If 2017 was the year of Auston Matthews for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, don’t be surprised 2018 ends up being the year of James van Riemsdyk. Or… at least the first 7 months of it. That’s because the Leafs power forward is set to hit unrestricted free-agency for the first time in his career and given his point production the past few seasons, he stands to cash in BIG TIME this summer. While that’s certainly good news for the player himself, it could pose serious problems for the Leafs, given the money that they’ll need to hand out to William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews in the following offseason.
There’s a very good chance that JVR ends up another team this offseason, and if that ends up happening, who do the Leafs turn to to fill his role moving forward? In his latest article for Leafs Nation, blogger Scott Maxwell takes a look at the team’s roster to seek replacements and even pits JVR up against the rest of the free-agent class of 2018 to see if there’s a potential replacement to be had.
The “in-house” candidates? Connor Brown, Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen will all be given bigger roles if they can prove to head coach Mike Babcock that they’re worthy of the playing time. Brown is the team’s ultimate utility player, playing wherever and whenever needed by Babcock. It’s worth noting however, that the skilled winger is on pace to top 20 goals once again this season. Leivo has already produced in limited minutes and many Leafs fans are clamouring for him to get more playing time. Kapanen is another intriguing option. He has a ton of upside and hasn’t really been given an opportunity to put up offence with the Leafs yet. Is he a star just waiting to burst out?
On the free-agent market, there are two obvious choices: Evander Kane and… James van Riemsdyk. That’s right… the Sabres power forward and the Leafs power forward are likely to co-headline the free-agent market this offseason, and it’s a toss up as to which will command the highest contract. If such is the case and it’s an either/or situation for the Leafs, why wouldn’t they go with the devil they know in JVR? Seems like an obvious choice, but Kane might give the team a new dimension. What’s your take?