urgency in his next move, we can assume there is some level of financial comfort there and he can enjoy unemployment for a while.
Someone like Sheldon Keefe is interesting as it seems very unlikely that Kyle Dubas’ first act would be to take away Sidney Crosby’s preferred coach, Mike Sullivan. That said, I’d bet there would be some kind of role waiting for Sheldon if he wants it.
The biggest concern is on the front office side of things and the Penguin’s GM vacancy. Kyle Dubas has stated his intentions to take Pittsburgh through June with himself sitting in the GM chair and addressing the position in July. That certainly opens up a lot more flexibility in who he can talk to post draft, post free agency, as teams won’t be guarded about their strategies.
While the candidates wouldn’t be limited to the Leafs, Pridham is definitely going to get a lot of consideration.
When it comes to what appeals to Dubas off the Leafs roster, that will be where it gets interesting and telling. There’s been a lot of loyalty shown to Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl, I wonder if we see that continue. David Kampf seems like the most likely of Dubas’ potential targets off the Leafs in free agency, but I also wonder if he would keep an eye on if the Leafs are in fact blowing up the core four and pursue William Nylander as an option that can fit Pittsburgh’s budget.
Dubas is loyal to a fault and been unapologetic about reuniting himself with familiar faces that he knows he can work with. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Pittsburgh become Toronto South.

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