Now that the Toronto Maple Leafs have re-signed their Captain, the team can shift its focus to their remaining upcoming free agents.
General manager Dave Nonis put his primary focus in the preseason on extending his two most important players and now that he has Dion Phaneuf signed for seven years and $49 million, along with Phil Kessel’s recent eight-year, $64 million extension, Toronto’s focus can finally be placed on the complimentary pieces.
Nonis will have to decide what to do with nine unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents between now and the end of the season with players such as Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond, Nik Kulemin, Jay McClement and Mark Fraser being unrestricted free agents. Meanwhile, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, Peter Holland and James Reimer will be restricted free agents. Nonis deserves credit for taking care of Phaneuf and Kessel early enough to give himself six months to decide what to do with the remaining key players on the roster.
Franson will likely be the next target of contract extensions as he’s been the team’s second best defenseman behind Phaneuf. He’s finally learned to use his big body to be more physical on the ice as he’s near the league leaders in hits. He also leads the team in assists and leads all defensemen on the roster in scoring with 20 points. He’s certainly earned a raise over the $2 million he’s currently making, but depending on how well he plays in the second half of the season will determine just how much of a raise he receives.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Reimer and whether or not the team decides to hang on to him or move him if Jonathan Bernier becomes the team’s No. 1 goaltender in the second half of the year. If Bernier proves himself, then Reimer will likely be moved as it’d make no sense to commit significant cap space to a backup goaltender when they could potentially move the asset in a package to improve in other areas.
Gardiner and Holland are two players who are performing at a high level lately and if they continue to play well, they will both likely see significant raises over the less than $1 million they both currently make. McClement has stepped up given all the injuries at center for the Maple Leafs this season and has earned a raise over the $1.5 million he currently makes. It likely won’t be a big increase, but it’d be surprising if Toronto didn’t bring back McClement.
Bolland will be an interesting situation based on how he plays when he returns from severing a tendon on his left leg. He was one of Toronto’s best players at the start of the season before being cut by Zack Kassian’s skate at the beginning of November. It’d be shocking if a decision was made on Bolland before seeing how he performs when he returns to the lineup.
Raymond, Kulemin and Fraser are players who are most likely to be playing for other teams next season. Raymond could be pricing himself out of Toronto with his play as unless he signs for less than $3 million per season, it’d likely be a tough contract for the Maple Leafs to commit to. With Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and David Clarkson committed to be the team’s top wingers for the next several years, there’s no spot for Raymond with the top-six forwards. Another team will likely be willing to overpay Raymond to play him with their top-six forward unit come the summer.
Kulemin is in the same boat as Raymond as no contract over $3 million would be a worthwhile investment for Toronto. Somewhere in the $2-to-2.5 million range works best for the Maple Leafs, but Kulemin could likely make more from another team on the open market or the KHL.
Fraser has struggled this season and although it’d likely be easy to bring him back, if he can’t turn things around in the second half of the year, the Maple Leafs could just cut ties and go in another direction.
With so many decisions to make and so many key players left to sign, it’s a good thing Nonis managed to sign Kessel and Phaneuf before the New Year.