While armed with top talent to make a Stanley Cup run now, the Toronto Maple Leafs will also have quite a few decisions to make after this season. For purposes of their playoff run, the team held onto its two key unrestricted free agents in Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. However, there is an extreme likelihood the team will move on from those two after the season. The team’s salary cap will continue to tighten over the next couple of years, especially with the pending extensions of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. In fact, all three could be extended this summer, although Nylander is the only one who will be a restricted free agent when the offseason begins.
Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star writes that its unlikely either Bozak or van Riesmdyk will return. Bozak is especially unlikely as he will be highly coveted by teams that are in need of a center and might overpay to sign him, something that Toronto cannot afford to do. Van Riemsdyk is another player, who puts up lots of goals, but lacks in other areas and McGran writes that he could see coach Mike Babcock wanting to move on as well.
What other options are out there? One legitimate possibility would be for the Maple Leafs to go out and sign KHL star and former NHLer Ilya Kovalchuk. The 34-year-old winger might be a perfect replacement for van Riemsdyk and would be much cheaper. Kovalchuk is coming off his best two seasons in the KHL as well as leading Russia to a gold medal and winning the MVP award at the Olympics a couple of weeks ago.
McGran also mentions Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau’s former teammate and buddy would be an interesting possibility to replace Bozak. While he’s coming off a tough injury, Thornton would provide the team with more leadership and experience. Russian defenseman Igor Ozhiganov of CSKA Moscow has also been linked to the Maple Leafs. Among the top in-house candidates, McGran points to wingers Andreas Johnsson and Carl Grundstrom along with centers Miro Aaltonen and Frederik Gauthier as players who could fill out Toronto’s line next season. The team should also have some defensive depth options in Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman and Timothy Liljegren.
- Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith writes that while the Tampa Bay Lightning attempted to pry defenseman Erik Karlsson from Ottawa at the trade deadline, the acquisition of defenseman Ryan McDonagh was hardly a fallback option. The general belief is that McDonagh might prove to be a better fit within the Lightning system. McDonagh, who might be ready to play in Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, is considered to be the better shutdown guy who has the more well-rounded game than Karlsson. “McDonagh is one of the most well-rounded defensemen in the league,” said two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Brian Engblom, the Lightning’s Fox Sports Sun color analyst. “He’s a No. 1 on any team — a 1A-1B with Victor Hedman, and that’s only because Victor is Victor. (McDonagh) thinks about the right net first. “That doesn’t mean he’s not good passing the puck or making plays. He can play in any situation. He’s really mobile, really smart. He covers up a lot of mistakes by other people. He’s pretty much everything you want to list in an all-around defenseman.”
- Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price skated for the first time since suffering a condition on Feb. 22, according to TVA Sports Renaud Lavoie. While he still has a ways to go, the hope is that Price will be able to practice with the team soon. Price has had a tough season as the 30-year-old has struggled with injuries. He has a 2.98 GAA and a .904 save percentage, which is not great for a goalie whose eight-year, $84MM extension kicks in next season.
- Postmedia’s Kristen Anderson writes that Calgary Flames winger Micheal Ferland will return to action on Monday on the team’s top line against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ferland, who is having a breakout season, has missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury. He has 20 goals and 14 assists this season, a career-best.