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Maple Leafs no movement clauses, reclamations, and patience: Leaflets

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
11 months ago
It’s free agency day. A dark day for the owners of Justin Holl jerseys and a darker day for fans of any teams with GMs with too much money available and not enough sense on how to use it. What the Leafs have in Brad Treliving behind the wheel remains to be seen. He’s had some understandable overpays like Nazem Kadri, some great deals like with Tanev and Markstrom, and some stinkers like the Blake Coleman deal. Players like Trevor Lewis and Michael Stone also give you a sense of how Treliving likes to fill out the bottom of the roster, but with a few of these decisions, it is important to remember that these players were brought in largely because Darryl Sutter was the coach.
Right now it seems that Treliving is heavily leaning into bringing back as many former Leafs as possible and while that decision is understandably unpopular it is also makes sense in a free agency context as the market isn’t particularly good. That’s not a justification for bringing back Alex Kerfoot, who could potentially see a raise or at least the same cap hit as his last deal when looking at the open market, but it does make the overpay on David Kampf a bit more palatable, especially when there is a huge amount of uncertainty about what happens with Ryan O’Reilly.
Here are a few other stray thoughts heading into free agency.

Bottom of the lineup card gambles

Through the qualifying offer process there have been a few new names added to unrestricted free agency. Logan Brown, Julien Gauthier, and Kieffer Bellows are three of those players. All three were very much highly touted first round picks at one point and all for the lack of better words have become busts.
Those busts all have some size and ability that might still be somewhat usable in 13F or try to sneak down to the Marlies capacity and there could be enough ability and time left in their careers that they are interesting targets for the Leafs player development group to work with.
If the saying is “you can’t teach size” then there’s something to be said for starting with these guys who have that and then seeing what they can be taught and if that is something the Leafs can benefit from even in a fourth line, bottom six capacity.
Another player that seems to be heading for unrestricted free agency is Jesse Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi hasn’t had a great time in the NHL so far and is slated to miss a lot of 2023-24 to recover from an injury. It would be interesting to see if the Leafs development team can help bring him back from injury and potentially gain a sizeable bottom six forward with upside on a reasonable deal (and LTIR to start).
As much as possible it would be nice to see the Leafs use free agency to chase low risk/high reward upside and put trust in their player development team, with the acknowledgement that there are so many hours in the day and half the team can’t be reclamation projects.

The waiting game

If the Ryan Johansen, Reilly Smith, Taylor Hall, and Kevin Hayes trades prove anything, it’s that the trade market has been talent than the free agent one and the players you can get are a lot cheaper.
Assuming the Leafs stay out of free agency, there is the potential for a lot of money to be spent and a lot of cap situations to get even worse. The Leafs can sit back with their approximately $10M in cap space and can try to elevate some of the cap burden of teams looking to unload a perfectly usable player because they just overspent on John Klingberg.
In a year where there aren’t really players that should be “targets” and instead there are just guys that you should check in on to see if they will sign at a reasonable price, the Leafs can put themselves in a situation to be paid to take better players.
In the event that market doesn’t materialize you can still pat yourself on the back for avoiding paying Tyler Bertuzzi $7M a year.

The No Movement Era

July 1st marks the beginning of the no movement clauses for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and the 10 team no trade list for William Nylander. You already knew this because it’s been mentioned absolutely everywhere.
The reality is that this really doesn’t change a whole lot. Auston Matthews still wants to be a Leaf, or so we are told and while this looks like more leverage it doesn’t change the fact that Auston Matthews was always holding all the cards and Toronto moving him would be dependent on either a team wanting him for just one season or it being to a team that he wanted to re-sign. There is also the issue of there being no way a new Leafs GM would want to cost Toronto Auston Matthews as one of their first moves. The only card the Leafs hold is one of wanting to build a winner around Matthews and they seem to be playing that card well, but I wonder if the Matthews camp will be looking for some evidence of what that winner looks like before they commit to an extension.
As of July 1st, William Nylander officially becomes the most moveable of the core four and that puts him in an interesting spot. He would be a cut above anyone who is available in free agency or the trade market and that should be beneficial to the Leafs if they wanted to move on, but again, they probably shouldn’t be thinking of going down that road anyway.
Brad Treliving has already shown a willingness to make slight overpays in order to keep his bottom six players (David Kampf) and from most of the numbers that have been put out there it seems that the Leafs and William Nylander are likely within a $500k window. It doesn’t seem impossible to just bite that bullet.
That brings us to Mitch Marner and likely the most complicated situation of the three. Marner’s no movement clause is kicking in a year before the Leafs have the opportunity to extend so there is far more of a leap of faith that things can be done with Marner and based on his last contract, there is a far greater risk of a higher cap hit.
The thing is, even if Marner is a bit more complicated that doesn’t seem like a reason to rush to move him or not throw everything at contract negotiations. Mitch won’t be cheap but he will likely be at the mercy of the Matthews contract as the ceiling for his potential deal. And while it’s an easy thing to say a couple of years out, if a deal can’t be had with Marner, getting two years of Mitch during a very competitive window then gaining a ton of cap space to pursue new options isn’t as bad an outcome as dealing Marner now and rolling with a more limited lineup.
As much as there is frustration with this group, especially coming out of the playoffs, the Leafs are better with the core four, it’s just Toronto needs to find a way to surround them a few other helpful cast members.
Then, check out The Leafs Morning Take at 4pm EST where Nick Alberga and Jay Rosehill will break down the frenzy of Free Agency.

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