While for now the Toronto Maple Leafs are focused on the postseason ahead, as they currently sit in second place in the Atlantic division with 85 points, just five away from the leading Tampa Bay Lightning, general manager Lou Lamoriello must be getting ready for a busy summer, and quite the complex financial puzzle...
Looking forward, next year’s roster might end up looking quite different due to the poor position they’re in regarding the salary cap. This summer only, they need to focus on top forward William Nylander, while keeping in mind that star player Auston Matthews, forward Mitch Marner and defenseman Morgen Reilly are all set to become restricted free agents in the summer of 2019.
And it does not end there... After Nylander, Matthews, Marner and Gardiner are paid for, there’s still the issue of James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and potentially Dominic Moore. There is also a possibility that some young prospects crack the main roster, each getting a maximum of $925,000 per year.
In his recent article in The Athletic, NHL insider Pierre Lebrun asks the right questions: "Do James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak both walk as UFAs from the Leafs, how much money does RFA William Nylander get and do Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner get signed a year before their entry-level contracts expire? And in Matthews’ case, what number can work for both sides?"
Bozak and van Riemsdyk are slated to become unrestricted fee agents this summer, but it truly seems like none of the focus is on them... It appears clearer and clearer that Nylander has become top priority, and of course, Lamoriello will surely want to re-sign his star players Matthews and Marner a year before their entry-level deals end.
Spectors' Hockey's Lyle Richardson might have the right answers for LeBrun's questions for now. In his Thursday's Rumor Mill recap, Richardson comments as so:
"Matthews, Nylander and Marner will be in line for significant raises. Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello has a well-earned reputation for playing contract hardball with young players, so it’ll be interesting to see how things go. Unless Lamoriello can get those three under contract for well below market value, van Riemsdyk and Bozak are goners this summer."
For now, many fans will find defenseman Nikita Zaitsev's contract to be a mistake... Last spring, the Maple Leafs signed Zaitsev to a seven-year, $31.5 million deal. Zaitsev's contract sure looks like a big issue now... Unless he can step up and prove to head coach Mike Babcock and management that he is the top pairing defender they want him to be.
Still, the problem remains for Bozak and van Riemsdyk. There’s been talk of an extension for van Riemsdyk, although the length of the deal could become an issue. Bozak could ride out this season and decide to cash in during the free-agent market this July.
Both options hint at: "van Riemsdyk and Bozak are goners this summer." Which would be an important loss for the Leafs. After all, van Riemsdyk is on pace for his usual 30ish goals per season and Bozak remains above team average in Corsi and expected goals. Scoring chances and goals could be on the decline if they leave... The youngsters will definitely have to step up, while their pockets are full of money...