Leafs Game 7 loss could change approach to free agency
The Maple Leafs face a long summer of uncertainty with their roster and how much it would cost to bring back players destined for free agency.
The offseason started early again for the Leafs, after losing Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
With a sixth consecutive first-round playoff exit, attention will turn to the financial books and the future of many Leafs who played key roles in an otherwise record-breaking season.
Will they try to come back with four base forwards: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander? While they almost certainly want to, the salary cap will be a big factor with nine regulars heading to unrestricted or restricted free agency.
There’s also the question of how much they can afford to offer future goaltender Jack Campbell.
They have already committed $77.451 million (US) for next season’s roster – $40.5 million for those base forwards. With the NHL cap rising to $82.5 million, there’s just over $5 million left to work with.
The Leafs got career years from Matthews, a Hart Trophy contender, as well as Marner and Nylander. Campbell, meanwhile, set career highs with 31 wins and 49 starts, and has proven to be a bargain since a 2020 trade from the Los Angeles Kings. At 30, he proved he could handle the No. 1 workload after Frederik Andersen left for Carolina via free agency.
At the end of the final year of a contract capped at $1.65 million, he’ll be looking for a big raise — maybe $12 million over three years. With injury-prone Petr Mrázek also under contract at $3.8m apiece, that would mean almost $8m committed for goaltending, making other big moves difficult.
Other Leafs UFAs are Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza, Colin Blackwell, Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin. RFAs include Ondrej Kaše, Pierre Engvall, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.
Time — to win a Cup and play another year in the NHL — is running out for Spezza.
“Jason gives us everything he’s got all the time,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He’s a guy who doesn’t have time on his side. He worked and committed every day of his life to win a Cup… I feel for him every time.”
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