Toronto Maple Leafs: Key Roster Decisions Await in 2015-2016


The Toronto Maple Leafs added eight new players through trades and free agency this off-season. However, looking at next summer, they should be nervous about getting key players under contract.

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Give Dave Nonis credit, he has been able to manage the Leafs’ salary cap pretty well since he became GM. Most will say the David Clarkson contract was one of the worst contracts to be handed out by the Leafs, but I will challenge that sentiment saying the Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger, Colby Armstrong, and Jason Blake contracts were equally bad.

Looking at the Leafs salary cap situation through, it appears the Leafs might have to be creative again next summer. They will only have eight forwards, five defencemen and one goalie signed beyond next season.

Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri will need new contracts, and all the bargain deals made this summer will have to be replaced as well. They will only have $15,497,500 million to spend on around eight to 10 players, not too difficult, but it could be easier if the salary cap goes up.

This is where it gets tricky, with Bernier and Kadri likely to get hefty pay raises if they play to the level they are capable of. This could mean the Leafs might have to shed salary to keep both around, or they will have to be tough negotiators.

Feb 6, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) during the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with Bernier. He was arguably the Leafs’ most valuable player along with Phil Kessel last season. James Reimer is returning next season and says he wants to reclaim the starting position Bernier took from him last season.

If Bernier plays and Reimer is traded (which will give the Leafs more cap room), then expect Bernier to cash in on similar contracts given to starting goalies. I would not expect Bernier to receive a Henrik Lundqvist mega deal, but here are some comparable contracts to go by.

Ben Bishop:

Two years at $5.95 million per year

Last Season Stats: 63 GP: 37 W – 14 L – 7 OTL – 2.23 GAA – .924 Sv% – 4 SO

Mike Smith:

Six years at $5.666 million per year

Last Season Stats: 62 GP: 27 W – 21 L – 10 OTL – 2.64 GAA – .915 Sv% – 3 SO

Corey Crawford:

Six years at $6 million per year 

Last Season Stats: 59 GP: 32 W – 16 L – 10 OTL – 2.26 GAA – .917 Sv% – 2 SO

Semyon Varlamov:

Five years at $5.9 million per year 

Last Season Stats: 63 GP: 41 W – 14 L – 6 OTL – 2.41 GAA – .927 Sv% – 2 SO

Jimmy Howard:

Six years at $5.3 million per year 

Last Season Stats: 51 GP: 21 W – 19 L – 11 OTL – 2.86 GAA – .910 Sv% – 2 SO

Jonathan Bernier’s stats for last season: 55 GP: 26 W – 19 L – 7 OTL – 2.68 GAA – .923 Sv% 1 SO

Mar 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie

Jonathan Bernier

(45) warms up before playing against the St. Louis Blues at Air Canada Centre. The Blues beat the Maple Leafs 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

If Bernier were to improve on or equal the stats he had last season, it would mean he could be paid in the $5.5-$6 million range. The term he gets would still be in the unknown, because it is uncertain what Bernier wants in a new contract but don’t expect a one-year deal. Ideally, the Ben Bishop contract is the better comparable, but the Leafs might want to offer four to five years.

When it comes to goalies, teams should limit the term they sign their goalies for to four or five seasons, because we see it too many times when teams regret giving their netminders long extensions.

Jan 24, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; New York Islanders backup goalie Rick DiPietro (39) stirs a cup of coffee on the bench against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The Islanders beat the Maple Leafs 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rick DiPietro was signed to the worst NHL contract in history at 15 years, $67.5 million, it ranked six on a Bleacher Report’s top 10 rankings for worst contract in sports.

Ilya Bryzgalov signed the second worst goalie contract at 9 years, $51 million and only played two years before being bought out.

Mar 30, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton (18) and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Oliver Lauridsen (38) slide into goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) during the first period at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Roberto Luongo signed a 12 year extension that got a bad reputation because it was front loaded. In the end, the Vancouver Canucks regretted that deal once Cory Schneider came onto the scene. Then the Vancouver soap opera started and it almost sunk the Canucks’ reputation to the point where they went from having two legitimate starters to trading both and signing Ryan Miller to ease the pain.

People in Detroit have not been thrilled with Jimmy Howard after he had a sub par year in Detroit and he still has five years left on his contract. There is still a chance for Howard to get back on track, but do not expect Detroit to be too patient with him. Corey Crawford is in the same category, but he does have a cup ring so it is hard to complain about his performance.

The fortunate part about Bernier’s contract situation is that he will be a restricted free agent, so the Leafs are not in a rush to give him a shiny new one. If he is looking for a deal in the $6-$7 million dollar range and a team gives him an offer sheet, the compensation would be two first round picks along with a second and third round pick.

Anything in the $8.5+ million range would be four first rounders. Which teams would be crazy enough to give a goalie like Bernier an offer sheet? How about the New York Islanders, the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes, and possibly the Washington Capitals.

Jan 1, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) covers the puck in the second period during the 2014 Winter Classic hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at this from a Leafs perspective, it would not be wise to let this contract negotiation drag out like the P.K. Subban situation did. In this case, Bernier would argue he is an integral part of the Leafs team and he should be paid accordingly. For those asking how Subban managed to get $9 million per year from the Canadiens? I would think the rumours about him wanting to play for Toronto gave Marc Bergevin a small stroke. The Leafs have suffered too many heartbreaking defeats and losing Bernier at this stage of his career would not sit right with Leafs fans.

Having Bernier on an expiring RFA deal gives the Leafs a lot to think about, but with Kadri’s deal expiring there is much more of a debate to be had.

Life in Toronto has not been easy for Kadri, who’s been called fat, terrible in his own zone (Ron Wilson‘s words not mine) and he still has a cloudy future with the team. It would not surprise me if he is traded during or after this season, but it all depends on how he performs.

There are many players that can be used as a comparable, but there are only a few that are close to his age and production.

Derick Brassard

Jun 9, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center

Derick Brassard

(16) reacts after failing to score on a wrap-around attempt against the Los Angeles Kings during the second period in game three of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Derick Brassard is probably the closest in terms of point production and age range (currently 26 years old, Kadri is 23 years old).In 81 games Brassard had 18 goals, 27 assists for 45 points and a +/- of 2, he was signed to a 5 year $25 million contract extension.

Kyle Turris

Apr 2, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders goalie

Anders Nilsson

(45) makes a save on a shot from Ottawa Senators center

Kyle Turris

(7) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Islanders defeated the Senators 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

A year older than Kadri, but had a better season registering 26 goals, 32 assists, for 58 points in 82 games and a +/- of 22. He was signed to a 5 year $17.5 million extension which means if he takes the vacant spot left by Jason Spezza‘s departure the Senators are getting a bargain from Turris.

Logan Couture

Mar 24, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; San Jose Sharks center

Logan Couture

(39) skates against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 2-1 in the shootout. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

A great young player that signed a bridge contract that proved to be a great decision because he was signed to a 5 year $30 million contract last season . This is the type of player that the Leafs need Kadri to become.  Last season he was plagued by a broken hand, but he is still viewed as Joe Thornton‘s replacement in a couple of years. Last season he had 23 goals, 31 assists for 54 points and a +/- of 21 in 65 GP. Also for the advanced stats people out there he had a corsi percentage 53.5% and a fenwick percentage of 54.4% last season.

For those that do not understand advanced stats  the corsi and fenwick percentage  measures the possession stats for a player. Corsi measures the number of shots that are taken by that player, the number of shots attempted by the other team and the number of blocked shots both ways. Fenwick determines the same thing as corsi but excludes blocked shots. If a player is below 50% it means that he does not possess the puck more when he is on the ice. If you want to learn more about advanced stats visit for a more thorough explanation.

Cody Hodgson

Apr 10, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center

Cody Hodgson

(19) takes a shot against New York Rangers defenseman

Dan Girardi

(5) during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

He signed a 6 year $25.5 million extension with the Sabres but has had injury problems which has not allowed him to play a full season (did play all 48 in the shortened season). Last season he did play a career high 72 games scoring 20 goals, 24 assists for 44 points and a +/- of -26. If not playing for a mediocre Buffalo Sabres maybe his stats would be better but if his game continues to grow the Sabres will get good value for his contract.

