Bold Offseason Predictions: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs' offseason should prove to be a busy one for management. The team has room to improve across the entire roster.
Frankly, this team needs significant upgrades both at the NHL level and in the minor league system to become a consistently competitive squad.
The organization does have some tradeable assets (Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel come to mind), but many players, including those two, are on long-term contracts with high average annual salaries. Conceiving a trade and actually executing it are two very different things.
While the team is looking to rebuild across the roster, in a perfect world, they would like to ice a reasonably competitive team in 2015-16.
Let's take a look at some plausible, bold offseason predictions for the Leafs.
Dion Phaneuf Doesn't Go Anywhere
Trade rumours surrounding Dion Phaneuf abound. The Toronto Sun has featured several, including this one back in April. Similar ones appear on a weekly basis across the mediascape.
Trading Phaneuf is unlikely to happen for two main reasons. The first is that the Leafs do not have a slew of young defenders to step into big minutes next season. Even if the club drafts Ivan Provorov or Noah Hanifin at the NHL draft and that high pick makes the squad in 2015-16, replacing Phaneuf's 20-plus minutes would not be easy.
If the club could acquire another top-pairing defenceman, this might change. This seems unlikely, though, given the dearth of upper-tier defenders available right now.
The other main reason is that the team does not have a lot of cap space given the number of roster spots left to fill. While the team isn't looking to win immediately, treating the season as a throwaway is not really an option in hockey-crazy Southern Ontario.
James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier Will Be Moved
While there are several goaltenders available to teams (Jacob Markstrom, Cam Talbot and Robin Lehner), there are not a lot of proven NHL starters available. Both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have shown that they can play at the NHL level.
Who knows how good they would be with an NHL-calibre defence in front of them. While the Leafs may not be actively shopping either goalie, you can bet that teams are interested in each of them.
With rumours flying that Bernier himself may want to leave the Toronto fold, per Jared Clinton of the Hockey News, it's a certainty that teams with goaltending issues like the Edmonton Oilers would like to add a quality goalie.
Do not be surprised if one of these two netminders are not in Toronto this fall after being traded over the summer.
Phil Kessel Stays in Hogtown
Phil Kessel is another Leaf who is constantly discussed in trade rumours. Head to any NHL-related site, and there will be a story about where Kessel might be going in the offseason.
While assistant general manager Kyle Dubas has admitted there have been a lot of trade discussions, the Kessel contract is very difficult to move. It doesn't mean it won't happen at some point with some creativity from both sides involved in the transaction.
Yet with a salary cap of $71.4 million, per Sportsnet.ca, it's going to be difficult for most teams to take on Kessel's contract in 2015-16 and moving forward.
Leafs fans shouldn't get rid of those Kessel sweaters just yet. He'll be flying down the wing in Toronto for the time being.
Cody Franson Returns to Toronto
It's no secret that the Leafs have to get better defensively. The team was one of the worst in the NHL last season, and that starts on the blue line.
Cody Franson was one of the best Leaf defenders prior to heading to the Nashville Predators in a trade. He can play big minutes and matches up well against opponents' top players. He's entering his prime years at age 27 and is open to returning to Toronto.
Franson would help to stabilize the defence core as youngsters such as Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Stuart Percy continue to develop. Franson's return would also open the door to the Leafs being more aggressive in moving captain Dion Phaneuf in the future.
Look for the Leafs to make a big push to bring back Franson this offseason.