- According to the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan, the Toronto Maple Leafs have given out three As tonight. Wearing the alternate captain designations are Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, and Matt Martin. The Maple Leafs have already announced publicly that they will not have a captain this year, and many insiders think that the team is grooming Matthews to become the new team captain. It should also be noted that preseason ’A’s are not permanent.
Over the last few years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made a habit out of using the long-term injured reserve list more than almost any other team in the league. Players like David Clarkson, Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul, and Stephane Robidas have all spent full seasons away from the team, apparently too injured to continue their career. While there has never been proof that an injury didn’t exist, Lupul has made it clear in the past that he wants to continue his playing career and once again took to social media to call out the Maple Leafs’ salary cap practices.
In an Instagram comment last night (via Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star), Lupul wrote that he was ready and just waiting for a call to play hockey again, and then subsequently said that the Maple Leafs’ “cheat” and “everyone lets them.” Fans and media alike have used the term “Robidas Island” to describe where Toronto sends their injured players, a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that they may just be more unwanted than unhealthy.
All of this has been speculation and rumor, though Jared Cowen leveled similar complaints towards the team after being bought out last summer. Now, Darren Dreger of TSN asked NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to comment, which he declined:
We aren’t in a position to comment right now. That may or may not change when we know more.
That at least does sound like the league will be looking into it, a stance they also took when similar skepticism was shown at the Chicago Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa situation. Hossa has developed a skin condition because of prolonged exposure to the equipment, one that will prevent him from playing this season. His $5.28MM contract and Lupul’s $5.25MM deal will not count towards the salary cap this season.
The Athletic’s James Mirtle reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs cut 24 players from training camp today. No player cut had a realistic chance to make the team out of training camp. These cuts were made with less than 24 hours before the Maple Leafs first preseason game Monday night against the Ottawa Senators. Some players will return to the AHL Toronto Marlies while others will return to their junior teams in the CHL.
List of players cut
Vladimir Bobylev – Toronto Marlies
Jeremy Bracco – Toronto Marlies
Adan Brooks – Toronto Marlies
Matias Cleland – Toronto Marlies
Rich Clune – Toronto Marlies
Cole Coskey – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Jean Dupuy – Toronto Marlies
Martin Dzierkals – Toronto Marlies
Marc-Oliver Duquette – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Fedor Gordeev – Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Alex Gudbranson – Toronto Marlies
Cal Heeter – Toronto Marlies
Sam Jardin – Toronto Marlies
Jeff King – Toronto Marlies
Nikita Korostelev – Toronto Marlies
Nicolas Mattinen – London Knights (OHL)
Ryan McGregor – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Max Novak – Toronto Marlies
J.J. Piccinich – Toronto Marlies
Kristian Pospisill – Toronto Marlies
Eemeli Rasanen – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Ian Scott – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Joshua Winquist – Toronto Marlies
Nolan Valleau – Toronto Marlies
While major roster moves at this point in the season are unlikely, it sounds like Toronto could be looking to make some moves later in the season, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. The Maple Leafs who are overloaded with forwards and will have to worry about salary cap issues for the impending future (the currently are $4.58MM over the cap) might be willing to move some of their veteran forwards whose contracts are close to expiring. According to Dreger, the team might be looking to move James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov during the season to get some value for them.
Van Riemsdyk would be a valuable trade chip for the Maple Leafs. The 28-year-old put up 29 goals and 33 assists last year and will be making $4.25MM in his final year of his contract. Trade speculation surrounding van Riemsdyk isn’t surprising. There was plenty of that last year. With all the contracts the Maple Leafs have, including the deal to sign Patrick Marleau as well as an eventual long-term deal that will go to Auston Matthews, Toronto will likely be forced to make some moves.
Bozak had 18 goals and career-high 55 points last year and could also be a key trade asset for the franchise. There were plenty of rumors surrounding the 31-year-old center this offseason in which both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers were interested in bringing him. Komarov also had a solid year for the Leafs as the 30-year-old center put up 14 goals and 18 assists.
Dreger said that while it is unknown whether the franchise intends to eventually move one or all three, but suggested that a team like the Anaheim Ducks might be the perfect trade candidate for Toronto as the Ducks might be looking to add a third-line center.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins announced they have signed undrafted 18-year-old Jordan Bellerive to a three-year entry-level contract. The 5-foot-10 center put up 27 goals and 29 assists for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes last year, but to many people’s surprise did not get drafted. He joined the Penguins for the 2017 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, New York and led the prospects with seven points (four goals, three assists) in three games. He is expected to return to his junior team this season.
- Eric Engels of Sportsnet writes that the Montreal Canadiens are taking a serious look at defensive prospect Victor Mete as a potential line partner with veteran Shea Weber. Mete, a fourth-round pick in 2016, put up 44 points in 50 games last year for the OHL’s London Knights. The scribe reports that the 19-year-old has not looked out of place next to Weber and is a perfect complement to him.
- John Vogl of the Buffalo News writes that former KHL defenseman Viktor Antipin, who signed with the Sabres this offseason, is working hard to earn a spot on the Sabres’ defensive rotation. The 24-year-old has been paired so far in camp with defensive-minded Justin Falk, which many believe is a perfect pairing. The offensive-minded Antipin scored 24 points in 59 games for Magnitogorsk Mettallurg last year.
- Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Martin Marincin may be fighting for his job in training camp, reports the Athletic’s Jonas Siegal. Siegal writes that the former 2nd round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft may not have many more chances to stick in the league, despite showing flashes of natural talent. Marincin was once the Maple Leaf’s top-pairing defenceman alongside Morgan Rielly, but has struggled of late and sat out 38 games last season. The Slovak defender will have to turn things around quickly if he wants to maintain a roster spot amid the youth movement pushing from below.
- The Buffalo Sabres may not have a captain on opening night, reports the Times Herald’s Bill Hoppe. Hoppe reports that new coach Phil Housley is not rushing to name a captain. Some teams, like last year’s Toronto Maple Leafs, opt to play an entire year without a captain. Housley may go that route, but he may also see how training camp plays out and whether a natural leader emerges. Becoming an NHL captain requires additional responsibilities and poise that not all players have—or want. The Sabres’ previous captain, forward Brian Gionta, did not re-sign with the Sabres this season. Hoppe thinks that forward Ryan O’Reilly is a good candidate to fill the void. The Sabres could also be waiting to see if top prospect Jack Eichel steps up into the role.
- Former MLSE president and CEO Richard Peddie chimed in on the ongoing Calgary Flames arena saga yesterday. Peddie—who once ran the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, and the AHL Toronto Marlies—tweeted that Toronto’s arena was 100% privately financed. Not only did Peddie state that the arena fully privately-funded, but MLSE paid full property taxes and infrastructure costs. The Flames are looking for a substantial public investment in any new arena, and have implicitly threatened longterm consequences if they cannot reach some sort of agreement.
The New Jersey Devils’ top pick in the 2017 Entry Draft told NHL.com’s Mike Morreale that it would be a “disappointment” if he didn’t make the Devils’ roster following training camp. General manager Ray Shero called him a “special talent,” and that if there’s a spot, it’s his to win. Teammate Taylor Hall reminisced about his first season with the Oilers, when the 2010 #1 overall pick learned a lot from then captain Shawn Horcoff. He added how important it was for younger players to have a veteran presence to “bounce things off of,” when beginning a career after being a first overall pick. Hischier is certainly saying all the right things–it’s just a matter of time if the youngster get a shot as a regular.
- It’s the return of Ken Hitchcock in Dallas, and it’ll be the “new adventures of old Ken Hitchcock,” writes the Dallas Morning-News’ Mike Heika. The veteran coach and Dallas’ all-time winningest coach has promised a camp that “no one has ever seen before.” Heika adds that Hitchcock has to rein in an offensively “supercharged” team that failed to defend in its own zone. Unlike his 90’s teams or even more recently in St. Louis, “Hitch” plans to attack in the offensive zone while being responsible with the puck in their own zone. Center Tyler Seguin believes the team has more than enough offense to score goals and that it’s just a matter of being better defensively. Should the Stars stay healthy, they could certainly be a favorite in the West.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs will once again go without a captain, and opt for three alternates reports the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran. General manager Lou Lamoriello sees no reason to name a captain, citing a number of leaders in the room with no rush to name one player as the captain. McGran speculates that the C will eventually be sewn onto Auston Matthews’ jersey, but believes that keeping any additional pressure off of the second year forward may be the team’s motive for not bestowing that honor yet.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have two players under contract for next season who haven’t played in more than a year, and are destined for long-term injured reserve once again. Before doing that, the team needed to bring Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul in for medicals, which they subsequently failed. The Maple Leafs will use the cap space opened by the pair this season, as they already project to be over by $4.78MM by CapFriendly.
Though usually it is believed that teams need to get under the salary cap by the start of the season, this is not necessarily the case for the Maple Leafs. Toronto will use a type of “offseason LTIR” to work their way under the cap, since both Horton and Lupul’s injuries were known long in advance. LTIR is calculated in two ways, depending on when it is used.
In season, the formula to find out how much extra cap space is created is as follows:
Bonus cap space = Cap hit of LTIR player – Current cap space
This usually results in teams using paper transactions to call players up and push them as close to the cap as possible, before placing a player on LTIR. That gives them the maximum amount of extra room to work with. During training camp though, it’s a little different.
Bonus cap space = Current team cap hit – Season salary cap
That means, a team like the Maple Leafs can place Lupul and Horton on LTIR during training camp in order to give themselves a huge amount that they’re allowed to exceed the cap by. The combined salaries of the injured pair is $10.55MM, meaning the Maple Leafs can manipulate the salary cap several ways. By pushing the team’s salary as close to $80.25MM as possible before putting one of the players on LTIR, they’ll get back under the limit for the start of the season. That’s what has allowed them to sign players like Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey this summer with little risk, even though they already were right up against the cap.
