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Who’s staying, who’s going? A look at the Maple Leafs’ free agency roster decisions

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Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
When it comes to absolutely any roster, lineup, contract, or whatever decision on players the Leafs’ direction is decidedly “TBD”. Until the fate of Kyle Dubas is fully known the Leafs are in a bit of a holding pattern on their on-ice personnel. Of course, that doesn’t mean that hastily throwing out opinions on who should stay or go is off limits, and that is what we are doing here.
The Leafs have a long list of players to make decisions on and in a summer that is bound to see significant changes, it’s probably worth assuming that most of these players will be saving their cardboard boxes and picking up change of address forms pretty soon.

The Unrestricted Free Agents

The two biggest names at the top of the Leafs UFA list are unquestionably Ryan O’Reilly and Michael Bunting and are interesting cases around their potential returns.
Ryan O’Reilly sounded pretty committed to getting out of the Leafs organization as quickly as he came into it. There were a lot of past tense responses to his time with Toronto and not a whole lot of looking to the future. That is a tad disappointing as the idea of the Leafs returning to a strong three deep approach at center had a lot of appeal and in the long term, O’Reilly could have been an important part of the leadership group. That said, with the limited number of higher tier free agents this summer, there is bound to be more money for O’Reilly elsewhere and Toronto getting into a bidding war over him isn’t worth it.
Avoiding bidding wars is also going to be the case for moving on from Michael Bunting. He’s been a strong complementary player to Auston Matthews but offered little alongside anyone else. The zest for his pestiness took a hit with both the fanbase and the organization down the stretch and if the Scarborough native is going to remain a Leaf it would have to come at a discount. That discount is unlikely when someone who hasn’t done their homework on Bunting will give him a questionable raise.
The next tier of UFA’s that need to be considered are the long time scapegoats, Justin Holl and Alex Kerfoot. Both might have been overly criticized by fans, but both might have been overly utilized by the organization as well. From a fan perspective, these two are already out the door, but on the other hand, if Sheldon Keefe is back, either of these two players could be as well.
David Kampf, Noel Acciari, and Zach Aston-Reese are also up for unrestricted free agency and all are best suited to fourth line work despite Acciari putting in a lot of 3rd line duties over his time in Toronto. Keeping Acciari and correcting his role to the fourth line makes sense. Keeping Aston-Reese at a low price might also make sense although I can’t see it occurring prior to free agency opening. Kampf… well, Kampf has been decent but there has been a decline this season compared to last and the limitations of his game have made his exit seem inevitable.
In addition to the other fourth line UFAs, it seems like we are close to a retirement announcement from Wayne Simmonds, but he might wish to test free agency first to see if there is a part time role around the NHL that he might be suited for.
On the blueline the Leafs also have to make decisions around Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson is probably done with Toronto and after a strong year in Washington and strong play when he was in the Toronto lineup, he is probably looking for a team that values him more than a 7th or 8th defenseman. This is a bit of a bummer as Gustafsson seemed like a savvy acquisition and he just became a victim of the coach’s preference.
Luke Schenn is a player that we could very well see return, assuming the price is right. There is definitely a case for Schenn getting a raise. And the fact that he became a fit with Rielly definitely has him serving a need on the Leafs, but with so much of the Toronto blueline already looking sorted out for next year, I guess you could make a case that the money on Schenn is better spent elsewhere. Still, I’d expect to see him back with the Leafs.
Rounding out the UFAs there are some Marlies that need to be figured out. Carl Dahlstrom, Jordie Benn, Erik Kallgren, and Radim Zohorna could all leave without little fanfare, but I suspect that Toronto will at least consider keeping Zohorna around as he did provide a spark in his limited showing with the Leafs.

The Restricted Free Agents

On the Leafs roster the list is limited to Ilya Samsonov and Victor Mete. I’ll hold off on Mete for a minute to address the main RFA the Leafs will deal with this summer and that’s Samsonov.
Samsonov very much should be back as he was a solid, stable netminder that has the potential to be even better in coming years. The Leafs also still have the opportunity to leverage his arbitration status to bring him back for just one more season if they like at a potentially lower cost than committing to him for the long term. This seems like the best path forward and even if they land on a contract before arbitration it seems like there is the potential for controlling the cost and term with Samsonov.
Mete is probably on his way out as Conor Timmins has come in and done a lot of what Mete was going to do and shown the potential to do even more. If Mete wants another kick at Toronto it might be offered to him on the cheap, but the Leafs aren’t going to rush anything here.
Pontus Holmberg is also essentially a Leafs RFA although he spent the back half of the year on the Marlies roster. There’s not going to be a huge cost to Holmberg and it seems like a lock he’ll return on a one way deal. He also holds arbitration rights like Mete and Samsonov.
The final arbitration rights RFA with the Leafs is Mac Hollowell. Injuries once again sidetracked a lot of Hollowell’s season, but his offensive numbers were the best of his career so far. It seems that at 24 the Leafs should prioritize the contract space over part time role Hollowell has played on the Marlies and let him go.
Nick Abruzzese and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev are both interesting cases in that they add some value to the Marlies top six but both seem like longshots for regular NHL work. The fact that both felt like they were worth looking at for a little longer than the time they got with the Leafs might be enough reason to bring them both back on one year deals before writing them off.
Finally, Filip Kral. Like Mete and Hollowell, Kral has looked like he has some promise when he’s in the lineup. The problem is that Kral has a hard time staying in the lineup. Of the three, Kral is the one I’d bet on the most, but I think I’d still rather cut bait and instead reward someone like Noel Hoefenmayer with a contract.

So who is staying and who is going?

Staying: Ilya Samsonov, Luke Schenn, Noel Acciari, Pontus Holmberg, Nick Abruzzese, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
Going: Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting, David Kampf, Wayne Simmonds, Zach Aston-Reese, Erik Gustafsson, Justin Holl, Alex Kerfoot, Erik Kallgren, Jordie Benn, Victor Mete, Mac Hollowell, Filip Kral, Carl Dahlstrom
While the idea of keeping O’Reilly is one that I’d like to hold onto and one the Leafs are rumoured to be pursuing, I’m not feeling optimistic here.
As I mentioned at the start, this is going to come down to who is calling the shots for the Leafs this summer and in that sense the biggest free agent of all might be Kyle Dubas.

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