Toronto Maple Leafs

2019 Draft Looms Large for the Toronto Maple Leafs

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft might be a defining moment in the Maple Leafs journey towards playoff success.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs own exactly zero (0) first-round draft picks in this year’s draft. That’s probably why, if you’re a Leafs fan, you haven’t heard much about this year’s crop of prospects. Honestly, other than the top-prospects, I don’t know anything about this year’s draft-eligible players—aside from a few names that have been the subject of twitter arguments in the days leading up to the draft.

However, the Leafs need to make their seven picks—one second, one third, two fourths, one fifth, and two seventh-rounders— count for their competitive window to stay open as long as possible. The Leafs are already entering salary cap-hell, and as they continue to swap out depth players like Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev for low-cost rookies like Trevor Moore and Calle Rosén, one of Kyle Dubas’ main priorities lies with keeping the pipeline flowing.

Currently, with the Leafs’ lack of drafting success under ex-Assistant GM Mark Hunter, and the mass promotion of prospects that came with the rebuild, the teams cupboards are bare. They have minimal talent up front with just Pierre Engvall, Jeremy Bracco, Mason Marchment, and (maybe) Adam Brooks as potential solutions that are close to NHL ready. Their future on the blue-line looks brighter mostly because of their past-two first round picks, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. After them, all they have is last year’s fourth-rounder, Mac Hollowell, and their only other promising back-end prospect, Sean Durzi, was shipped out in the Jake Muzzin trade. However, only Sandin is regarded as NHL-ready or close to it, and the Leafs may only begin next season with two of their top-six defenders from last year as Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are unrestricted free-agents, Nikita Zaitsev will very likely be traded, and Travis Dermott will be out for at least the first month as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery.

The Leafs’ goaltending pipeline is strong, as both Joseph Woll and Ian Scott are highly regarded and had successful seasons this year. The latter is coming off a season in which he won the WHL’s Del Wilson Trophy, the WHL Playoff MVP award, and the CHL Goaltender of the Year award. Somehow, even after a season after that, he is still seen as an inferior prospect to Scott. An that’s not an indictment on Scott; it’s a testament to just how good Woll—and the Leafs’ future goaltending picture—is.

The Main Focus

While fans will expect a good draft haul at the draft, all eyes will be on Kyle Dubas as there are plenty of trades he could make. With that said, let’s explore all possible trade candidates that could be sent out in a deal.

Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner‘s agent, as you likely know, has been making waves in the media, claiming that they will accept an offer-sheet if the Leafs don’t cave in to their demands of more than $11 million AAV. The possibility of a trade will be very real until this situation ends one way or another, but it won’t be at the draft—especially since free agency hasn’t even started yet. They are making calls, though. Now, onto the real candidates for a trade at the draft:

Nikita Zaitsev

To the bewilderment of most hockey analysts, Zaitsev is highly regarded by some teams, with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks reportedly the front-runners in a potential deal. Zaitsev is the Leafs’ only right-handed defenseman that played in the playoffs, and the stars aligned for the Leafs when he requested a trade for personal reasons that reportedly do not have to do with Mike Babcock or his system. He is very good at stopping the cycle in the defensive zone and recovering the puck, but his issue lies in transition, where he can’t make a pass to his forwards if his life depended on it, and on offence, where he has floundered since being taken off the power play after his rookie season, as he often takes bad point-shots into the shin-pads of opponents, turning the puck over. He did play well in the playoffs with Jake Muzzin against the Bruins’ top line, but it should be noted that Muzzin’s possession numbers fell when paired with Zaitsev.

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After getting 36 points in his rookie season, then-GM Lou Lamoriello signed him to a seven-year deal with a $4.5 million AAV. However, Zaitsev has only had 27 points in the last two seasons, and his contract is in the way of the Leafs signing their restricted free agents like Marner, Andreas Johnsson, and Kasperi Kapanen.

Dubas’ asking price is reportedly a bottom-pairing defender, a mid-round pick, and a prospect, which would be a complete steal of a trade for Kyle Dubas. Hell, before I knew how much interest there actually is in Zaitsev, I would’ve thought getting his contract off the books with no salary retention in exchange for a seventh-rounder is great value. By now, it’s a forgone conclusion that Zaitsev will be dealt; it’s just a matter of for what and when.

Dubas may want to wait until after July 1 to trade Zaitsev, when his $3 million signing bonus will be paid. Zaitsev also has a 10-team No Trade List that kicks in on this date, but he will not use it as he requested a trade.

I’d be comfortable with a trade to either Edmonton or Vancouver with how they’ve managed their teams the past few years. But, with the news that Peter Chiarelli may join the Canucks front office, bring it on, Vancouver!

Connor Brown

The Leafs’ are likely to move Brown for cap relief, as he is an expensive fourth-lined with a $2.1 million cap-hit. Dubas has plenty of options in a potential Brown trade. Brown hasn’t been able to match his 20-goal rookie season in the two since, with 14 and 8 goals the past two years. He has played all 82 games in each season. Perhaps with a larger opportunity, his production will increase back to his rookie levels (and maybe even higher). According to Bob McKenzie, Connor Brown will not be a Leaf next year because of the cap crunch.

The Edmonton Oilers are said to be interested in Brown. This would be an interesting fit as Brown and Connor McDavid were line-mates in the OHL with the Erie Otters. Maybe Brown is the solution to the endless cycle of line-mates for McDavid. He could be included as a sweetener in a Zaitsev deal or a (less likely) Patrick Marleau deal. He also could be paired with Kasperi Kapanen, and the Carolina Hurricanes are said to be interested in this possibility.

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A potential deal with the Oilers could include Matt Benning, who the Leafs have previously been linked to, and he has a cap his of $1.9 million. Jesse Puljujärvi could also be involved in a trade, as he has demanded a trade and threatened playing in Europe is he is not moved. However, he is a RFA and the Leafs would need to ink him to a new deal. Something like Zaitsev + Brown for Benning + Puljujarvi could work for both sides, affording the Leafs some valuable cap space.

According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, the Oilers would trade Puljujärvi for a third-line forward. Depending on how they view Connor Brown, he could fit this qualification.

Elliotte Friedman says that the Leafs may also be willing to trade Brown straight up for a second round pick. This would be a great trade for Dubas to make as he continues to replenish the Leafs’ depth through the draft. Could a draft-day trade be in the works, or could he trade for a future pick? Only time will tell.

Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau has clearly regressed, and as the saying goes, Father Time is undefeated. The Leafs’ winger will be 40 years old at the beginning of next season, and his cap-hit of $6.25 million keeps getting worse for the Leafs. Marleau has requested a trade back west near San Jose, but his contract puts the Leafs in a tricky situation, as any trade involving Marleau will probably require the Leafs to include a ‘sweetener’ to account for Marleau’s cap-hit.

Potential destinations for Marleau include Colorado, Arizona, and Los Angeles. Marleau reportedly only wants to return to San Jose, but in the wake of Erik Karlsson‘s albatross contract and their slew of free-agents that need re-signing, a reunion seems unlikely unless the Leafs can find a third team to buy Marleau out, similar to the Brooks Orpik deal between Colorado and Washington last year.

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Marleau put his house on the market earlier this month and his family has moved back to San Jose as they reportedly found the transition to Toronto difficult. Yeah, I think he’s gonna waive his no movement clause.

Dubas recently said that there is “a good chance” that Marleau will remain a Maple Leaf next season, but Pierre LeBrun believes that this is solely a media ploy to find more teams willing to take on his salary.

Because Marleau’s deal was signed after the age of 25, a buyout does not get rid of hit $6.25 million cap-hit, which complicates the deal for some teams. Additionally, according to James Mirtle of The Athletic, the final year of his deal is oddly constructed with his $3 million signing bonus split between July and December, and only $1.25 million left to pay in base salary (PAYWALL).

Depending on how much the Leafs are willing to give up, the scope of a deal can vary widely. The Avalanche have reportedly made Tyson Barrie available for trade, and the Leafs could use a good right-handed defender like him. How much would the Leafs need to give up to get a return like this, though? The Leafs are reportedly considering using Brown and/or Kapanen as sweeteners is a potential deal, so they may be able to work something out. According to Mirtle, “Colorado [is not] interested at this time” (PAYWALL), but if their cap situation is alleviated, maybe they would take a second look at Marleau.

Los Angeles is said to be interested in completing a deal, but they would want something in return for taking on his contract. They reportedly want to send a big salary the other way though, which makes it difficult for a trade to materialize. Perhaps the Leafs could pry Tyler Toffoli and his $4.6 million cap-hit out of Los Angeles with a sweetener in the form of Kapanen, Johnsson, or a pick.

The structure of Marleau’s deal makes it more likely for a team near the cap-floor like Arizona to trade for him and complete the buy out. With the Coyotes recent sale to Alex Merulo, their demands have lessened from Kapanen or Johnsson to just “something good to get Arizona to blink.” They reportedly want a prospect in a potential trade, which makes me wonder if the Leafs can sell high on Jeremy Bracco. In his sophomore season with the Marlies, the skilled right-winger has a career-year with 79 points (22-57). He ran the power play from the half-wall in the Mitch Marner role, and although he could impact the Leafs second power-play next year, his 5v5 play left much to be desired. Jeff Veillette’s data has Bracco at a -5.7% Corsi Rel in the regular season, and he was last out of all the Marlies’ regular forwards in the playoffs. With public perception around him still high with his inflated point totals, the Leafs could sell high on Bracco and ship him out to Arizona with Marleau. One wrinkle in these plans is that John Chayka is a staunch supporter of analytics and may not value Bracco highly as a result of his shaky 5v5 play.

Kasperi Kapanen

The Leafs are taking calls on Kapanen, and there is a possibility that he can either be used as a sweetener in a Zaitsev or Marleau deal, or as a centrepiece in a deal for a defender. He is a RFA, so the Leafs would be trading his rights in any deal.

According to Darren Dreger, the Leafs would only deal Kapanen if they receive back-end help in return. Pierre LeBrun says that Carolina has interest in Kapanen and Brown, and that the two teams recently discussed a deal that would send a package based around Brett Pesce to Toronto for Kapanen and Brown. Talks quickly ceased as Carolina wants to keep Pesce.

Earlier in the offseason, LeBrun said that the Hurricanes could have interest in doing a Kapanen + Zaitsev for Pesce/Dougie Hamilton/Justin Faulk, so the interest in Kapanen is apparent. Any of those defenders would greatly help the Leafs next year and undoubtedly step into the top-line with Morgan Rielly since all of them are right-handed.

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Another rumour has the Leafs trading Kapanen for Zaitsev for Kris Letang. Kevin McGran said that Pittsburgh “was one possibility that “makes sense” according to a source.” The Penguins have told teams that any trade would any trade would need to include a package of at least “an impact player on a controllable contract and/or a projected future salary-cap hit that was reasonable” (PAYWALL), according to The Athletic’s Rob Rossi. He also said that two unspecified teams, both from the Eastern Conference, have recently contacted Penguins GM Jim Rutherford about Letang, and that Letang would accept a trade to either team. One of these clubs could very well be the Leafs.

No matter what, expect the Leafs to receive a right-handed defender if they choose to trade Kapanen.

Nazem Kadri

Nazem Kadri most likely will not be traded. They’re taking calls on him, and would need a centre back in any trade, according to Dreger.

Kyle Dubas said that it is his “full intention” that Kadri will be back with the Leafs next year.

Most of the chatter was sparked by Kadri getting suspended in the playoffs for a retaliatory hit for the second year in a row in Game 2 of the Leafs’ first round series against the Boston Bruins.

Garret Sparks

Garret Sparks is being shopped after a horrendous year as the Leafs’ backup. He was sent home the day before the Leafs’ first playoff game to focus on the basics as the Leafs’ recalled AHL goaltender Michael Hutchinson. Yeah, it was that bad.

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Our Matthew Ricks wrote about Sparks being shopped here. I don’t expect for Sparks to get anything more than a late pick, but given his age and the fact that he is only two years removed from his career-year in the AHL, he could hold more value. If the Leafs were able to get a seventh-rounder for Jhonas Enroth in 2017, I’m confident Sparks could net them at least that, or maybe even a fifth or sixth-round pick.

Other Trade Chatter

I’m not sure who the Leafs would trade for him, but TJ Brodie seems like a prime trade candidate and the Leafs have shown interest. Not so sure what the Leafs are going for here given that he is a left-hand shot, but hey, anything’s better than Ron Hainsey, right?

Each of the names above, with the exception of Kasperi Kapanen, are on the TSN Trade Bait board, with Zaitsev coming in at #1. All eyes are on them and Kyle Dubas will most likely be busy on the phones these next few days at the NHL Draft in Vancouver.

Contract details taken from capfriendly.com

Statistics taken from eliteprospects.com, hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

New York Islanders

New York Islanders Done in Nassau Coliseum for the Rest of the Playoffs

The Islanders didn’t just say goodbye to the Penguins for the rest of the playoffs with their sweep-clinching victory on Tuesday— they also have to say goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum. The New York Islanders will move back to the Barclays Center for the remainder of their playoff run.

The New York Islanders left the Coliseum in 2015, it being the second-oldest arena. After undergoing renovations from 2015-2017, their maximum capacities significantly decreased, going from 16,170 for hockey to 13,917. The virtual 50/50 split of their home games this year between Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center produced welcome results. Posting a nearly identical record at each, going 12-7-2 and 12-7-1, respectively.

Planning to play at the Coliseum

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The plan to play Game 1 in Nassau before moving back to Brooklyn was set in stone earlier this season.

“”Following consultation with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, the New York Islanders and BSE Global have announced that should the Islanders qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, any first-round home playoff games will take place at [the] Coliseum,” the Islanders said in a release.

“Should the team qualify for further rounds of the playoffs, any home Islanders games will take place at Barclays Center, reflecting that the Nassau Coliseum does not qualify as an NHL major-league facility.”” (Quote from NBC Sports)

The Islanders played Games 1 & 2 at the Coliseum and would have hosted Game 5 if they hadn’t swept the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nassau provided the Islanders with a loud, intimidating environment in part due to its low roof, and now they will have to adjust to the Barclays Center for Round 2, where they haven’t played a game since February 16.

““I think no matter where we play, even when [the new arena at] Belmont comes, you’re going to miss a piece of the Coliseum,” Matt Martin said. “There’s just so much history there, it’s such a big part of what the New York Islanders are.”” (Quote From The New York Post)

The Barclays Center

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The Barclays Center has a much larger capacity than the Coliseum at 15,795, but many of the seats have obstructed views. Furthermore, the ice there has drawn the ire of many players. The main benefit for the Islanders franchise is financial; their new home has 101 luxury suites to the Coliseum’s 11.

During the regular season, the Islanders had the worst attendance in the league. They averaged 12,442 per game despite having 91.7% capacity at the Coliseum, which holds only 13,971.

The Islanders have played in two series at Barclays Center before. In 2016, they beat the Panthers with former captain (and current Toronto Maple Leaf) John Tavares scoring the series-clincher during double-overtime in Game 6. The Islanders lost in the second round, however, to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 5 games.

Playoff Atmosphere

Matt Martin actually enjoyed the atmosphere at home during that playoff run.

““I’ll be honest with you, I enjoyed Barclays Center in the playoffs,” Martin said. “Our fans filled it up and made the noise and made it loud. They’ll be doing that again, I guarantee it.”” (Quote from The New York Post)

Of course, the Islanders franchise would stay in the Coliseum all playoffs if they had the choice. But now, they are hopeful that they’ll have a smooth adjustment to their new home for the rest of the playoffs and that the Barclays Center can be just as loud as the Coliseum.

Do you think the move will affect the Islanders in the second round and onwards? Leave your opinion in the comments below.

Quotes recovered from The New York Post and NBC Sports

Stats and information sourced from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com, mediapressnews.org

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Backup Goaltending In Flux On Eve Of Playoffs

Garrett Sparks has returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs just one day before Game 1 in their series against the Boston Bruins with Michael Hutchinson away for personal reasons.

 

On April 5, Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks left the team to rediscover his technique and confidence with goalie coaches Steve Briere and Jon Elkin. In a corresponding move, the Leafs called up Michael Hutchinson from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate Toronto Marlies to fill the backup spot for the parent Maple Leafs in the playoffs. Now, with Hutchinson away from the team for the birth of his baby, Sparks is back for Game 1.

 

 

Sparks

Last year, Sparks had a .936 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average in 43 games, earning the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award, presented annually to the AHL’s best goaltender. He was also named an AHL First Team All-Star for his efforts.

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This year, though, his past accomplishments came crashing down as he floundered in a backup role with the big club. In 17 starts and three relief appearances, Sparks has accrued a .902 save percentage and a 3.15 goals against average. For comparison’s sake, the average marks for National Hockey League goaltenders this season are a .910 save percentage and a 2.81 goals against average.

Sparks has been a target of many complaints from the Leafs’ fan base this season, as many called for Sparks to be exposed to waivers rather than former Maple Leafs backup (and current Carolina Hurricanes co-starter) Curtis McElhinney.

 

Hutchinson

When starter Frederik Andersen was injured earlier this season, the Maple Leafs traded for Hutchinson in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick to take over until Andersen returned.  Although he only had a 2-3-0 record, he was a marked improvement over what the Leafs would have gotten out of Sparks, carrying .914 save percentage and a 2.64 through five starts.

In 23 games with the Marlies, Hutchinson is 14-5-3 with a .910 save percentage and a 2.70 goals against average.

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What does this mean for the Leafs?

All in all, Hutchinson won’t be away from the Leafs for long, but the sooner he comes back, the better. Sparks will serve as the Leafs backup until Hutchinson returns. At that point, Sparks will continue his 10-day program with the goalie coaches.

 

 

Leafs fans are unlikely to see Sparks in net for the Leafs in the playoffs this season. However, they better hope Hutchinson is back soon in the improbable situation that Andersen is hurt or pulled from a game.

 

Stats via NHL.com and hockey-reference.com

Featured Photo Image Credit: Josh Tessler

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Marlies sign OHL sniper Justin Brazeau

Darren Dreger reported on Thursday that the Toronto Marlies signed Justin Brazeau from the North Bay Battalion of the OHL.

The Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, have signed OHL sniper Justin Brazeau to a two-year AHL contract. The deal has a base salary of $70,000 with an annual signing bonus of $60,000. Brazeau can sign an NHL deal with another club, but the Leafs are allowed to match any offer before the Marlies terminate his contract, Dreger also reported.

Since he is on an AHL deal, Brazeau doesn’t count towards the salary cap or the 50-contract limit. His deal starts next year, but the Marlies—as they have done with their recent signings—may sign him to an amateur tryout offer so he can gain valuable experience during the Marlies playoff run.

Dreger reported last month on Insider Trading that the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights and Columbus Blue Jackets all showed interest in addition to the Leafs. He has attended development camps with the Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, and San Jose Sharks.

 

 

 

Who is Justin Brazeau?

Brazeau is a 22 year old forward who played for the North Bay Battalion this past season and was one of the most sought after free agents coming out of the Ontario Hockey League this season. He registered 61 goals and 52 assists (113 points) in 68 games as North Bay’s captain. His 61 goals topped the league, and he was second in points, five back of the lead. For comparison’s sake, the last OHL player to hit 60 goals in a season was Chicago Blackhawks star winger Alex DeBrincat in 2016-17. For his career, Brazeau has 128 goals and 110 assists (238 points) in 268 games played after being drafted in the 13th round of the 2014 OHL Draft. He is a native of New Liskeard, Ontario, a municipality 493 kilometres north of Toronto.

Brazeau is a finalist for the 2018-19 Red Tilson Trophy, awarded annually to the Most Outstanding Player of the Year by writers and broadcasters. He’s also one of six finalists for Overage Player of the Year, along with Leafs defence prospect Mac Hollowell and former Leafs prospect (and Toronto native) Sean Durzi.

It’s important to keep in mind that Brazeau was an “over-ager” this season (he turned 21 mid-season), so his career year came against younger competition. A large reason for his domination this year was the size and age advantage he had on most of his opponents; his first two seasons in the OHL, when he was not significantly older than the other players, he collected six and 21 goals, respectively. The skilled right winger has gone undrafted the past two years. This year, his Battalion were eliminated in 5 games by the Niagara Icedogs in the first round of the OHL playoffs.

Scouting Report

OHL Prospects wrote about Brazeau prior to the 2018 NHL Draft, noting three improvements he made to his game:

“I’d honestly be shocked if Brazeau isn’t drafted this year or signed this summer. For me, there were three distinctive improvements made in his game. The first and most noticeable was an improvement in his playmaking ability. With his size and ability to dominate down low, this was a necessary adjustment if he wanted to take that next step as an elite player. He now exhibits poise and vision to find open linemates when teams try to play him too aggressively in order to try to stop him coming off the wall or driving the net. The second improvement was in his confidence. No longer a secondary scoring option, Brazeau drives the play offensively; comfortable taking charge in the offensive end and running the offense through his unique skill set. The third improvement was in his skating. It’s certainly not the best in the league, but it’s far from the worst. His first few strides, in particular, look more explosive now and it’s really made him a load to handle for opposing defenders who lack the reach to keep him at bay. You’d be hard pressed to find a player who was more important to his team this year (plays in all situations) and you have to be impressed with the progression each year of this unique 6’5 power winger.”

Brazeau is an absolute giant, standing at 6’6” without skates, and weighing in at 225 lbs. Unfortunately, this compromises his skating, but as @51Leafs notes, Barb Underhill, the Leafs skating coach, could fix that. Underhill also works with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and she is responsible for Brayden Point’s ascension from an underwhelming skater to being one of the fastest in the league. However, Underhill getting his skating even close to Point’s level would be a miracle as Brazeau’s skating is rumoured to be even worse than a younger Frédérik Gauthier. Expect for him to be at best a passable skater at the NHL level. Still, he has many more skills to work with, so he is a low-risk, high-reward player if Barb Underhill can fix that aspect of his game.

 

 

Brazeau’s size and hands are his two biggest strengths, playing a style similar to that of James van Riemsdyk: he does most of his work around the net, and his tall stature and great hands make him tough to stop.

 

 

With the Marlies, Brazeau is joining one of the best developmental organizations in hockey, having recently worked on Trevor Moore and Mason Marchment. Brazeau, like the two aforementioned players once were, is considered a “project.” Now, we’ll have to wait and see what Scott Pellerin, the Leafs’ Senior Director of Player Development, and his staff can do with their next project on the Marlies, but don’t get your expectations too high.

All stats taken from Elite Prospects and NHL.com

Feature image courtesy of Nikos Michals

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Should They Look Into The Adam Fox Situation?

It was reported on Tuesday that Carolina Hurricanes prized defence prospect Adam Fox will not sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, opting instead to return to Harvard for his senior year, after which he will be granted free agency. But, what does this mean for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Adam Fox was one of the main pieces going to Carolina in the draft-day deal that sent Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Fox, Dougie Hamilton, and Micheal Ferland. Fox was, and still is, highly coveted by the Hurricanes. The Flames selected the young defenseman in the third round of the 2016 draft out of the U.S. National Development Program, but after incredible freshman and sophomore seasons at Harvard, he shot up prospect rankings. The Flames tried to get him under contract before the 2018 draft, but Fox declined in favour of going back to college for his junior year. This December, prohockeyrumors.com reported that the Hurricanes were “very confident” that he would sign with them at the end of the season. Now, Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal says that he may shun them as well.

Why would he not sign with the Hurricanes?

The Hurricanes are a team with lots of defensive talent. This is evident in a quick look at their statistics this season. The Hurricanes rank top-10 in goals allowed (T-8), shots on goal allowed (3), CF% (shot attempts for) (2), and xGF% (expected goals for) (1). Their defensive pairings are so stacked with talent that they have to leave a prospect like Jake Bean in the AHL. Their pairings are as follows:

Jaccob SlavinDougie Hamilton
Brett PesceJustin Faulk
Calvin de HaanTrevor van Riemsdyk

Their fifth and sixth defensemen, de Haan and van Riemsdyk could play higher in the lineup on most other teams. Thus, this logjam of defensive talent could block a prospect like Adam Fox from receiving lots of minutes. This may be why he chooses to forego signing his contract this year and wait to sign with a team of his choice.

Precedent for the Leafs

Jimmy Vesey

Leafs fans have seen a situation like this before. The Nashville Predators selected Jimmy Vesey in the third round of the 2012 draft. Vesey, like Fox, played for Harvard. However, when GM David Poile offered him a spot for the end of the 2015-16 regular season and playoffs, Vesey declined, wanting to pick his own team instead. The Leafs spoke with Vesey and were finalists in the sweepstakes. Unfortunately, Vesey ultimately chose the New York Rangers—a team that undoubtedly had less talent than the Leafs, but significantly more minutes and a larger opportunity.

This example shows that the Leafs could have a realistic shot at signing the young defender when he reaches free agency for reasons I discuss below.

Zach Hyman

The Florida Panthers selected Zach Hyman in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Amid concerns regarding the Panthers’ chances of signing him, the Leafs traded for Hyman’s rights, giving up AHLer Greg McKegg in return. Of course, Hyman’s situation is different from Fox’s because Hyman was born in Toronto. This situation could be indicative of Fox going to a team other than the Leafs. Fox is a native of Jericho, New York, and it is rumoured that he may be interested in signing with the New York Rangers.

The Leafs and Adam Fox

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Fox, a 21-year old, is a right-handed-shot—an organizational need for the Leafs. In 32 games this year, he has tallied 9 goals and 39 assists for 48 points. He is a serious contender for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the best NCAA player. In 2017-18, he scored 6 goals and got 22 assists for 28 points in 29 games. He has played in the last two World Juniors with Team USA, the last one coming as an assistant captain.

The Leafs, unlike the Hurricanes, have very little talent on their blue-line, and all of it comes from left-handed shots. This summer, Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey’s contracts will expire, leaving two open spots in the lineup. Additionally, Nikita Zaitsev is often a target of trade rumours, and will likely be gone if Kyle Dubas can get a team to take his $4.5 million contract off his hands. Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, and Igor Ozhiganov are nowhere close to having guaranteed spots in the lineup next year. This leaves only Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott, and Jake Muzzin—all left-handers—with the only guaranteed spots in the lineup for next season.

If Adam Fox signed with the Leafs, he would join an instant contender. Given the lack of talent on the right side, Mike Babcock would give him lots of minutes, likely in the top four. Calle Rosen, who is expected to be called up to the Leafs this week, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren, who may still need more work in the AHL are the only other legitimate candidates to make the roster next year. Simply put, the Leafs and Adam Fox are great fits for each other, and they would be silly to not consider agreeing to a contract should the defender reach free agency.

Fox is also good friends with two American Leafs prospects, who could influence his decision in free agency.

Of course, the Leafs will be very close to the salary cap after this summer. However, Fox’s first contract would be an entry-level deal, which is less than $1 million per year. For example, Jimmy Vesey’s contract with the Rangers was a two-year ELC worth $925,000 annually against the cap. It’s not guaranteed that Fox will reach free agency, or that Fox and Dubas will be in contact with him, but it would be prudent for Dubas to at least try, whether it be through free agency or a trade to acquire his rights. On the surface, at least, the two seem like a perfect fit.

 

All stats are from theScore, Corsica Hockey, and Elite Prospects.
Salary information obtained from CapFriendly

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler