Skip to main content

More and more, it appears the Leafs will have to move out the majority of their core players to erase the stink of this season.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

If the NHL had a mercy rule, the Toronto Maple Leafs' season would have ended already.

The Leafs limped home Tuesday afternoon from their winless three-game road swing through Western Canada after being outscored 14-5 by Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton.

Things got particularly ugly against the 29th-place Oilers on Monday, as the game was over almost as soon as it started. Edmonton scored four goals in the first 11 minutes and coasted to a 4-1 win.

The only solace for the Leafs is there are just 11 games left in their season. They have won only eight times in their past 40 games, so it's unlikely they'll pick up more than two or three more victories the rest of the way.

The scary part is that, some nights, it looks like they're not even trying. But this is what the team's managers have to work with as they begin a rebuild.

"I mean, you're a professional," leading scorer Phil Kessel said to reporters after the Monday loss. "So every night you've got to go out there and give it your all. You've got to try hard, do the little things. We're not getting anything done. This is probably an all-time low right now."

It's tempting to call this rock bottom – they needed a shootout to beat Buffalo last week and were waxed by the Oilers – but the Leafs keep finding new lows as they play out the string.

Post trade deadline, these games were supposed to give president Brendan Shanahan and the front office staff an evaluation period, to see who they want to keep and who should go, but the answers haven't been pretty.

More and more, it appears the Leafs will have to move out the majority of their core players to erase the stink of this season – and previous collapses.

What follows is a suggested breakdown of who could stay and who could go, with the off-season mercifully approaching.

The free agents

There's not a lot left here. Leafs management did a good job of clearing out unrestricted free agents in exchange for draft picks before the trade deadline, leaving only a handful of spare parts left.

David Booth is someone the team could potentially bring back on a cheap, one-year deal, as he has played well with more ice time and could likely be flipped for a mid-round pick next season. And Troy Bodie has been a decent long-term fit as captain of the minor-league Marlies.

The rest of the players on expiring contracts are borderline NHLers: Trevor Smith, Joakim Lindstrom, Zach Sill, Eric Brewer, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.

Players to trade

Believe it or not, the Leafs already have $53-million (all figures U.S.) in salary committed to the cap for next season, when the limit is expected to be in the $68- to $72-million range.

And as much as some fans would like to see it happen, the Leafs can't get rid of everyone, either: The salary floor will be about $53-million, so Toronto has to at least spend that much.

There are obvious ways to shed costs from this roster. One is moving the last three years of Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak's contracts via trades, even for little in return. Another is trying to get value for captain Dion Phaneuf as he hits the wrong side of 30 on a big-time contract.

Those moves alone would give the Leafs more than enough cap space to manoeuvre – $16.5-million minus whatever contracts they take back – meaning they aren't pressed to deal anyone else right away. They can afford to wait until Kessel's value rebounds, for example, or until the market for a goalie such as Jonathan Bernier is hot.

There's a lot of flexibility to wait for the best deals they can find, especially given the organization isn't worried about being competitive before 2017.

Out the door: Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak

If the right deal arises: Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Bernier

Players to build around

Even in the darkness, there have been some bright lights. Sophomore defenceman Morgan Rielly is playing 23 minutes a night and leads the team in scoring since the all-star break. Jake Gardiner has been a more confident and effective player under a different coach.

And Nazem Kadri, despite the off-ice concerns, has displayed the tools to be at least an effective second-line centre in the league long-term. Add in 24-year-olds Richard Panik and Peter Holland, and there's a little depth to work with.

Beyond that, it makes sense to also keep some veterans around to help. You can't expect the young guys to survive at the NHL level without veteran support, so keeping popular, effective players such as Roman Polak, Leo Komarov, James Reimer and Stéphane Robidas makes sense.

It's going to be a long, hard road to improvement, but that's the best foundation the Leafs can start with, given what they have. And they're going to need to find a few gems in free agency to help fill out the remaining roster spots.

The new core: Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Richard Panik, Peter Holland, William Nylander and the 2015 first-round pick(s)

Veteran presence (for now): Roman Polak, Leo Komarov, James Reimer, Stephane Robidas

Leafs projected roster for start of 2015-16:

[free agent] – Kadri – Kessel

JVR – [free agent] – Komarov

Booth – Holland – Panik

[prospects and depth acquisitions]

Rielly – [free agent]

Gardiner – Polak

[prospect] – Robidas

Bernier

Reimer

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct