Alexander Kerfoot

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Maple Leafs sign Mitch Marner to big six-year deal

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Just like that, the Mitch Marner saga has been settled.

The Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that they signed the star winger to a six-year deal that carries a $10.893 million AAV.

That $10.893M cap hit ranks lower than that of Auston Matthews ($11.634M AAV through 2023-24) and John Tavares ($11M through 2024-25).

From an immediate standpoint, this makes for a tight squeeze.

Who else will remain a part of this team’s core?

Looking back at a PHT post from earlier this week, we can see that this Marner near-$11M will make for tough decisions. Here are some of the big names who will eventually need new contracts, which Marner, Matthews, and Tavares may essentially force out:

After 2019-20: Defensemen Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie.

After 2020-21: Goalie Frederik Andersen.

After 2021-22: Defenseman Morgan Rielly.

After 2022-23: Forwards Andreas Johnsson and Alexander Kerfoot.

After 2023-24: Stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander.

It’s interesting, also, that Tavares and Marner will see their close-to-$22M expire after the same 2024-25 season. Things could be very different beyond those two by then, but wouldn’t it be interesting if it came down to Tavares or Marner around that faraway date?

[MORE: Could Marner signing open floodgates for Laine, other star RFAs?]

A tough question of value

Plenty of reports indicated that Marner, 22, compared himself to Matthews as much as anyone else. With that in mind, the Maple Leafs must feel some relief in signing Marner for six years, thus locking him down for an extra year — and crucially, staggering things so their contracts don’t expire during the same summer.

As far as Marner being worth $10.893M? That’s subjective, obviously. Maybe it’s more important to ask: how much of an overpay would it be, if it is an overpay? Maple Leafs fans might be somewhat pleased to hear that some answer “Not so bad.”

(Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire provided a fascinating look at Marner’s underlying value recently, if you want some deeper reading on the playmaking winger.)

Marner set career-highs in goals (26), assists (68), and points (94) last season while finding outstanding chemistry with Tavares. Many noted the Tavares bump while trying to argue against Marner earning a ransom with his second contract, but the bottom line is that they both made each other better in 2018-19, and are likely to continue to do so in 2019-20 and beyond.

For those still suffering through sticker shock, consider that the Maple Leafs “bought” two would-be UFA years by making this a six-year contract. If the cap ceiling rises thanks to various revenue-related forces, then $10.893M might look a lot more manageable in a few years. Consider how excessive Leon Draisaitl‘s $8.5M cap hit seemed at the time; now most would label that an all-too-rare steal for the Edmonton Oilers.

But, yes, the price is steep, and maybe Dubas hasn’t handled the Maple Leafs’ big three RFAs in the best way possible (although I’d argue Nylander will ultimately be seen as a strong value).

Make no mistake about it, though. The Maple Leafs are expensive at the top level, with Marner, Tavares, and Matthews combining for a cap hit of about $33M. Ultimately, their collective efforts will determine if it is all “worth it” — which means hurtling over obstacles they haven’t yet cleared, such as, say, beating the Boston Bruins in a Game 7, or winning a playoff series or two.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

How potential Marner deals might affect Maple Leafs’ salary cap

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Even during the dullest moments of the hockey offseason, you could probably find at least two people arguing about Mitch Marner.

The debates really revved up this week, however, with reports surfacing from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, along with Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger from TSN (among others).

Reports indicate a wide variety of possibilities, from shorter “bridge” deals to long-term contracts, basically all of them with eye-popping numbers.

Let’s consider the many ins and outs of the Maple Leafs’ cap situation, and how different Marner deals might fit in, by looking at things on a year-by-year basis. Cap Friendly was a major resource for this post.

2019-20, year one: Don’t bet on a one-year pact, but this is a good spot to discuss the most immediate squeeze.

Toronto must wait to put Nathan Horton ($5.35M) and David Clarkson ($5.25M) on LTIR and … that really gums up the works. To keep the details from making brains pop like corn, it figures to be tight, especially if Marner gets “in the universe” of $11M.

The Maple Leafs’ defense figures to be different after this season with Cody Ceci ($4.5M), Jake Muzzin ($4M), and Tyson Barrie ($2.75M after retention) entering contract years. GM Kyle Dubas is full of enough surprises, so who knows what lies ahead on defense?

2020-21, year two: In Tuesday’s “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reports that a two-year deal was pondered, “a few sources threw cold water on that.”

Regardless, a big change could come after two years, as Frederik Andersen figures to get a big raise from $5M after 2019-20. Maybe a “bridge” deal would make it slightly easier to keep Andersen?

2021-22, year three: A variety of reporters point to a three-year “bridge” deal as one of the most likely possibilities at this time.

It’s also maybe the trickiest scenario for the Maple Leafs, something mentioned by the likes of TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

Marner and other RFAs might follow a path where a three-year deal is, functionally, a four-year deal to get to unrestricted free agency. Essentially, Marner would sign for X over three years, with a salary hitting a peak at year three, so that would set the stage for a qualifying offer in year four. Years five and beyond would then be open to UFA. TSN’s Darren Dreger illustrates this as well:

If it’s three years, Marner would need a new contract (technically or not) during the same offseason as Morgan Rielly. Reilly is just 25 and carries a cheap $5M cap hit, so the price could really grow. One would think Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2M) might get squeezed out.

We could also start to see Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren needing new deals around 2023 or shortly after, depending upon when Toronto starts burning those entry-level years.

2022-23, year four: If the above bridge deal with a high third-year salary happened, this is where Marner’s cost would balloon. It’s also possible – though improbable – that the two sides would simply sign a four-year deal, sending Marner to UFA status in the summer of 2023 without the gymnastics.

Following that fourth season, Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5M) and Andreas Johnsson ($3.4M) would need new deals.

Any small and medium-sized decisions would need to be weighed by how much room they leave for bigger ones, and not just potentially Marner …

2023-24, year five: Two whoppers expire in five years: Auston Matthews ($11.64M) and William Nylander ($6.96M).

It’s tough to imagine the Maple Leafs set the stage for Marner to have the opportunity to hit the UFA market during the same summer as Matthews and Nylander, which is why you don’t hear about a five-year solution very often.

Let’s be honest: that scenario could break Hockey Twitter, the Internet, or even humanity’s collective, slipping grip on something resembling sanity.

2024-25, year six: The six-year possibility doesn’t get mentioned much, but Tavares’ $11M expires after 2024-25. What if Marner figured that much of that Tavares money could transfer to his third contract? Could six years be a sweet spot for Toronto’s cost certainty, Marner getting paid, and present something of a compromise on UFA years?

(Unlikely, but just saying.)

2025-26, year seven, and 2026-27, year eight: McKenzie reports that there have been offers “in the universe” of $11M for seven or eight-year terms, but Marner reportedly isn’t satisfied because he’d get less than Matthews’ $11.64M while also signing for more than Matthews’ five-year term.

We can debate whether Marner would be worth $11M all day (motions to increasingly volatile Hockey Twitter), but Marner’s reluctance to go long-term is understandable, as for all we know, the cap ceiling could be much higher in 2025-26 and beyond.

***

Unfortunately for anxious Maple Leafs fans, Friedman, Dreger, MacKenzie, and others point to considerable divides behind Marner’s camp and the Maple Leafs.

As the above timeline shows, Toronto faces a host of complicated decisions, and plenty of tough questions even beyond Marner. Make no mistake about it, though: this Marner contract situation is absolutely pivotal, and it’s a tough nut to crack.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Pressures of being Maple Leafs GM go beyond Marner

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s easy to get lost in all of the distractions and lose sight of the fact that the Maple Leafs have, in a lot of ways, built something special in Toronto. And GM Kyle Dubas played a huge role in bringing in some of those special elements.

A mixture of contract/cap struggles and playoff letdowns obscure that notion, and it’s difficult to blame people when they’ve felt disappointed, if not downright anxious, about this Maple Leafs team. After all, despite splashy signings from John Tavares to Mike Babcock, this team still hasn’t won a playoff series since 2003-04.

Credit fans and media for being relatively calm and patient with the Maple Leafs’ rebuild over the years, but desperation is bubbling up, and Dubas is under pressure to hold everything together long enough for this team to finally deliver on all of that promise.

Consider the challenges Dubas faces and you’ll understand some of the pressure.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | X-factor]

Signing Mitch Marner: The most obvious challenge is also the most daunting one. It feels less like the elephant in the room and more like the room itself. (We haven’t gotten to the point where we’re spouting out “Oh Hi Mitch” yet, so at least it isn’t “The Room.”)

