The Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line for next season started to take shape on Saturday when they signed Mark Giordano to a two-year, league-minimum contract extension.
Earlier this year, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Morgan Rielly to a seven-year contract extension.
In between those two events, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren had excellent rookie seasons that saw them as one of the NHL’s most effective defensive pairings. They are both now established as future top-four defenseman, with a high probability of becoming top-pairing star players.
They both need new contracts, and in all likelihood, they will both sign a couple of cheap bridge deals at some point this summer (though long-term deals in the team’s favor are advised).
That’s four of the seven needed defenseman for next year’s team (more or less) already to go.
But the question remains what do about the other four guys? (I used Capfriendly.com for information for this article).
Toronto Maple Leafs and the No Trade Clause Situation
The Leafs could bring back 100% of their eight-man unit from last year, but you have to figure that the team needs to make some changes.
Jake Muzzin is coming off 2 concussions, and is 33. He is too fragile to be relied upon as a key player, and he makes too much money to not be a key player. He also lacks upside at this point in his career.
TJ Brodie is 31 and is as solid as ever.
Both are good, reliable players that any team would be happy to have.
Except the Leafs, who have no choice but to get rid of them.
The Leafs have spent a great deal of money locking up a bunch of star players. At one time, both Brodie and Muzzin qualified as “stars” and were offering up good value on their contracts.
But at this point, $10 million could be much better spent.
This isn’t even debatable. Muzzin and Brodie can be replaced by Sandin and Liljegren with a lower floor but way higher ceiling. That move alone might cost the Leafs a few standings points, or gain them a few. Either way, it wouldn’t be a massive difference.
And they’d have a ton of money to spend on top of it. So it’s clearly in their interest to get these two players to waive their NTCs.
Additionally, Holl is good value at $2 million, and Lyubushkin displays no offense whatsoever, so he’ll always be dirt-cheap. Along with Gio, Rielly, and the two young Swedes, this makes up a solid blue-line with quite a lot of upside.
It also provides money for elsewhere in the lineup, and maintains flexibility in that if you had a rookie break through (Topi Niemela) or wanted to make a trade or major addition, you could.
But the first step is the No Trade Clauses.
Both players started the first year of their deals with No Movement Clauses. That meant they couldn’t be waived or demoted. Now each player has a NTC which means they can’t be traded without permission.
Technically, the team could use the wiggle room between a NMC and a NTC to force the player to accept a trade, but I highly doubt the Leafs would do that. I wonder if they’d even be willing to ask the players to waive the clauses (some managers won’t do it on account of principle).
But they have to.
The Toronto Maple Leafs can’t win next year with $10 million tied up in aging veteran defenseman with no upside who have been passed on the depth chart. Brodie and Muzzin are both still effective players, but getting out of their deals is the easiest way for the Leafs to improve.
It not only allows more ice time for their younger, better, and more important players, but they would still easily be able to have six solid NHL defenders, with the ability to add anyone they want, should the opportunity present itself.
Getting Muzzin and Brodie to waive their No Trade Clauses will give the Toronto Maple Leafs the flexibility and cap space they need to improve their team for next year. No one else who makes significant money can be so easily replaced, and so while it will be hard to pull off, it should be the team’s current top priority.