Toronto made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but lost in overtime of Game 7 to Boston in Round 1. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
As the Toronto Maple Leafs pack up for the summer, GM Dave Nonis faces a potentially busy off-season.
Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Colton Orr, Ryan O'Byrne and Mike Kostka are unrestricted free agents, while Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Leo Komarov, Carl Gunnarson, Joe Colborne and Mark Fraser are restricted free agents.
With next season's salary cap dropping to $64.3 million, the Leafs have just over $45 million invested in 12 players, leaving approximately $19.4 million in cap space.
The Toronto Star's Kevin McGran suggested the lack of depth in quality free agent centers could see the Leafs re-sign Bozak, though if he seeks the same salary as Mikhail Grabovski ($5.5 million per season), Nonis could be forced to move the latter.
McGran expects Orr could be re-signed, but doubts the rest will return.
As for the restricted free agents, McGran expects all could return except Fraser if the Leafs should find a “better bruising defenseman”.
McGran also speculated over whether Grabovski, Mike Komisarek or John-Michael Liles become compliance buyout candidates. He considered shedding the remainder of Komisarek contract ($3.5 million in actual salary, $4.5 million cap hit) a “no-brainer,” but suggested Nonis try shopping Grabovski first.
Moving Grabovski, however, could prove hasty. Being pressed into a checking role affected his offensive production this season, but few Leafs worked as hard or absorbed more punishment than the 29-year-old Belarussian.
It might be worthwhile to give “Grabbo” an opportunity to rebound next season. If he fails to improve, Nonis could move him next summer via trade or compliance buyout, provided he doesn't use both buyouts this year.
The priority remains re-signing Bozak. Nonis was clear in his season-ending press conference he's interested in retaining the center but at a contract which makes sense for the Leafs.
In other words, Nonis is willing to offer Bozak a generous raise, but he shouldn't expect anything near the $5 million per season mark.
McGran also noted Nonis could open contract talks this summer with Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer this summer. Kessel and Phaneuf will be unrestricted free agents next year, Reimer a restricted free agent.
In his press conference, Nonis noted the year remaining on Kessel's contract means there's no urgency to re-sign him this summer.
Kessel's been the Leafs leading scorer every season since his arrival via trade from the Boston Bruins in 2009, finally silencing his critics with his performance against the Bruins in their conference quarterfinal. He'll make $5.4 million next season and re-signing him could cost $7 million per season.
Given his consistency and performance in this year's playoffs, he's a worthwhile investment, but one the Leafs might wait until next season to re-sign.
Phaneuf, meanwhile, came under fan and media criticism over his leadership and defensive mistakes, especially in the Boston series. He average $6.5 million per season on his current contract, but few observers believe he'll receive that much, let alone a raise, in his next contract.
With promising Jake Gardiner looking like Phaneuf's heir apparent, Liles under contract until 2016, Franson emerging as a puck-moving blueliner and prospect Morgan Rielly waiting in the wings, some critics believe the Leafs should shop Phaneuf this summer and use the savings to land either a first-line center or a physical stay-at-home blueliner.
As for Reimer, he was a key reason the Maple Leafs not only made the playoffs but rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against Boston to force Game Seven. The Leafs collapse later in that game couldn't be pinned on him.
Despite his solid performance, some observers still feel Nonis might continue searching for an experienced starter this summer.
Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province believes the embittered negotiations between the Leafs and Canucks over Roberto Luongo this season makes it unlikely either side revisits those talks.
Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller could be on the block this summer, but he's a year away from unrestricted free agency. The St. Louis Blues could shop Jaroslav Halak, but he's had injury woes the past two seasons.
LA Kings backup Jonathan Bernier could be available, but he's yet to prove himself as a full-time starter. Minnesota Wild starter Niklas Backstrom could become a free agent this summer, but at 36 35 he's entering the twilight of his career and in recent years has battled injuries.
Reimer has earned the right to return next season as the Leafs starter. A better option for Nonis would be finding an experienced, affordable backup, and locking up Reimer to an extension this summer before his value increases with his anticipated improvement next season.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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