The Marner situation remains a mystery, as it’s unclear when he’ll sign, for what dollar amount, and for how long. We’re close to September, and the Maple Leafs’ cap situation is convoluted enough where you wonder if this could stretch out to Nylanderian lengths, maybe eating up regular season games.

Either way, it’s on Dubas to win this game of chicken, and you can argue that he’s had mixed results so far.

Nylander’s near-$7 million cap hit figures to be pretty team-friendly if he can get back on track, yet that protracted holdout almost certainly hampered his ability to keep his game in tidy rows. The Maple Leafs didn’t seem to get much of a discount on Auston Matthews, either, as he’s at $11.634M for just five seasons, not eating up much in the way of UFA years.

The Maple Leafs were bound to face cap issues, but they haven’t enjoyed the sort of sweetheart deals in the same way that their divisional foes in Boston and Tampa Bay have. If the ship has sailed on Marner drawing a Nikita Kucherov-type discount, Toronto at least needs to get something done there, so the pressure remains on Dubas.

Managing Mike Babcock: After another Game 7 exit at the hands of the Bruins, many wondered about the dynamic between Dubas and Babcock. Dubas said all the right things in bringing Babcock back for 2019-20, yet it seems like the two don’t always see the game the same way.

Frankly, for all of the impressive bullet points on Babcock’s resume, it sure feels like this talented Toronto team hasn’t always been “optimized” under Babcock lately. Matthews’ minutes could be more robust, and they’d ideally take time away from lesser players.

People will look for signs of this relationship cratering, particularly if moves like the trade to bring in Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot end up looking a little rocky.

Beyond the core: As tricky as it is to retain that nucleus of Marner, Matthews, Tavares, and Nylander, the toughest challenge is to find the right electrons at the right price. (Thus concludes any shaky scientific analogies I can make.)

So far, Dubas has done a pretty splendid job of maneuvering around the obvious guys, whether that involved getting rid of problem deals (Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev), retaining mid-level support (Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen), or identifying bargains (Tyler Ennis, and then maybe Jason Spezza).

But, like with any contender once star rookie contracts have all expired, the work will basically never be done. Dubas will need to eventually find replacements or new deals for Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie, who are both entering contract years. Frederik Andersen is in line for a raise once his $5M cap hit expires after 2020-21.

Ideally, the cap ceiling will rise more significantly in future offseasons than it did this year. Even if that happens, Dubas will be under pressure to find creative ways to make this all work.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2018-19
46-28-8, 100 points (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Eliminated in seven games in Round 1 by the Boston Bruins

IN
Tyson Barrie
Alexander Kerfoot
Jason Spezza
Pontus Aberg
Jordan Schmaltz
Cody Ceci
Kenny Agostino

OUT
Jake Gardiner
Nazem Kadri
Nakita Zaitsev
Josh Jooris
Tyler Ennis
Ron Hainsey
Patrick Marleau
Connor Brown
Garrett Sparks
Callen Rosen

RE-SIGNED
Andreas Johnsson
Kasperi Kapanen
Cody Ceci
Nick Shore
Michael Hutchinson
Martin Marincin

2018-19 Summary

Man, those expectations were so high. How could they not be?

Coming off a summer where they won the John Tavares sweepstakes, the Toronto Maple Leafs, now with one of most formidable offenses in the NHL, were supposed to compete for the Stanley Cup.

They had Matthews and Marner and Nylander and Rielly. Sure, there were questions on defense but they had Frederik Andersen to make up for any mishaps. And with all that firepower, they could just outscore their problems.

Everything looked in place, at least until it didn’t.

The first blow came when Nylander and the club came to an impasse in contract talks and he missed training camp and the first two months of the season before it got sorted out.

That defense didn’t quite hold up, sort of unsurprising since it wasn’t really addressed in the offseason. And Mike Babcock decided to be stubborn, culminating in a seemingly crazy decision not to play Matthews and Marner more when they needed them most in the playoffs.

Yes, the Leafs scrapped together a 100-point season despite their underlying issues. But when the Bruins stood in front in the playoffs, as they’d done before in the postseason, a similar result emerged: disappointment by way of underachieving.

Welcome to the throes of beings one of the NHL’s most storied teams, one that has been marred by a monumental championship drought and years upon years of coming up short.

[MORE: X-factor | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Tavares alone couldn’t save them, despite a career year that saw him establish new highs in goals (47) and points (88). For the second straight year, Auston Matthews missed a considerable chunk of time due to injury.

