July 32-in-32: Toronto Maple Leafs

Curtis Rines

2023-07-28

In what was already regarded as a crucial summer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, everything was turned even further upside down when it was announced General Manager Kyle Dubas would not be returning to the team after the expiry of his contract.

The Maple Leafs then handed over the reins to former Calgary Flames General Manager Brad Treliving. With nine years of experience as the leading man in Alberta, he fits the mould of a veteran GM that Brendan Shanahan and Leafs ownership were looking for.

With Auston Matthews and William Nylander eligible for contract extensions, the departure of many unrestricted free agents that were contributors to Toronto’s first playoff-round victory since 2004, and the yearly question of if the Big Four can work in a flat-cap world, Treliving had a lot on his plate to handle. However, his first notable piece of business he had to complete was the 2023 NHL Draft.

THE DRAFT

Round One, 28th Overall – Easton Cowan, C

Cowan was one of the biggest surprises on Day 1 of the Draft. Considered to many in the public scouting world as a late-second/early-third rounder, the Maple Leafs shocked the crowd at Bridgestone Arena when they announced the London Knights forward’s name.

Cowan is a two-way forward who possesses a non-stop motor when he steps on the ice. He constantly moves his feet and scans the ice to place himself where he needs to be, both on and off the puck. Although he is on the slightly smaller side, standing at 5-10, the way he plays makes up for it, as he is the engine behind London’s offence.

What really drew the Maple Leafs to Cowan was his progression from the start of the season all the way through the playoffs. Cowan had a respectable 20 goals and 53 points in 68 regular season games. However, he became a point-per-game player in the playoffs with nine goals and 21 points in 20 post-season contests. With his playmaking skills, elite vision, and overall hockey IQ, there is no reason Cowan cannot become the high-energy middle-six forward the Maple Leafs desire.

Round Five, 153rd Overall – Hudson Malinoski, C

After Cowan, the Maple Leafs did not pick again in the fifth round, where they selected Hudson Malinoski from the Brooks Bandits in the AJHL. Malinoski is a skilled forward with smooth skating mechanics. His strong stride allows him to display a ton of agility all around the ice. Mixing that with his puck skills makes him a shifty player to defend against. Malinoski finished 11th overall in the league, scoring 69 points in 44 games. He is set to head to Providence College this fall, where he will get his first taste of NCAA action.

Round Six, 185th Overall – Noah Chadwick, LD

With their final pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, the Maple Leafs selected 6-4 defenseman Noah Chadwick from the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Chadwick is a strong defender who prevents entries at a high rate through his gap control and stick work. He lacks in the skating department, with not much power behind his stride, but his intelligence makes up for some of that. He will not wow you with his offensive tool set; however, he is an efficient playmaker on the back end and knows how to open up lanes for his teammates. It is the type of long-term project any team is willing to swing on this late in the draft.

THE OFF-SEASON

Incoming
– Tyler Bertuzzi (1 year x $5.5M AAV)
– Max Domi (1 year x $3.0M AAV)
– John Klingberg (1 year x $4.15M AAV)
– Ryan Reaves (3 years x $1.35M AAV)
– Dylan Gambrell (1 year x $775k AAV)
– William Lagesson (1 year, two-way deal x $775k AAV)
– Maxime Lajoie (1 year, two-way deal x $775k AAV)

Outgoing
– Ryan O’Reilly (4 years x $4.5M AAV – NSH)
– Luke Schenn (3 years x $2.75M AAV – NSH)
– Justin Holl (3 years x $3.4M AAV – DET)
– Alex Kerfoot (2 years x $3.5M AAV – ARI)
– Noel Acciari (3 years x $2.0M AAV – PIT)
– Michael Bunting (3 years x $4.5M AAV – CAR)
– Carl Dahlstrom (Signed with Färjestad BK – SHL)
– Erik Gustafsson (1 year x $825k AAV – NYR)
– Jordie Benn (UFA)
– Erik Kallgren (1 year, two-way deal x $775k – NJD)
– Wayne Simmonds (UFA)
– Mac Hollowell (1 year, two-way deal x $775k AAV – NYR)
– Radim Zohorna (1 year, two-way deal x $775k AAV – PIT)
– Zach Aston-Reese (UFA)
– Filip Kral (Signed with Pelicans – Liiga)
– Victor Mete (1 year, two-way deal x $775k AAV – PHI)

