This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…
Going into last season, not many people gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a chance of making the playoffs. Not only did they reach the postseason, they were able to make things interesting against the Washington Capitals.
With Auston Matthews leading the way, the expectations are going to be a lot higher in 2017-18.
If everything goes according to plan on the ice, Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello will have some interesting roster decisions to make before the end of the season. With players like James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov all on expiring contracts, he’ll have to decide what he’s going to do with each of those guys. Will the Leafs keep them in hopes of making a long playoff run, or will they trade them to avoid losing them for nothing?
Obviously, they aren’t a package deal. We’ll have to look at each player on a case-by-case basis.
If the Leafs somehow slip up next season, each of those three players will likely be available for trade (at the right price). If the Leafs are back in the playoff picture, they can’t afford to sell them off for future assets just because they’re worried about losing them in free agency.
It’s pretty clear that van Riemsdyk has the highest value of anyone in that group. He’s 28 years old and he scored 29 goals and 62 points last season which was second on the team. He seems to fly under the radar now because of Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, but there’s no denying he’s an important piece of the puzzle. The questions is, can the Leafs afford to pay him what he can earn on the open market?
They’re still two years away from Matthews, Nylander and Marner’s entry-level contracts expiring so there’s no rush to pay them, but they can’t lock up a ton of money right before handing those guys long-term extensions either. Still, if they could only afford to bring back one of their free-agent forwards, their first choice would probably be van Riemsdyk.
As for Bozak, he’s given the Leafs some quality play down the middle for a number of years, but he’s taken on a lesser role because of Matthews and Kadri. The fact that Nylander and Marner can also play down the middle will hinder his chances of returning after next season.
Again, if the Leafs are pushing for a top 3 spot in the Atlantic Division, it might be hard for them to part ways with Bozak, but there are a number of factors that will be considered.
The 31-year-old had 18 goals and 55 points last season. If he’s able produce similar numbers in 2017-18, there will be no shortage of teams looking to sign him once free agency opens.
Komarov is one of those guys that can play the game while getting under your skin. Although his numbers dropped last year, he still provided the Leafs with 14 goals and 32 points in 82 games.
Of the three players being discussed in this post, he’ll probably command the least amount of money, but he won’t come cheap either. The 30-year-old is only one year removed from scoring 19 goals and 36 points in 67 games.
A lot can change between now and the trade deadline, but as of right now it doesn’t look like the Leafs will be able to retain all three of those free-agent forwards.
Because of their depth down the middle, don’t be surprised if Bozak is the one on the move.