The 2021-22 season ended in heartbreak for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, it is the sixth season in a row the team has exited the playoffs early.
The first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning could have gone to either team. That is how close that series was. the Toronto Maple Leafs took the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions to a seventh game to decide the series. That should be viewed as an accomplishment even though they lost.
The series defining seventh game came down to just one goal. Toronto had a goal by John Tavares called back due to a penalty call. Game seven might have gone to overtime if the Tavares goal counted. However, that did not happen, and the Maple Leafs lost the game 2-1.
Both of Tampa’s goals came from Nick Paul, who was traded to the Lightning by the Ottawa Senators. He has been a thorn in the side of the Maple Leafs since he entered the NHL in the 2015-16 season.
Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Sign Nick Paul in the Off-Season?
When NHL free agency opens on July 13th, Nick Paul will be an unrestricted free agent. He is coming off a two-year deal with a salary cap hit of $1.35 million. Paul is 27-years-old and could be perfect on Toronto’s third line.
Toronto has one of their own third liners hitting the free-agent market on July 13th, Ilya Mikheyev. Mikheyev is the same age as Paul, and they both had 32 points in the regular season. Mikheyev is coming off a two-year deal with a salary cap hit of $1.645 million.
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)
If Mikheyev or the Toronto Maple Leafs decide to part ways, Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas could sign the player who broke Toronto’s heart this season. Paul is from Mississauga, Ontario, so he is a local kid. He likes using his 6’3″, 225 frame to play a physical game, as evidenced by his 106 hits this season.
Paul would give Toronto a physical player who can be more productive than Kyle Clifford or Wayne Simmonds. With both Mikheyev and Colin Blackwell hitting free agency on July 13th, Paul could be a perfect replacement for either of those players.
The biggest question will be how much will it cost to sign Paul? Toronto will show interest if the asking price is under $3 million. Without making any trades, the Maple Leafs won’t have much cap space this off-season. According to capfriendly.com Toronto, GM Kyle Dubas only has $7.8 million.
I don’t think Toronto will be able to re-sign Ilya Mikheyev. Nick Paul would be a good fit on Toronto’s third line. My prediction for what it will cost to sign Nick Paul is a 3-4 year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million – $2.75 million.