If the 2018 NHL offseason and all the drama that came with it taught us anything, it’s that Leafs fans and management alike could be looking at a very rough offseason come this summer. Last offseason, along with the major signing of hometown boy John Tavares, the main problem came with coming to terms on re-signing William Nylander, who ended up signing a 6-year, 41.77 million dollar deal. As stressful as that saga was (thank goodness it’s resolved!), this coming offseason brings the Maple Leafs a whole new batch of problems. In terms of free agency, while last year saw the likes of JVR & Bozak leave (likely to free up space for the Tavares signing), this coming offseason sees players like Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey, new goalie Michael Hutchinson, and the injured Tyler Ennis become UFA’s come July 1st. Whether these men stay with the Maple Leafs organization or find themselves a new home this summer comes down to the largely talented RFA class. Kyle Dubas and the rest of the top brass in Toronto are tasked with not only trying to come to terms on a deal with Auston Matthews, one of the only franchise players we’ve had in years, but they must draft up a deal with the team’s point leading Mitch Marner, who has amassed 59 points in just 45 games. Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson also become RFA’s. Getting both at steals of a contract (i.e like the Trevor Moore deal) for less time will hopefully free up more money to resign Matthews and Marner. Now, both players have stated their desire to stay in Toronto and the fact that they want to win here, but with the $83 million salary cap expected to go into effect next season, it will be interesting to see how they approach both contracts. Keep in mind that Marner’s agent has stated that they will not be doing any contract talks prior to the offseason, probably because of the fact that Marner is projected to have a high point total by the time playoffs arrive. No word from Matthews or his agent about when they will begin contract talks (if they haven’t already) but likely the heavier talks will begin once the offseason does arrive. Now, my personal opinion is to sign Marner for about $9 million (taking the “hometown discount” into account) and then sign Matthews for $11.5 million (about 500K less than the McDavid deal). This way, both count for about $20.5-21 million against the cap hit, and you can begin to actually afford to resign the likes of Jake Gardiner among the other UFA & RFA Maple Leafs in the coming months.
All in all, no matter how the Leafs season ends this year, the offseason will be sure to be filled with hard decisions for Dubas and the rest of the Leafs organization.
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