Rumors have surfaced that the Maple Leafs have interest in Anaheim Ducks starter John Gibson and for good reason.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had some good fortune come their way when veteran defenseman Mark Giordano agreed to a new contract for the bargain-basement rate of $800,000 for each of the next two seasons. Because of Giordano’s selfless financial decision, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is going to have more salary cap space to play with than many analysts anticipated.
However, there is a sense in Leafs Land that Toronto’s newfound cap flexibility is not going to be used to bring back goaltender Jack Campbell. The Buds’ No. 1 netminder in the past two seasons is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and some team is going to give him a major raise on the $1.65 million he earned in the 2021-22 campaign. But the reality is Campbell has not stolen games for the Leafs when it counted, and committing upwards of $4 or $5 million per season for the next three or four years is a gamble Dubas may not be prepared to take.
So, if Campbell isn’t the solution – and backup Petr Mrazek definitely isn’t the solution – who will Toronto turn to in net? There have been rumors the Leafs have interest in Anaheim Ducks starter John Gibson, and for good reason: the 27-year-old has been frustrated with Anaheim’s lack of on-ice success since he signed a long-term contract extension in 2018, and the opportunity to play on a legitimate Stanley Cup contender like the Leafs may be appealing to him.
But don’t fool yourself into thinking Gibson will easily push Toronto into the next echelon of competitiveness. There is real risk that will come with acquiring him, and the Leafs will need to pay a heavy price to bring him aboard.
New Ducks GM Pat Verbeek began the process of retooling his roster at this year’s NHL trade deadline, dealing away veterans Rickard Rakell and Josh Manson. In addition, cornerstone center and captain Ryan Getzlaf has retired. Moving Gibson would accelerate the rebuilding process, and although Gibson has a modified no-trade clause – he can submit a list of 10 teams he is unwilling to be dealt to – he would fetch an excellent, young player in return.
Someone, like, say, Leafs winger William Nylander. The Swedish winger makes about the same amount of money Gibson does – Nylander will earn $6.9 million for the next two seasons, while Gibson has a cap hit of $6.4 million – and at age 26, Nylander can be a long-term component of Anaheim’s blueprint for success. He may also perform even better away from the harsh glare of the spotlight in Toronto. Most importantly, moving Nylander now will be a pro-active move, as he’ll be a UFA in the summer of 2024. Even with a slight rise in the cap ceiling. he almost certainly will be out of the Leafs’ budget limits at that point. Moving him now would result in the optimal return for his services.
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That said, even if Anaheim were willing to do a Nylander-for-Gibson swap, the Leafs would be taking a chance on Gibson. His salary runs for five more seasons, and if his play drops off as it’s done in the past three years (his save percentage has been .904, .903, and .904), it will not be easy to end the experiment the way they’re about to do when they buy out Mrazek. Still, if you take into account the fact Gibson was on a terrible Ducks squad in the past three seasons, you should expect a rebound from him.
The free-agent goalie market is soft, and that’s why there will be interest in Campbell from numerous teams besides the Leafs. But they don’t have to accept Campbell’s salary demands simply because he was the No. 1 guy in Toronto for a couple of years.
Moving in a different direction with cost certainty until Gibson turns 32 is, in this writer’s viewpoint, an upgrade between the pipes. It will hurt the Buds to move Nylander, but that’s the cost of making a move for a far-well-above goalie. The deal would help both teams, and those are the types of transactions that usually get done.
Campbell is a hugely likable guy, but if the Leafs can’t make the money or term work for a new contract, Gibson would be the ideal choice to replace him.
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