Trade speculation flourished in the Toronto media in the week following the Maple Leafs playoff elimination. With over $74.2 million invested in 17 players for 2019-20, the Leafs have less than $9 million to work with should the salary cap reach the projected $83 million.
Placing permanently sidelined right wing Nathan Horton on long-term injured reserve at the start of the season will provide $5.3 million of relief. However, it won’t leave enough to re-sign or replace several key free agents.
Topping the list is restricted free agent Mitch Marner. He’s completing an entry-level contract and in line for a big raise following a 94-point performance. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston believes every roster decision is on hold until the 21-year-old winger is re-signed. Johnston notes Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas hopes to avoid another lengthy contract standoff like the one he had with William Nylander last year. Dubas would prefer getting Marner under contract before July 1, when he could receive an offer sheet from a rival club.
Wingers Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are also RFAs completing entry-level deals. Both will seek significant raises though they won’t get as much as Marner. Meanwhile, defensemen Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. While the 38-year-old Hainsey might accept a pay cut to stay in Toronto, Gardiner could get a long-term deal worth $6-million annually on the open market.
Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos believes Marner could seek an offer from Dubas comparable to teammate Auston Matthews’ $11.6-million annual average value. Even if he accepts less than that his new contract will push the Leafs over the cap ceiling. If an agreement cannot be reached before July 1, Kypreos’ colleague Elliotte Friedman doesn’t rule out the possibility of a trade. Anything’s possible, of course, but it’s difficult to see the Leafs putting their leading scorer on the trade block.
The more likely option is a couple of cost-cutting trades. The Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan proposed dealing center Nazem Kadri following his second straight playoff suspension. His reasonable contract ($4.5-million cap hit through 2021-22) and feisty style could draw interest in the trade market. Some pundits suggest shedding the final season ($6.25-million cap hit) of aging left winger Patrick Marleau’s contract, but that’s easier said than done. He’s on a plus-35 deal so they won’t get cap relief from a buyout. He also carries a full no-movement clause.
Dubas could consider shopping Nylander but that would mean breaking his promise to the youngster not to move him while he was in charge. Considering the effort it took to get Nylander re-signed, it’s doubtful Dubas goes down that road.
Another Summer Deal in Store for Subban?
Three years ago, the Nashville Predators stunned the hockey world by acquiring P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens. Following the Predators first-round playoff exit last week, there’s speculation suggesting Subban could be facing another summertime move.
Citing Nashville’s limited salary-cap space and their need to add a scoring forward, Matt Larkin last week proposed moving Subban. The 29-year-old is the oldest of their top-four blueliners and carries a team-high $9-million annual average value for three more seasons. The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina also wondered if the former Norris Trophy winner would be back, especially after GM David Poile indicated changes will becoming this summer. Subban, meanwhile, said he wants to be part of the solution.
Poile could consider shopping Subban for a scorer. Cap Friendly indicates the Predators didn’t pick up his no-movement clause following his acquisition from Montreal. Despite Subban’s hefty salary and flamboyant personality, the all-star defenseman could fetch the Predators a significant return.
Could the Penguins Shop Malkin?
Along with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin is a foundational player for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 32-year-old center is a future Hall of Famer who helped the Penguins win three Stanley Cups since 2009. Following the Penguins first-round exit at the hands of the New York Islanders, there’s talk of big changes coming to their roster. That’s prompted conjecture over Malkin’s future in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey last week reported team sources said management was considering all options short of trading Crosby or goaltender Matt Murray. That could include moving a star like Malkin, winger Phil Kessel or defenseman Kris Letang.
Mark Madden of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review claims the Penguins weren’t happy with Malkin’s overall performance, his insubordinate behavior toward head coach Mike Sullivan and unwillingness to change his game. Madden acknowledged Malkin has a full no-movement clause and the Penguins might not get the type of return needed for a quick turnaround.
While it’s reasonable to raise questions over Malkin’s play and his relationship with Sullivan, going the trade route would be an extreme reaction. More likely trade candidates are Kessel or defenseman Olli Maatta, who’ve been in Sullivan’s doghouse from time to time.
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