The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot of work to get done this summer and it will be up to general manager Kyle Dubas to prove his mettle and find the balance.
Since Toronto was bounced out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins in the first round, reality came crashing back through the window and expectations came back down to Earth. Despite lofty opportunities, the Maple Leafs couldn’t pull out of a tough contest with their fated rivals and that left many scratching their proverbial heads.
It also left many questions.
What’s to be done about head coach Mike Babcock? Many blame him for the post-season exodus thanks to “questionable” ice time distribution and a laundry list of other complaints generated from armchair bench bosses.
Or what about Nazem Kadri? Is the forward more liability than asset? He sat out for the remainder of the first round thanks to a suspension, familiar territory for the 28-year-old. In exit interviews, he swore that he’d change. But is that a good thing? Has this relationship run its course?
And there’s the money. Money and Mitch Marner, precisely. The Maple Leafs want to have him signed by July 1 and they’ll need to get realistic when it comes to funds.
Dubas has already inked Auston Matthews to a five-year extension worth $58.17 million and Marner will probably generate similar green. And this after caving in signing William Nylander after a holdout situation that dogged the franchise throughout last summer. If this summer is a repeat of that disaster, it won’t wear well on these Maple Leafs.
Now, options are on table. Kadri can go, a potentially valuable trade piece that may benefit from a new situation. And Jake Gardiner is probably all but out, probably a relief for defenceman and fanbase alike. And there’s Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson, who have to accept qualifying offers to get new deals.
Toronto could go the safe route and let sleeping dogs lie, which means doing what they can to get Marner signed and letting the other pieces fall by the wayside. They can lighten their problems, alleviate their losses and move on full in the knowledge that next year might be different.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be problems. It’s in Marner’s best interest to wait it out until as close to July 1 as possible, especially if Dubas doesn’t pull out big money right away. The GM wants to – needs to – avoid a bad situation and a repeat of the Nylander Saga, so look for cash in hand.
But if nothing’s done by July 1, all bets are off. We could see offer sheets and other creative elements in the wind, which means Toronto could be in for one wild summer. Again.
(Photo credit: Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)