Though it’s far from an NHL contract, the Toronto Maple Leafs released their training camp roster with a familiar name today; Roman Polak. The injured defenseman has signed a professional tryout, and will continue his rehab from a terrible leg injury suffered this spring.
Polak’s agent Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey posted some more video of the 31-year old training, again wearing Maple Leafs gear as he was a few weeks ago. With the Maple Leafs still having a need for a right-handed depth defenseman, bringing Polak in to make sure he’s healthy makes complete sense. There is clearly trust between head coach Mike Babcock and the veteran defenseman, who deployed him as a main penalty killer and defended him in the media almost weekly.
Though he’s never been the flashiest player, Polak has been able to log minutes on the back end of a defense corps for many years. He’s suited up for 634 games split between the Blues, Maple Leafs and Sharks, and should earn a contract somewhere around the league even if Toronto decides to pass.
Though we recently heard that an extension for James van Riemsdyk could cost as much as $6MM, another Toronto Maple Leafs forward hasn’t even had talks with the team about his next contract. Tyler Bozak who, like van Riemsdyk is a free agent next summer, told Luke Fox of Sportsnet that he hadn’t had any talks with the Maple Leafs yet, and is just focused on the upcoming season. Bozak will earn $4.2MM this season on the final year of his five-year deal.
Bozak, 31, is part of the old guard of Maple Leafs’ 2013 postseason run left over from the last regime but had an exceptional season last year as much of the pressure was taken off him to be their top center. With Nazem Kadri stepping into a larger role and Auston Matthews assuming the #1 duties, Bozak was allowed to skate freely alongside James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner without tough defensive responsibilities. That resulted in a 55-point season, one that will surely pay off on the open market next summer.
For the time being, Bozak continues to be the target in much trade speculation as he is one of the only true offensive centers that could be available. The Maple Leafs are clearly looking to contend this season and aren’t eager to move some of their key forward pieces, but are also blessed with quite a bit of young depth on the wings and the possibility that William Nylander could be moved back to center. The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and others look like potential fits for Bozak if the Maple Leafs decided to move on. Never a great defensive player, his offensive instincts and faceoff ability are still good enough to be an above-average third line center for the majority of the league.
The Maple Leafs of course have more to worry about than just contending this season. Next summer will see Nylander hit restricted free agency for the first time, while Matthews and Marner will join him a year later. Jake Gardiner will need a contract extension at some point—his deal expires after 2018-19—and so will van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov, if the team chooses to keep them around. All that needs quite the financial plan for the next few years, and it’s not clear where Bozak fits into that. If a deal isn’t struck by the new year, expect his name to be near the top of all the trade bait boards.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
With the NHL season now just a month away, it’s time to look at what each team has done this summer and what to watch for in the year to come. Today, we focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Last Season: 40-27-15 record (95 points), third in Atlantic Division (lost in the first round to Washington)
Remaining Cap Space: $-4.58MM per CapFriendly (They will get back into compliance via LTIR once the season starts.)
[Related: Maple Leafs Depth Chart From Roster Resource]
Player To Watch: F Patrick Marleau – While Toronto’s ‘big three’ of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander are certainly worth watching to see how they continue to progress, Marleau’s case is going to be a really interesting one to keep an eye on.
For starters, the fact that he left San Jose to sign a three-year deal with Toronto after spending 19 seasons with the Sharks makes his situation particularly interesting. But it will also be worth watching to see what type of role he has with the Leafs.
Their depth on the left-hand side gives head coach Mike Babcock plenty of options. He could choose to deploy him on the top line with Matthews and give that trio another proven scorer to work with. Alternatively, Marleau could plausibly find himself on the second or even the third line as they’re going to have the capability to have three quality scoring units to work with.
Marleau’s offensive production has dropped in the last two years with his point-per-game average being his lowest since 2001-02. Is that a sign that he’s on the decline (he turns 38 this coming week) or will a new environment filled with a lot of younger, offensively-minded players lead to a resurgence?
Key Storyline: There’s no denying that the Maple Leafs will be able to score. They were fifth overall in that department last season and should be around that mark once again. However, they were in the bottom third of the league in goals allowed in 2016-17 and they haven’t done much to improve in that area.
Hainsey was brought in to replace Hunwick and he is expected to start on the top pairing alongside Morgan Rielly. At this stage of Hainsey’s career, he’s not an ideal fit to play heavy minutes although he will bring a bit more stability in his own end. Toronto will be counting on further development from their returning blueliners from last season to help out as well but that may not be enough.
As a result, many expect GM Lou Lamoriello will have to make a move to shore up their back end. If the thought is to wait until around the trade deadline, it would make sense for them to deal for short-term help in the form of a rental but if the defense is an issue early on, they may have to dip into their forward depth to bring in another top-four option.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.