If I Were Leafs GM: Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 Off-Season Plan

TORONTO, ON- APRIL 16 - Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas chat was they watch the Toronto Maple Leafs practice before game four against the Boston Bruins in their first round play-off series in Toronto. April 16, 2019. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- APRIL 16 - Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas chat was they watch the Toronto Maple Leafs practice before game four against the Boston Bruins in their first round play-off series in Toronto. April 16, 2019. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be a highly active team this offseason.

Following their 3-2 series defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Leafsnation was calling on the Toronto Maple Leafs to implement some serious roster changes. No matter how terrible the idea, the sentiment remained the same – the team needs change.

Well, on Tuesday, Kyle Dubas kicked off the retooling process by dealing speedy winger Kasperi Kapanen, along with Jesper Lindgren and Pontus Aberg, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team who originally drafted Kapanen, for forward prospect Filip Hallander, forward Evan Rodrigues, and defensemen David Warsofsky. The prized possession of the return, however, was Pittsburgh’s 2020 15th overall draft selection.

Dubas reluctantly traded Toronto’s first-round pick in order to dump Marleau’s burdensome contract, but on Tuesday, was able to reacquire a first-round selection. (Safe to say Dubas absolutely rinsed Jim Rutherford with that haul).

Continuing the retooling process, James Mirtle of The Athletic mentioned multiple NHL teams have told him Kyle Dubas has been dangling Frederik Andersen, Pierre Engvall, Andreas Johnsson, and Alex Kerfoot in trade talks so far, all to varying degrees.

While I expect and would definitely welcome some serious roster overhaul, this is how I would structure the rest of Dubas’ offseason moves.

My Offseason Plan:

My first order of business would be to sign one of Toronto’s RFAs: Ilya Mikheyev.

Mikheyev did not have a spectacular season this year, only getting into 39 games due to a horrific injury he suffered in December against the New Jersey Devils.

Therefore, with the flat cap, he could be squeezed into a two-year, low AAV deal. I predict Mikheyev’s cap hit to come in around $1,400,000.

(I will touch on Travis Dermott later on).

Bringing in substantial size as well retaining the size already on this Leafs roster should be a top priority as well. As such, expect Kyle Clifford to be back with the Leafs in 2020-21.

Both camps have expressed interest in a reunion in the past and with Clifford being a cost-effective, fourth-line forward with significant bite, look for him to ink a two- or three-year deal at $1,000,000.

Although Jason Spezza provided so many intangible contributions to this organization over the past season, there is only room for one league minimum, 35+ contract on this Leafs roster. I expect that to go to ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton.

The 6”4’, 220 lb center will be a towering presence on the Leafs fourth line. His vast playoff experience and desire to win a cup make him a great player for Dubas to add to his bottom six.

Continuing the trend of adding mean and big-bodied depth players, Toronto should go after Radko Gudas. The 6”0’, 205 lb defensemen is downright awful to play against. Since 2016-17, Gudas is second among all defensemen in hits with 869 (stats; NHL.com).

For someone who plays such an aggressive, defensive style of hockey, this season at 5-on-5, Gudas posted extraordinarily strong possession numbers. Registering a Corsi-for per 60 of 58.06 (stats; thehockeywriters.com), the big Czech was a solid play driver and would be able to contribute greatly to Toronto’s bottom pairing.

As for what a contract could look like, it is hard to imagine Gudas will be able to secure anything close to his current cap hit of $3,350,000. Due to the flat cap, I project Gudas will land a three-year deal with a $2,400,000 cap hit.

So far throughout the offseason, I as Leafs GM have only made depth additions. While being deep is also vital to team success, the one thing that continues to allude this Leafs roster is the top four, right-sided defensemen.

Notice how I said right-sided and not right-handed – because I believe the answer to the Leafs blueline problems is in left-handed Mattias Ekholm.

GM David Poile promised changes following their qualifying round exit – this is that change.

In 2018-19 the Professional Hockey Writers Association named Mattias Ekholm as their defensive defensemen of the year. The 6”4’, 215 lb Swede is the two-way defensemen that the Toronto Maple Leafs have been searching for.

Ekholm has registered at least 33 points in four of the past five seasons (stats; hockey-reference.com) and averaged 1:20 of powerplay time this year on the Preds, indicating the veteran defensemen is an all-situations defender.

Ekholm’s current cap hit is very reasonable for a player of his stature. Paying him $3,750,000 for the next two seasons after this one, Ekholm is exactly the type of underpaid player Toronto needs in order to accommodate their ‘Big Four’ forwards.

What might a return look like? Andreas Johnsson would have to be included in the deal. Johnsson showed flashes of his potential in 2018-19, mostly playing on Auston Matthews’ line, registering 20 goals and 43 points.

The 25-year old winger only managed to get into 43 of the teams’ 70 games this year as he was decimated by injury for most of the 2019-20 season. This year proved that the Leafs forward corps is more than capable of replacing his skillset in the lineup and have made him expendable.

With Nashville losing a defensemen in the trade, they are going to want one back in return. As such, Travis Dermott will be going the other way.

It is unfortunate Dermott was never able to reach his full potential here in Toronto. People often cited is quick foot speed and above-average defensive instincts as indicators he could turn into a very formidable top-four defensemen, however, Toronto does not have time to wait around for that day to come.

Nashville is in need of a youth injection into their lineup and with these two young players, they get exactly that.

Lastly, to sweeten the pot a little more, Justin Holl will be joining the trade package. Holl is a very polarizing player. Playing alongside Jake Muzzin, a steady, veteran defender, he looked like a fantastic shutdown defensemen. When Muzzin went down with an injury, Holl looked lost most nights.

With that in mind, this is how I see Holl: a decent 4th defensemen, a good 5th defensemen, and an excellent 6th defensemen. Those three players, coupled with a pick or two, should be enough to land the Toronto Maple Leafs their top four defensemen they need.

Although left-handed, coach Sheldon Keefe has shown a willingness to play players on their opposite sides. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine a professional like Ekholm would not be open to playing the right side, as long as it helps his team win.

With all those additions and subtractions in mind, this is how I see the Leafs opening night roster in 2020-21 looking like:

Forwards

Nick Robertson – Auston Matthews – William Nylander

Zach Hyman – John Tavares – Mitch Marner

Pierre Engvall – Alex Kerfoot – Ilya Mikheyev

Kyle Clifford – Joe Thornton – Alexander Barabanov

Defense:

Jake Muzzin – Mattias Ekholm

Morgan Rielly – Mikko Lehtonen

Rasmus Sandin – Radko Gudas

Goalies:

Frederik Andersen

Jack Campbell

With these 18 skaters and two goalies locked in, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still left with $2,691,467 in cap space. With that extra room, I would go out and get another depth forward and a depth defensemen. As the eight teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs will prove to you, it is that you can never have enough depth.

Those two players should be Derick Brassard and Ben Hutton.

Brassard is a veteran of over 850 career games and has been around the league long enough to know what it takes to get the job done. Ben Hutton is 6”2’, 206 lb and played important defensive minutes alongside Drew Doughty in LA this year.

With the flat cap and the inability for most players to receive substantial raises, one could argue that many players would be more willing to sacrifice money for a chance at a playoff run and cash in for the bigger contract when the economic state of the league returns to normalcy.

Both of those players could certainly fit that bill and I expect both of their deals to come in around ~$1,000,000.

Next. The Toronto Maple Leafs Player Movement Checklist Part 2. dark

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be busy this offseason. It is safe to say major changes are a must and anything less than that is not going to go over well.