The Toronto Maple Leafs needed to shed contracts, move money, bring in right-sided defensemen, and change the makeup of the entire team. Kyle Dubas has done this in spades, capped off with the Colorado trade, sending Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd-round pick to the Avs for Tyson Barrie (half retained), RFA Alex Kerfoot, and a 2020 6th-round pick. Wow.
The Leafs Outlook
This isn’t an understatement, if and when Mitch Marner resigns with the Leafs, this team is poised for a Stanley Cup run. On paper, their D-core is much more balanced and deeper, their bottom-6 forwards are cheaper and more versatile, and the complexion of the team is very different.
The addition of Tyson Barrie gives Morgan Rielly a high-speed, offensive partner to run-and-gun alongside on the Leafs top pairing. Barrie isn’t going to wow you with his defensive abilities or shutdown play, but his skating ability, passing skills, and breakout play will make him a solid fast-paced partner for Rielly.
Kerfoot’s addition is interesting. The RFA needs to be signed and his arbitration rights plus past production have him slated to earn Johnsson/Kapanen money on his new deal. Contract aside, Kerfoot is an awesome young player who can take the place of Kadri on the third line or replace Hyman at left-wing in his absence.
Losing Rosen sucks, but he was a bottom pairing defenseman who wasn’t likely to excel past that on a stacked left side. Kadri being moved also hits a melancholy, sentimental note amongst Leafs Nation. Just over ten years since he joined the team, the Kadri era is now over. I’ll salute him and respect him, but also celebrate the return he garnered on his value contract.
The Leafs Lineup Depth
I have the lineup penciled in to look like this:
This lineup sees Kapanen assume Hyman’s role on the Tavares/Marner line, Marner resigning for under $11 million, Mikheyev and Petan as depth RW options, Ceci signing for less-than-Zaitsev (if not exact Zaitsev) money, Harpur and Gravel splitting that third-pairing LD spot, and Justin Holl in the starting lineup.
As of right now, this is how I would set the Leafs team up but I understand the cap may need work (this has them over by just over by $300k), more player may move, extensions may be signed, and plans may change.
What I like about this line up is that the Marlies don’t have to get pillaged for players just to cheaply fill roster holes. Adam Brooks isn’t cutting his development short to replace Kadri, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin aren’t prematurely the Leafs bottom pairing, Pierre Engvall, Jeremy Bracco, and Dymytro Timashov aren’t thrust into action ahead of schedule. This team is heavy on cheap, reliable, low-risk high-reward veterans and it’s intelligently constructed.
Montreal will improve this offseason, Ottawa got worse, Boston got marginally worse, Tampa remains elite, and Florida is pushing for a playoff team. None of these teams, Panthers included, touch the level of improvement the Leafs have seen.
I say this because the Leafs core of Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, and Rielly (Marner pending) remains untouched. This group of players, love them or hate them, is the heartbeat of the team. Role players like Johnsson and Kapanen have been signed, mercenaries like Barrie, Agostino, Spezza, and Ceci have been brought in, and gambles have been made in Hutchinson/Sparks as the backup tandem, but the team as a whole is an improved squad.
Pencil in these Leafs for a playoff run, and move out of the way Boston because this train isn’t coming off the rails in the first round! God, I love being a Leaf fan!