The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing an interesting offseason. While it’s uncertain if the 2019-20 season will resume, general manager Kyle Dubas will still aim to improve the team before the 2020-21 campaign begins.
Offensively, all of Toronto’s big pieces — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander — are signed long-term. In fact, the only forwards who are pending free agents are Ilya Mikheyev, Kyle Clifford, Jason Spezza, Denis Malgin and Frederik Gauthier.
That’s good news for the Leafs as they sported the third-best offense in the NHL this year, averaging 3.39 goals per game. Matthews was in contention to win the Hart and Rocket Richard trophies with a career-high 80 points in 70 games this season. Marner also averaged more than a point a game with 67 in 59 appearances. Tavares and Nylander rounded out the quartet with 60 and 59 points respectively.
The area Toronto will certainly look to improve upon in the offseason is the defense, which ranked tied for sixth-worst in the league allowing 3.17 goals per game. Injuries definitely played a big part in that, with Tyson Barrie and Justin Holl the only two blueliners who remained healthy throughout the season.
In his first season north of the border, Barrie played every game totaling 39 points (five goals, 34 assists). Holl saw his role increase significantly due to all the injuries Toronto had on the backend. The 28-year-old entered the 2019-20 season having played in 13 career NHL games. This season, he played in 68, tallying 18 points becoming a reliable defenseman in his first full NHL season.
Defensemen Morgan Rielly (foot), Jake Muzzin (hand), Travis Dermott (shoulder) and Cody Ceci (ankle) all missed at least 10 games this season, contributing to the team’s defensive struggles. In the crease, the Maple Leafs had a steady presence in Frederik Andersen. The Danish goalie played in 52 games this season posting a 29-13-7 record and three shutouts.
Toronto is still trying to enter the top tier of teams in the NHL and become a bonafide Stanley Cup contender. In what will be the first offseason for new head coach Sheldon Keefe, Dubas will have to look for ways to improve the roster with very little wiggle room when it comes to the salary cap.
Here’s a look at the Maple Leafs’ 2020 NHL Entry Draft picks, pending free agents and salary cap situation.
2020 NHL Entry Draft picks
|4 (from VGK)|
|5 (from VGK)|
|6 (from CAR)|
|6 (from COL)|
|7 (from SJ)|
|7 (from WPG)|
|7 (from STL)|
The Maple Leafs are without a first and third-round pick this year. Carolina owns Toronto’s first after trading Patrick Marleau last summer while Colorado owns their third as part of the Barrie trade.
Dubas will be awfully busy in the later rounds, owning six picks in the final two rounds. In total, the Maple Leafs own 10 draft picks — tied for the fourth-most in the league. Considering Toronto’s limited cap space heading into next season, Dubas could use his deep stock of draft picks to trade for players.
Pending free agents
|Frederik Gauthier||F||RFA (arbitration eligible)|
|Denis Malgin||F||RFA (arbitration eligible)|
|Pontus Aberg||F||RFA (arbitration eligible)|
|Max Veronneau||F||RFA (arbitration eligible)|
The Maple Leafs have two restricted free agents in Mikheyev and Dermott who are likely to stay with the team. Dermott is more of a necessity for the Leafs as half of their top-six defensemen are free agents. Entering the offseason, the Maple Leafs are projected to have about $7 million in cap space according to CapFriendly. That number could change depending on if the league changes the cap number for next season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barrie is the biggest unrestricted free agent for Toronto. There were rumors he would get traded ahead of the trade deadline, but with all the injuries, Toronto decided to keep him. The 28-year-old defenseman had a salary of $2.75 million this season and he will likely demand an increase in his next contract.
For the right price, Toronto would like to keep him, but if they re-sign Barrie, they might not have enough flexibility to add depth to the roster. Considering all the injuries endured this season, Dubas will have to look to deepen the squad.
The Leafs do have defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren who could step into an NHL role next season. Sandin played in 28 games this season, totaling eight points, while Liljegren has played in 11.
This offseason, Dubas will likely focus on addressing the blueline and adding depth. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien could be an intriguing option that would be relatively cheap — should he decide to continue his NHL career. He would provide veteran experience and physicality on the blueline.
Toronto, who hasn’t advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2003-04 season, will try to find a way to catch the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning in a top-heavy Atlantic Division. With the city’s perenially high expectations for the Leafs, the pressure is on Dubas to improve the squad heading into the 2020-21 season.