So general manager Kyle Dubas has gone about re-tooling his team in search of the right mix.

Nazem Kadri is out, sent to Colorado for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. The Leafs addressed one issue with the move, as Tyson Barrie is expected to add some defense to the blue line. But the team seems to have lost Jake Gardiner, although the unrestricted free agent has yet to sign with a new team as of yet.

But Dubas and the Leafs have another distraction their hands: the needed contract for Marner.

Marner, like several big-ticket free agents, has yet to sign. And while others are expected to get deals done prior to training camp, it looks more and more likely that Marner misses some time.

He’s already searching for a team to train with if a deal doesn’t get done. Posturing? Maybe. But Marner wants a lot of money and the Leafs don’t really have much wiggle room. Instead of heading into the season with a clear mind, it appears the Leafs will have a repeat of Nylander’s situation from a year ago, and we saw how they turned out for Nylander’s performance.

Deals for Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen are completed, at least. But it’s hard to understate how big a loss it would be for Marner to miss any regular-season time. You don’t not feel the loss of your leading point-producer, no matter who else is on the team.

Still, Dubas has done well to navigate the salary cap. Moving Zaitsev’s contract out was a shrewd move, as too was shipping out the final year of Patrick Marleau’s deal, even if it cost a first-round pick.

The team will also have a fresh set of eyes from the bench with new assistants in Dave Hakstol and Paul McFarland.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Avs’ rising expectations put Bednar under pressure

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche.

If you look at lists of the best offseasons in the NHL, chances are, the Colorado Avalanche will be on most of them.

That’s with good reason, as this team seems ahead of the curve when it comes to making savvy improvements to their team, and they’re in an incredible position to be a force in the West, in large part thanks to bargain contracts for superstar Nathan MacKinnon, value in other parts of their roster, and young up-and-coming players who’ve maybe only shown a taste of what they can do in the NHL. Sometimes fans of teams make the error of merely seeing young players and assuming they’ll reach some imaginary potential that’s actually not there, yet with the Avs, such daydreaming doesn’t seem so far from reality.

All of that is great, but a significant chunk of the excitement around the Avalanche focuses on the future. What about the present, though? Are we sure that a team that squeaked into the playoffs the past two seasons can make it again, especially with a very different-looking roster?

Ultimately, head coach Jared Bednar is under a lot of pressure to make it all work.

[MORE: 3 Questions2018-19 review I X-factor: Makar]

Let’s consider some potential bumps in the road for Bednar and the Avs this season.

  • The team might not be dramatically improved, at least short-term: Some metrics put the 2019-20 Avalanche closer to a “push” with last year’s version. After all, this team lost Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, Semyon Varlamov, and Carl Soderberg. In most if not all of those cases, Colorado made the right calls, yet it means players like Burakovsky, Cale Makar, and Joonas Donskoi can’t be seen as pure additions; instead, one might look at them as replacements. That could mean incremental improvements or downgrades for Colorado for next season.
  • A lot rides on Philipp Grubauer‘s play: After a tough first half of 2018-19, Grubauer justified the Avalanche’s gamble that he had starter potential. With Varlamov gone, there’s less of a safety net, so Bednar might be challenged to change strategies if Grubauer struggles and/or gets injured.
  • Integrating the new guys: Bednar and his staff must find the right minutes, roles, and tone to take with Nazem Kadri, Burakovsky, Donskoi, and other new faces. Also, Cale Makar is almost brand-new himself, and his development is crucial for Colorado. (More on Makar, and how he’ll hope to replace some of what’s lost in trading Barrie, in this post.)
  • Keep the top line together, or diversify? For the most part, Bednar’s been comfortable with keeping Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog together on a top line that’s deadly, but sometimes leaves Colorado a bit one-dimensional. Will the above new additions inspire Bednar to experiment a bit? For all we know, finding the right balance could be the difference between another playoff appearance versus a letdown.
  • Challenging Central Division: The Avs may not be able to rise above the wild-card level thanks to a Central Division that – while altered – still figures to be a beast in 2019-20.

The Avalanche have been one of the surprise successes of the league, particularly after the grim debacle that was Bednar’s first season as an NHL head coach in 2016-17.

For NHL head coaches, such success can be a double-edged sword, as expectations rise in the eyes of fans and owners alike. Fair or not, Bednar is under significant pressure to make sure that the Avalanche don’t stumble during what looks like a swift climb up the NHL ladder.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.