Adam Henrique

Mar 27, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils center

Adam Henrique

(14) skates with the puck during overtime at Prudential Center. The Coyotes defeated the Devils 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The third round pick has been a solid player for the New Jersey Devils. Unlike Nazem Kadri the Devils were unable to get Henrique to sign a bridge dealafter his entry level contract, instead he signed a 6 year $24 million extension. Last season Henrique scored 25 goals adding 18 assists for 43 points and had a +/- of 3 in 77 games. He did have a decent season advanced stats wise with a corsi rating of 52.9% and a fenwick rating of 52.5%. Not bad for a 24 year old picked in the third round.

Brayden Schenn

Mar 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center

Brayden Schenn

(10) takes the ice before playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Flyers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I saved Brayden for last because he was the player the Leafs wanted to draft in 2009, but the LA Kings grabbed him at 5th overall (Kadri was picked 7th overall). He recently signed a bridge contract for 2 years at $ 5.8 million which is what Kadri signed with the Leafs. He has only played three full season (first full season was in 2011/2012) in the NHL all with the Philadelphia Flyers which explains why he recently signed a bridge deal.  It is hard to not compare Kadri and Schenn mainly because they drafted in the same year and their journey to the NHL has not been easy. Schenn had 20 goals and 21 assists and a +/- of 0. Although he has not been great offensively he does have better advanced stats then Kadri.

Last season Nazem Kadri played his first full season in the NHL. When Mikhail Grabovski was bought out by the Leafs his role on the second line was Kadri’s to take. Kadri had 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points and a +/- of -11 in 78 games last season. In a contract year he has to show the new boss Brendan Shanahan that he can be the number two center next season and show potential towards being a dominant center in the NHL. His advanced stats  was second best on the Leafs with a corsi rating of 45.3% and a fenwick rating of 43.9%.

Apr 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward

Nazem Kadri

(43) scores the game winning goal on Boston Bruins goaltender

Chad Johnson

(30) as defenseman

Kevan Miller

(86) defends at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

One valuable stat that Kadri does keep consistent is the number of penalties that he draws. He drew 43 penalties last season, Joffrey Lupul was second in that category with 26, For those who may be curious Dion Phaneuf took the most penalties with 53 and David Clarkson was second on that list with 29.

In terms of his contract value the Leafs will take their time deciding on Kadri’s future with the team. The expectations are not high for the Leafs this season and it could mean a chance to get a top 10 pick. However if the Leafs find a way to improve then Kadri will probably stick with the team. If that is the case then that means he will want at least four years in a new deal. If he does not improve his offensive numbers then expect a contract under $5 million. He is an RFA and he will not have as much leverage to get more money unless he has a better offensive year.

It has not been easy for teams to re-sign their talented players to suitable contracts, but the Leafs cannot afford to make a mistake on these contracts. They have committed a lot of money and term to their top six forwards and need to remember that free agents are not going to fix this team, it is the young players that they draft and develop. They have done a good job this summer filling out the roster with bargain deals, but they will have to rely on more long term options rather then wait until free agency to fill their roster.

Apr 10, 2014; Sunrise, FL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center

Tyler Bozak

(42) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers with left wing

James van Riemsdyk

(21) right wing

Phil Kessel

(81) and defenseman

Jake Gardiner

(51) in the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Unless they believe Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and basically every elite player from Toronto is going to come home, the Leafs need to focus on their younger players. It is not impossible to think that the Leafs can get a Stamkos or Tavares to come home but I doubt that they will come to Toronto if they are not heading in the right direction. That means no trading first round picks or top prospects for quick fixes and be patient when things do not go their way. That is where this team has gone wrong in the past and hopefully those days are behind them.

One thing that I will say about Brendan Shanahan, he has decided that he wants to surround himself with people that can build this team through drafting and developing. Steve Spott and Kyle Dubas have done great work in the OHL and it won’t be long until Shanahan brings in more people in order to follow what teams like Chicago, Detroit, LA, Boston, San Jose, St. Louis and Anaheim are doing to stay competitive.