Predicting the next contracts for Maple Leaf free agents

Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
23 days ago
Save for shuffling around the coaches the Maple Leafs have been fairly quiet in June. That’s largely to be expected as very little happens on the trade front until the Stanley Cup has been awarded. The one area where the Maple Leafs could be active is on re-signing their free agents. That has been at a standstill, quite possibly by design as the Leafs will likely prioritize defensive upgrades this summer.
Despite the lack of movement, it’s a safe bet that at least a few free agents will be returning, and here’s a quick look at their projected contracts and whether they seem reasonable.

Bertuzzi & Domi

This greasy Leafs duo highlights the list of pending Leafs’ UFAs. Having snot on the Leafs seemed like a popular development even if it took both players some time to find their footing in the Maple Leafs’ lineup. Mitch Marner being traded seems unlikely. The Leafs also have younger, cheaper players like McMann, Dewar, Cowan, Minten, and Robertson all capable of taking NHL roster spots this fall. The Maple Leafs need a goaltender and at least two significant defencemen go a big way toward, pricing Domi and Bertuzzi out of Toronto. There is hope that at least one could return, and Evolving Hockey’s contract projections put both players in the $4.5M-$4.75M range with three years of term.
For Bertuzzi, the projection seems low and weighs heavily on the lack of offence during his time in Toronto. The late season push isn’t going to stand out in algorithms the way it will the minds of GMs and there are teams likely still willing to pay Bertuzzi close to $6M or at least $5M with term to have him in their top six.
Domi, on the other hand, could be cheaper due to his play away from the puck not matching that of Bertuzzi and the need for a bit of a discount to earn him some term. If the Maple Leafs are looking to re-sign one of these players there is also some hope that Domi might be motivated to stay in Toronto at a more team friendly price.

Changes on defence

The Leafs have four significant UFAs hitting the market this summer and there should be minimal interest in running any of them back. TJ Brodie had a year from hell and while age catching up to him could be part of that equation, the tough personal year and expectation that he carry defensively inept partners in tough minutes are reasons to be optimistic that he still has some good hockey left in him. With Evolving Hockey predicting that Brodie can still get over $5M AAV and four years of term on a contract probably means that the Leafs aren’t the team to take a chance. Brad Treliving has tried to trade Brodie once before (in the vetoed Kadri deal) and let him walk in free agency with the Flames. It seems unlikely that the Leafs’ GM is suddenly motivated to keep Brodie after his tough year.
Whether Mark Giordano continues playing hockey at all is still to be determined. There hasn’t been an official announcement yet and if he were to continue his $800k path with the Leafs for another season they would be lucky to have him. Evolving Hockey’s predictions put him in the $2M range, but I don’t think any team will be paying that. If it is not the Leafs, Giordano will likely find a contending team that he wants to be a part of as a 7th or 8th defenceman.
The Leafs’ trade deadline acquisitions appear to be affordable run back options. Evolving Hockey has both Joel Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin as sub $1.5M AAV options on single year deals. This makes a ton of sense given that both are third pairing defencemen that while they have something to offer aren’t going to bring much beyond compete with Simon Benoit for icetime. Depth is still important and both players have their selling point, Lyubushkin with his right shot and Edmundson for having some history with Berube.

The RFAs

When it comes to the players likely to return the RFAs are a good start but don’t really come with a sense of urgency to getting them signed. Both Timothy Liljegren and Connor Dewar are eligible for arbitration and either the player or the club will elect for arbitration to keep them from offersheets while Nick Robertson is either going to be signed to the Leafs for less than $1.51M AAV or Toronto would happily take the 3rd round pick or better compensation they’d get for him via another team signing him. 
Dewar and Robertson are both predicted to be somewhat cheap signings as Evolving Hockey has both of them just under $1.5M. Timothy Liljegren is more complex as the projection here is just north of $4M for three years.
Liljegren signing at that price isn’t something the Leafs are likely to consider as arbitration likely offers them a cheaper one year option, possibly at half that price. This is also another one of those scenarios where the things that Liljegren does well translate favourably in algorithms, but utilization and eye test would bring Liljegren down to a more reasonable number. An arbitration number for Timothy Liljegren seems like it would come in closer to $2M and if he were available on the open market, Liljegren would likely be a $3M AAV player.

Samsonov vs. other UFA goaltenders

Using the Evolving Hockey contract predictions, Samsonov has the third highest predicted cap hit after Anthony Stolarz and Laurent Brossoit. Samsonov is expected to come in under $3M and slightly edge out Cam Talbot and Alex Nedeljkovic, all three being around the $2.5M-$2.75M range.
If the Leafs are truly bargain hunting for a tandem partner for Joseph Woll, both Kevin Lankinen and Kaapo Kahkonen are projected below $1.5M AAV.
If you are looking to see the full projections with the specific values you can find them on Evolving Hockey (subscription fee required) and while projections are just that and don’t fully account for how much money there is to go around, who doesn’t get signed right away, and the anticipated craziness of the spike in the salary cap this season, this is helpful context for what’s to come on July 1st.
If the Leafs were to run back all of the players listed here at the Evolving Hockey values they’d be well north of the $20M cap space the Leafs are working with. Even if they tried to run it back with Brodie and Giordano the Leafs would be over. To state the obvious, expect some new faces in the lineup next fall.

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