It was Monday, Feb. 29th, 2016. Or as some like to call It, NHL Trade Deadline day. While many fans, especially Maple Leafs supporters , were upset with the outcome of the deadline period, we were able to witness a glimpse of hope later that night in a few rookies and debuts of other players including William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov.
Leading up to deadline day, Lou Lamoriello and company were busy tearing some of the team down and stocking up the cupboard with prospects and draft picks. You can argue that the Leafs could have had more picks and prospects if they traded Parenteau, Grabner, Boyes etc. I can see why a lot of fans were disappointed; they missed out on a few more assets. I myself was questioning the situation as well. Then, my thoughts were simply that obviously Lou and company tried to move a couple of players, but didn’t budge on his asking price and other GMs, of course, did not buy in. Then I thought to myself, when hearing that a few Marlies will be in the lineup on that night, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few vets passed the deadline to mentor the younger players not only making their NHL debuts but also the younger plays that were already on the team beforehand.
Then came game time, feeling nothing but excitement to see the kids play in their debuts along with a couple of new comers from around the league. The leafs were not able to put a win together but certainly put on an entertaining game mainly led by the kids making their debuts. After the game, we were all left saying the same thing “I’m excited for the future!” So we should be. Not only about the four kids who made their NHL debuts, but the Leafs have a lot of options that create many possibilities. I’m sure the brass is aware, but I’m here to fill you readers in:
The leafs have 11 sure fire draft picks in the 2016 draft and waiting on a second 1st rounder from the Penguins who need to make the playoffs in order for us to get it. Here’s a breakdown of what Mark Hunter will be working with come June as of right now:
Round 1: Tor 1 – Pit 1*
Round 2: Tor 2 – Wsh 2
Round 3: Tor 3 – Njd 3
Round 4: Tor 4 – Col 4
Round 5: Tor 5
Round 6: Tor 6 – Stl 6
Round 7: Tor 7
The 2016 draft is being headlined by American forward Auston Matthews and Finnish forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Assuming the Leafs end up with a top-three pick, one of these three players will certainly be selected should they keep the pick. I say that because there’s certainly the possibility that the Leafs trade down a few spots to acquire extra assets and select a defensemen. Is it likely? No, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out depending where the Leafs are positioned after the lottery is completed. It was also rumored last year that the Leafs were considering trading down from the four spot in order to select defenseman Ivan Provorov. I’m in no way saying that they should or will do this, but it’s certainly an option they may consider. One thing is certain in regards to the draft, whatever happens, I believe we’ll walk away very satisfied.
One final note, do yourselves a favor catch some film on top prospects for the 2017 draft: Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Gabe Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Without a doubt, when Leafs fans thinks about Free Agency, the first thing that comes to mind is Steven Stamkos. While I don’t think it’s a guarantee that Stamkos wants to come to Toronto, I do think it’s a guarantee that Leafs management will do everything they can to sign him if he does hit the open market.
But what if Stamkos isn’t the real target? It was speculated a few weeks ago that the real target for the Leafs can be John Tavares. Tavares will be looking for a significant increase from his current salary once his deal expires. How significant? That question still remains, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s at or in between Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews territory. It’s been rumored that Tavares is unhappy with the teams move to Brooklyn and that he would welcome signing in Toronto once is contract is up in 2018. While I don’t think this is 100 percent true, I’m taking it with a grain of salt.
Either way, if at least one of these signings happens, like most fans say they will, I believe it’s safe to say that great times are ahead in Toronto.
The less popular route of free agency that I think is under appreciated is CHL, NCAA and European free agent signings. Every year, there always seems to be a highly sought after free agent that either comes from the CHL as an undrafted overage player, NCAA graduate or a European player who may be open to a move to North America. These players tend to come in on cheaper deals. Some workout, some don’t. But if the Leafs happen to move draft picks or other prospects, they can be made up for by these younger aged free agents. We saw it happen with the likes of Casey Bailey, Nikita Soshnikov and Nikita Zaitsev who appears to have his mind set on signing with the Leafs once his contract in Europe is up. It’s been said that Zaitsev is arguably the KHL’s best defenseman at just 24 years of age. Also, with his father and younger brother both part of the Leafs organization, it’s also been rumored that Jimmy Vesey of Harvard will not sign with the Predators and potentially join the Leafs organization. TSN director of scouting Craig Button rated Vesey as one of the top prospects playing outside the NHL. Take that however you want; I think that’s pretty impressive.
There isn’t much to say in regards to trades, they happen all the time. But I like to throw a trades category because it almost seems certain that guys like Greening, Michalek, Hunwick and Laich will not only mentor our younger players but also have their trade value increased slightly or drastically courtesy of Babcock and could potentially be flipped before the deadline just like old friends Polak, Reimer, Matthias, Winnik etc.
As you all may know already, we have cap space to work with. I like to credit AGM Pridham for this as he is very familiar with the CBA and we went from being bad with limited space to still bad but with more cap space. With quite a few players expected to play on the roster next season on entry-level deals, we can do similar next year as we did this year in taking on big money, short term contracts in order to acquire an extra asset or two. Buyouts are also expected on Jared Cowen and Joffrey Lupul. With that being said, I wouldn’t be worried about our cap situation in the future by any means.
Orlando Solar Bears
I know you’re probably thinking this is nothing to be excited about but I’d simply like to say that although ECHL hockey doesn’t match the AHL, its sill an extra avenue for development and we seem to have a solid coach down there in Anthony Noreen. Although the team isn’t doing so well, that’s besides my point.
Without a doubt, the biggest bright spot of the Leafs season comes from our AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. While this year has been quite an uphill ride for the Marlies, I’d like to point out that next year’s team will be good as well and we should be excited for them. Should they retain the players and if they commit, the following prospects who do not play for the Marlies this season are eligible for all of next season: J.J Piccinich, Andreas Johnson, Pierre Engvall, Dmytro Timashov, Nolan Vesey, Tony Camaranesi, Dominic Toninato, Dakota Joshua, Travis Dermott, Andrew Nielsen, Jeremy Bracco and Stephen Desrocher. Obviously there are most likely some I missed but still a few quality prospects mentioned who could potentially play for the Marlies next season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Although they’re still expected to be at or near the basement of the NHL next season, the Leafs roster can very much consist of young players and fan favorites such as Rielly, Sparks, JVR, Froese, Leivo, Holland, Komarov, Nylander, Hyman, Soshnikov, Zaitsev and maybe just maybe; Marner and Stamkos. While I don’t have any ties to the organization, I still like to think I know what’s going on by guess work or putting two and two together. In this case, I have zero clue what the plans are for the draft, free agency, off season trade rumors etc. What I do know is that if I’m aware of the options available and possibilities mentioned above, then certainly so is Lou and company.
With all that being said, the organization has many options to look at in order to rebuild this club the proper way. Many possibilities are still up in the air. One more thing I do know, even though we’re not fully aware what to expect from this new management group come this off season, the outcomes will only lead to more excitement.
Thanks for reading!