Contract Extensions
– Ilya Samsonov (1 year x $3.55M AAV)
– David Kampf (4 years x $2.4M AAV)
– Pontus Holmberg (2 years x $800k AAV)

As you can see, the Maple Leafs were busy on both ends of the spectrum once free agency began.

Off the bat, Toronto notably lost Ryan O’Reilly and Luke Schenn to the Nashville Predators, which shocked Leafs Nation. Both O’Reilly and Schenn seemed like the two pending unrestricted free agents most likely to remain in blue and white, yet neither will don the Maple Leafs crest again. O’Reilly’s departure seemed to be out of purely personal preference, as he would rather avoid the noise in Toronto while Schenn got a contract the Maple Leafs simply could not afford to give out.

The other most significant departure off of the roster in free agency was Scarborough native Michael Bunting as he headed to the Carolina Hurricanes. The left-winger was a vital member of the Maple Leafs top line for the better parts of two seasons alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. With 112 points in 161 games played in Toronto, he is the biggest loss in terms of offensive production that the Maple Leafs were forced to let walk.

Long-time Maple Leafs Alexander Kerfoot and Justin Holl also departed the team to Arizona and Detroit, respectively. Two of the biggest scapegoats for Leafs Nation, the two leave behind a tenure that garnered a ton of respect off of the ice but mixed results on the ice.

For all that Toronto lost, Treliving did not stop at any cost to create his own vision of the Maple Leafs for 2023-24. With the additions of Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves, Toronto not only adds two skilled forwards into their top nine but three players that will leave their heart and soul on the ice every night. Is “grit” the most essential part of hockey? Absolutely not. But for the nights when the energy in the team is lacking, these three guys will look to inject life into the locker room.

Arguably the most intriguing signing is John Klingberg. Once regarded as one of the league’s premier offensive defensemen, a down-year with Anaheim/Minnesota left him available for the Maple Leafs to snag on a one-year deal. The intrigue about his signing lies with how he fits in on Toronto’s blueline. He is mostly a black hole in his own end, and it is unlikely he will take over the PP1 duties from Morgan Rielly, so was he really the best fit for the Maple Leafs?

Toronto struggled at times to transition the puck up the ice, especially from their back end, and Klingberg can help to fix that. He also has a solid point shot which even Rielly lacks at times in terms of overall power. Pairing him with a guy like Jake McCabe or even T.J. Brodie could be a good fit in Toronto’s top-four for Klingberg, and maybe Treliving sees him as a 1-year, high-risk, potentially high-reward type signing.

In more minor news, the Maple Leafs extended David Kampf and Pontus Holmberg prior to free agency, allowing them to lock down two strong depth pieces in the middle of the ice. As well, Ilya Samsonov signed a 1-year extension after an arbitration hearing with the league. This, unfortunately, will walk him into unrestricted free agency in 2024. Still, for the time being, Toronto will enter the season with a goaltending tandem of Samsonov and Joseph Woll (as Matt Murray will be on LTIR for the foreseeable future) for a combined cap hit of approximately $4.316 million.

The Maple Leafs will enter training camp with a very different look up front, yet mostly a similar back-end and goaltending situation. Will this be enough to finally push them over the edge, or does Brad Treliving still have more pieces to move in and out? That’s without even asking the biggest question of them all. What is going to happen with Auston Matthews and William Nylander?

***

Thanks for reading! Make sure to follow @curtis_rines on Twitter for more Maple Leafs and scouting content!

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