With the NHL’s expansion draft a day away, it’s as good a time as any to check in on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their expansion-related plans. The Leafs made a notable move just before the roster freeze went into effect Saturday, acquiring forward Jared McCann from Pittsburgh for prospect Filip Hallander. That deal was widely interpreted as a defensive maneuver on the part of Toronto GM Kyle Dubas, with an eye toward adding roster insurance if the expansion Seattle Kraken decided to select forward Alex Kerfoot from the Leafs; McCann is just 25 years old, and had a solid year with the Penguins last season, scoring 14 goals and 32 points in 43 games in just an average of 14:07.
McCann produced very well while playing on Pittsburgh’s third line last year, but he could play on the wing on the Leafs’ second line, or center Toronto’s third line in place of Kerfoot. Alternatively, if Seattle picked McCann – and his cheaper salary cap hit of $2.94 million, compared to Kerfoot’s $3.5 million salary – Kerfoot would obviously return to the Leafs this coming year. Or would he? There’s no guarantee Dubas will move Kerfoot, even if Seattle left him alone. Toronto’s cap tightness may necessitate more moves than only the ones that have been made so far, and Kerfoot is a healthy, productive asset who could help replenish the Leafs’ cachet of draft picks.
In any case, Dubas has prepared his organization as best he can for the bumpy road that lies ahead. McCann’s arrival could mean there’s little chance the Leafs re-sign veteran forward Nick Foligno, who Dubas surrendered a first-round pick as Toronto chased their playoff dreams last year. But Foligno may yet choose to return to the Leafs, especially if the money initially earmarked for rugged winger Zach Hyman and goaltender Frederik Andersen opens up for Dubas to use. Many think both Hyman and Andersen have played their final game as Leafs, and if they do depart, Dubas would have $7.25-million in cap space to play with. That’s more than enough to re-sign Foligno and bring in a backup goalie to play behind starter Jack Campbell.
And that’s about as good as it’s going to get for the Leafs this off-season. There’s likely to be a handful of reactionary moves depending on who the Kraken select off of Toronto’s roster, but it’s not likely there’s a blockbuster move involving one of the Leafs’ big four (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander). Dubas and Toronto president Brendan Shanahan are willing to go on another run with their core, and leave bigger transactions for next summer, should their current core falter again. Anything less than a two-to-three-round post-season run in 2021-22 will be an abject failure, and patience will have worn thin enough to justify breaking up the big-cap-hit-quartet.
Latest Leafs News
- Main Job Opportunities For Leafs Lie at Wing Position
- NHL Revamped Rosters for 2021-22: Atlantic Division Pt. 2
- Leafs’ Goaltending Key Question For Their Success This Coming Year
- High-Pressure Leafs Season Will Force Sandin, Robertson & Liligren to Earn Roster Spots
- Road to Playoff Success For Leafs Likely to Go Through Two Florida Teams
But for now, the Leafs have stockpiled their asset base and will look largely the same this coming season as they did last year. There may be additional responsibilities for younger defensemen such as Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liligren, and either McCann and/or Kerfoot could be tasked with more minutes to help shoulder the load for head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s bottom-six group of forwards also will be tweaked, rather than overloaded with new faces: veterans Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza are back in the fold, and youngsters Nick Robertson and Adam Brooks should get longer looks from Keefe. And it’s still possible forward Alex Galchenyuk returns on a low-cap-hit deal. Some may look at that possibility as a low one, given there are more names potentially coming back to Toronto than there are roster spots. That’s true, but always bear in mind, injuries can always be a factor, particularly with an older team. You want depth, and if you can get it with a slew of players on cheap contracts, all the better for your long-term flexibility and competitiveness.
So, don’t look for the Maple Leafs to be the most active team on expansion day, or in the remainder of the NHL off-season. Dubas can’t keep throwing away draft picks to bolster his group, and there’s no appetite for massive transactions, so what remains is the potential to move around a small number of pieces on the periphery of Toronto’s core, and hope for a different result than the ghastly one the Buds put forth in their first-round loss to Montreal this year. Management wants this collection of players to learn and grow as a unit, and they’ll have one more shot at it before the blue-and-white bulldozer returns to try again with a different main-player look next fall.