Jake Muzzin

Getty

Point shines in return as Lightning dismantle Maple Leafs: 3 takeaways

The Tampa Bay Lightning were happy to welcome one of their most important players — Brayden Point — back to the lineup on Thursday night and he wasted no time making a huge impact in a 7-3 dismantling of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Three quick takeaways from the Lightning’s big win…

1. That Point contract is going to be a steal for the Lightning 

As soon as the terms of Brayden Point’s three-year contract with the Lightning were revealed it was obvious that it was a huge win for the team. Point is already one of the NHL’s best all-around players thanks to his elite scoring and often times overlooked defensive impact, and at age 23 he is probably still only getting better. After missing the first three games of the season following offseason hip surgery, Point was back in the lineup on Thursday and wasted no time making an impact. He opened the scoring just 2:28 into the first period before adding another goal and an assist later in the game to finish with three points. The line of Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov was almost unfair with each of them recording at least three points in the win (Stamkos and Kucherov both had four points).

2. The Maple Leafs haven’t exactly erased their defensive concerns just yet

The Maple Leafs have done a lot of work to try and fix their blue line — probably the one Achilles Heel the team had the past few years — by adding a bunch of new faces over the past few months. Jake Muzzin came over from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, while Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Rasmus Sandin were all new additions at the start of the season. So far, the early results are not promising. They have now allowed 19 goals through the first five games, including at least three goals in every single home game. We know they can score, and we know the top of their lineup is great, but until they prove otherwise their ability to prevent their opponents from scoring is going to be a significant concern. The common trend with this team over the past few years is that when Frederik Andersen is on his game in net they can look like an unbeatable team. When he is not — as he has yet to be this season — things can quickly start to unravel for them.

3. Pay close attention to Anthony Cirelli this season

Not that the Lightning need another outstanding young player, but they may have one in Cirelli, a second-year forward that chipped in three assists in Thursday’s rout of Toronto. Playing on a 62-win team that had a league MVP and a number of other award winners it was easy for his rookie season to kind of get overlooked. But with 19 goals, 39 totals points, and quite a few Selke Trophy votes (one second place, five third place, 12 fourth place, and 23 fifth place) he has already shown he can be a force all over the ice. Just another impact player for a team that is already full of them.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs sign Mitch Marner to big six-year deal

Getty Images
14 Comments

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

Getty Images
7 Comments

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.

Tyson Barrie is big x-factor for Maple Leafs

Getty Images

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.

The Tyson Barrie trade wasn’t just jaw-dropping and an inventive way to steal Free Agency Day headlines; it was also a catalyst for some fascinating debates about how valuable Barrie really is.

Some of the more intriguing Toronto Maple Leafs X-factors boil down to Barrie: how good is he really, and will Mike Babcock manufacture ways to get the most out of him?

If you’re the type to keep things really simple, you’ll note just how prolific a scorer Barrie has been from the blueline, and think that he’s grossly underrated. Barrie managed 59 points in 78 games last season, and had almost as many (57) despite being limited to 68 regular-season contests in 2017-18. Toronto Maple Leafs fans could be forgiven for drooling while imagining how the speedy defenseman’s numbers might translate to an already talented team.

Yet, for those who delve into deeper numbers, Barrie may actually be overrated, and open up a discussion about whether or not he’s much of a net positive for his team. By just about every shot-counting defensive metric, Barrie can at times be a disaster in his own end.

Really, assessing Barrie may come down to questions of taste and priorities. Barrie might be a right-handed shooting version of Roman Josi: a “roving” defenseman who controls the puck a lot, generates results on offense, but who’s overall positive impact can be questioned when you ponder puck possession stats, along with the conundrum: would his team be better off with a forward having the puck on his stick more than Barrie/Josi?

Like Josi, Barrie has shown positive traits when it comes to the transition game. Barrie’s particularly deft at exiting the defensive zone with puck control, as you can see in this All Three Zones chart (by CJ Turtoro with data from Corey Sznajder):

It’s useful to include a comparison to Jake Gardiner for a number of reasons, as Barrie essentially replaces Gardiner in 2019-20.

Barrie might even be a replacement as a go-to scapegoat, honestly. They’re both very useful defensemen who have their flaws, and those flaws get magnified in a harsh market like Toronto. It wouldn’t be one bit shocking if cameras fixated on Barrie during low moments in the same way they seemed glued to Gardiner after Game 7 gaffes.

Yet it’s their one fundamental difference that makes things especially intriguing, and Barrie an X-factor: Gardiner’s a left-handed defenseman, while Barrie shoots with his right.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Toronto was wise to add Jake Muzzin to a defensive group that saw a huge drop-off after Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, but ultimately, Muzzin was also a tad bit redundant, as all three shoot (and crucially, pass) left-handed.

Even if Barrie might end up being a downgrade from Gardiner, this boost in versatility could be big. It also presents Mike Babcock with a chance to prove that he’s worth the megabucks he’s been receiving from the Maple Leafs.

Theoretically, Babcock could use his experience and system to try to get the best out of Barrie. It’s probably a little much to imagine too much of a “teaching” situation for a defenseman who’s 28, but Babcock could optimize the situation with ideal zone starts, a defensive partner who is adept at denying entries to Toronto’s zone, and finding the right balance between Barrie’s aggressiveness and making safer plays.

Frankly, it’s also just as important that Babcock show patience with Barrie, who’s the type of double-edged sword who could drive a coach mad.

With Barrie entering  a contract year, this is most likely to be a short experiment. We’re very much in “win now” territory for Toronto, though, so Babcock needs to get in the lab and use Barrie as a catalyst for a long-awaited breakthrough.

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

Getty Images
7 Comments

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.