2:50 PM: Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas took his turn at the podium today, and issued some useful clarity on both his own future and his plans for the Maple Leafs moving forward, should he be retained as GM. On his own future, Dubas said it would be a “family decision” on whether he will remain as head coach, and that he would either remain an executive in Toronto, or step away and take some time to “recalibrate on the season” he just had. Perhaps most importantly for other teams potentially interested in hiring Dubas to fill their vacant GM roles, Dubas stated: “you won’t see me next week popping up elsewhere,” meaning he is highly unlikely to be a possibility for any of this cycle’s GM vacancies.
His other revealing comments today were regarding the Maple Leafs’ general strategy, and how he would approach improving his team. Dubas said he would be “interested in doing anything” with his roster this summer, and that he “would take nothing off the table at all,” which obviously includes superstars such as Matthews. Dubas cited the Panthers (and presumably their bold, core-shaking trade for Matthew Tkachuk last summer) as an example of a team that re-structured a disappointing core in a successful manner, so based on these comments, it seems there could be a greater appetite for seismic change in Toronto than some might have anticipated.
For what its worth, Toronto’s core players almost exclusively expressed sincere hopes that they could remain Maple Leafs and not see their core group of players broken up. But based on Dubas’ recent comments, it looks as though their general manager will examine every possible opportunity to improve his team, even if it requires saying parting with some talented familiar faces.
12:30 PM: Since the Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs by the Florida Panthers, much of the focus of the hockey world has been on three of the team’s key figures: general manager Kyle Dubas, head coach Sheldon Keefe, and superstar face of the franchise Auston Matthews. While the futures of both Dubas and Keefe are technically more immediately pressing, it’s the fate of Matthews that is likely to have the most significant on-ice consequences. The 25-year-old 2021-22 Hart Trophy winner is set to see his current $11.6MM AAV contract expire after next season, and will gain a full no-movement clause this summer, giving Toronto no opportunity to consider trades for him should he decide he wants to test the open market.
Toronto must be thankful, then, that testing the waters of unrestricted free agency does not seem to be Matthews’ top priority. As relayed by Northstar Bets’ Chris Johnston, Matthews told the media that his “intention” is to remain a Maple Leaf, and that he would like an extension to be finalized before next season. It’s worth noting that Matthews’ comments on his future today will feel extremely similar to what John Tavares communicated to the media as he approached the expiry of his contract with the New York Islanders, and Tavares ultimately did leave as a free agent. So that is to say that even with these comments, there remains a ways to go before Matthews’ pen hits the paper on a lucrative new long-term deal, and the possibility that he departs still exists. But in terms of each outcome’s likelihood, Matthews’ comments today have to give confidence to the Toronto market that their team’s best player is in it for the long haul.
Other notes regarding the Maple Leafs:
- One player who seems unlikely to be signing a contract extension to remain in Toronto is 27-year-old winger Michael Bunting. Today Bunting told the media, including Sports Illustrated’s David Alter, that he didn’t have any contract talks about an extension with the Maple Leafs during the season. While it’s possible Bunting, who scored 23 goals and 49 points this season before disappointing in the playoffs, could ultimately find a way to return to Toronto, it does not seem as though that outcome is likely. Bunting has a chance to headline a class of free agent left wingers relatively thin in top-level talent, meaning it’s a strong possibility that he’s able to earn a better offer from another club than Toronto is in a position to make.
- Speaking with the media today, Maple Leafs center Ryan O’Reilly also answered questions on his future. Johnston reports that O’Reilly sounded “more inclined to test the open market on July 1 than try and work out an extension” with Toronto, which once again feels like the likeliest outcome given the cap constraints Toronto’s big contracts have forced them to work with. After a disappointing 40-game run this season with the St. Louis Blues, O’Reilly was dealt to Toronto and the trade seemed to revive his game. He scored 11 points in 13 regular-season games and nine in 11 playoff games, including a few important contributions in high-leverage moments. But having significantly helped his stock with his playoff performance, O’Reilly may also have placed himself out of Toronto’s price range for a contract extension.
- The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun relays word from Maple Leafs netminder Ilya Samsonov regarding the injury that knocked him out of the team’s second-round playoff series against Florida. Samsonov said an unfortunate collision with teammate Luke Schenn caused him to suffer a neck injury, and it’s that injury that forced rookie Joseph Woll between the pipes. Samsonov ultimately finished his nine-game run in the playoffs with sub-par numbers (.898 save percentage and 3.13 goals-against-average in nine games played) though he did manage to backstop Toronto to their long-awaited playoff series victory. Samsonov added in his media availability that he hopes to be able to re-sign with Toronto, who will have the opportunity to retain his rights as an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent with a $1.8MM qualifying offer.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs signed 2021 sixth-round pick Vyacheslav Peksa to a three-year, $851k AAV entry-level deal. Peksa, a 20-year-old Russian netminder, has been developing in KHL club Ak Bars Kazan’s system for a few seasons now. Last year was his final campaign at Russia’s junior level and he posted a .936 save percentage in 56 games played. This year, he moved to Russia’s second-tier men’s pro league and posted an impressive .921 save percentage in 40 games, vastly outplaying Vladimir Mosin and Ilya Golubev, the two other goalies on his team who also happen to be older than Peksa. This move allows Peksa to continue his development in North America, where he could either end up with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies or ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers.