Even if it ended in absolute disappointment -- again -- the Toronto Maple Leafs possessed a wealth of talent on their roster this season.
Auston Matthews scored 60 goals, while Mitch Marner and William Nylander both had career years. John Tavares produced near a point-per-game, and Morgan Reilly stepped into the conversation of Norris Trophy defenders.
Prior to the 2021-2022 season, GM Kyle Dubas made moves to bolster the Leafs’ roster, including the signing of free agent netminder Petr Mrazek. The combination of Mrazek and Jack Campbell was expected to compete side-by-side as a tandem and provide stability.
Those were the expectations. The reality was much different. Mrazek was abysmal in 20 games before an injury put a premature end to the season. Campbell looked solid during the regular season, when healthy, but folded in a first-round playoff loss, collecting an .895 save percentage and 3.15 GAA in the series.
What was supposed to be a position of depth turned into a nightmare, and will be an area to address this off-season for Kyle Dubas. Dubas has three options to address the crease - trade, free agency, or re-sign Campbell. Additionally, he needs to decide how to deal with Mrazek. Here is a look at each:
Darcy Kuemper is a Stanley Cup-caliber netminder. It was proven this season with the Colorado Avalanche.
But can Toronto pay him? Would he even leave?
He’s the best candidate to fill Toronto’s crease and provide what they need, but it would almost certainly mean shedding contract elsewhere.
And then there's Marc-Andre Fleury, a popular target to the Leafs at the recent trade deadline. Dubas could sign Fleury without sacrificing the assets required in a trade, but how much of a pay cut Fleury is willing to take after making $7 million this season?
Fleury was unsure of his willingness to continue to bounce from team to team, but could one more crack at a Cup entice Fleury to Toronto? And can Dubas afford him? Those questions are yet to be answered. Ville Husso might be too much of a gamble, in the Petr Mrazek range, for the Leafs, but will certainly be discussed.
A final, and intriguing options for the Leafs is to bring in the veteran presence of Braden Holtby. He made only $2 million in Dallas this year, but looked good before injuries took away the end of his season. Even if Toronto re-signed Campbell, Holtby would be excellent insurance, bringing Vezina and Stanley Cup-winning experience. For any of the above to come true, the Leafs will need to handle Mrazek's $3.8-million cap hit somehow, whether that means burying it or absorbing it in a trade.
The name John Gibson has been tossed around often. Gibson however, comes with a $6.4 million price tag until 2026-2027 and his numbers in recent years don't inspire confidence.
The other aspect of this option is the price tag it would take to acquire Gibson from the Anaheim Ducks. In reality, the majority of teams with a secondary goaltender who could benefit the Leafs via trade are in the Eastern Conference, and unlikely to make a deal to help strengthen Toronto. Gibson would be a swing for the fences at a replacement, with no guarantee he’d be an upgrade to Campbell, but maybe it's worth a look if the deal makes sense.
Staying in the West, and looking at a familiar name who would add value in a tandem role, Toronto could bring back James Reimer to provide security. Older and wiser, Reimer is in the last year of a cap-friendly contract with the San Jose Sharks. Reimer has put together a solid career, and his only real struggles came under the limelight in Toronto. If not Reimer, perhaps San Jose’s Adin Hill, or Seattle’s Chris Driedger could be options.
Perhaps the clearest path forward for Toronto is re-signing Campbell and hoping he can handle the playoff pressure (and stay healthy). Over the first two months of the season, Campbell was a Vezina contender -- he was calm, confident, and had the Leafs off to a hot start. Then there was playoff Jack Campbell, and you already know the story there.
If you look at Campbell’s NHL career and ignore the most recent playoffs, he looks like the best candidate available if the Leafs can’t get Kuemper or Fleury to work with the team on price -- but they'll need to get him help still. Potentially the most important aspect of this conversation is that Jack Campbell wants to play in Toronto, which is a statement not all goaltenders in the NHL could put their name behind.
What About Mrazek?
The question yet to be answered is what to do with Petr Mrazek. If Kyle Dubas believes in his three-year commitment to Mrazek, and not the disastrous 20 games Mrazek put together as a Leaf, Mrazek could start the year in Toronto. Dubas won’t be keen on adding dead cap space to his roster through a buyout of a freshly minted contract. More likely is Toronto finding a team early in the rebuild process with cap space available to carry Mrazek’s contract the next two years.
That will cost Toronto picks or prospects, signaling a major miss for the team’s GM. Dubas is all in, and he can’t afford to play it safe at this moment, but the prospect cupboard is growing bare.