The tough questions the Maple Leafs must answer, including the toughness question
|Toronto Star 13 Aug 2020 at 18:35|
The loss in the play-in series to Columbus, a team most observers felt the Leafs should have beaten, followed three straight years of first-round exits. The latest setback is weighing heavily on players and management, who have admitted the team took a step back this year in its overall performance.
So there are questions, with the sting of missing the final 16 not likely to ease any time soon:
The club will pay $40.4 million to the big four (Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and John Tavares) next season but should have at least $10 million freed up with the expected departures of unrestricted free agents Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci.
Decisions will have to made on UFAs Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza, and restricted free agents Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott, Denis Malgin, and Frederik Gauthier. It’s likely all the RFAs are retained.
But cap space is needed. GM Kyle Dubas will at least explore the trade market to upgrade his blue line, and there are extensions to consider for winger Zach Hyman and goaltender Frederik Andersen, whose contracts expire next summer.
Should he remain part of the core? He’s 30 years old and could be part of a large group of UFA goalies in 2021. But if Dubas can engineer a creative extension, and he’s good at that, Andersen should be able to help get this team over that first-round hump. The other options — acquiring a free agent or going with backup Jack Campbell and another in-house candidate — aren’t exactly shiny upgrades over Andersen. Still, a tough call.