TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs held their end-of-year media availability at the Ford Performance Centre on Monday. Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe and a number of players spoke to the media before clearing out their lockers for the summer.
Here’s what you need to know from Monday’s event, which will shape a pivotal offseason for the franchise.
Dubas will either remain with the Maple Leafs or take a year off
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas will either remain in his current role, or will take a year off to consider his next move. Dubas, whose contract is set to expire, said he would not take a role with a new team, stating that it would be unfair to his family.
“I definitely don’t have it in me to go anywhere else,” Dubas said. “It will be either here or it will be taking time to recalibrate, reflect on the seasons here. You won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere. I can’t put (my family) through that after this year.”
Dubas hasn’t made a decision and will speak to Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan after consulting with his family. Shanahan wasn’t made available Monday and is expected to speak to reporters later this week.
“I think it requires me to have a full family discussion,” Dubas said. “My family is a hugely important part of what I do, so for me to commit to anything without having a fuller understanding of what this year took on them is probably unfair for me to answer where I’m at. I wish I could give you more. It was a very hard year on them.”
Dubas sat alone at the podium by design, saying the Maple Leafs’ failure to advance past the second round fell on him.
“I'm responsible," Dubas said. "The decisions made on trades, on roster, on everything, they’re on me.”
If Dubas remains as the general manager, all options are on the table, including trading a member of the Core Four which includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. Dubas cited the Matthew Tkachuk-Jonathan Huberdeau blockbuster trade from last summer as a precedent.
“I would consider anything with our group here that would allow us a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. So I would take nothing off the table at all. And I think everything would have to be considered with regards to anything to do with the Leafs.”
Keefe may be on his way out
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the media with a brief statement before answering questions from the media. Although no decisions have been made about Keefe’s status, there appeared to be an air of finality to his responses and the mood around the media assembled Monday seemed to indicate that Keefe may have coached his final game with the franchise.
Keefe said the last few days following Toronto’s elimination have been lonely and he’s been afforded a chance to reflect.
“I certainly love and appreciate my position and the chance to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. I've enjoyed every day of it. I love this job, I love this opportunity, I love this challenge. In terms of the core group, I feel like we've grown a lot together,” Keefe told reporters.
Dubas didn’t give Keefe a vote of confidence, stating that he needed to evaluate all of his options. It’s appearing increasingly likely that Keefe won’t be back for next season — unless Dubas elects to take a year off.
“There still has to be a full evaluation of everything and a full and conclusive answer on that to do so right now would be hasty.”
Matthews and Nylander want extensions with Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and William Nylander are both eligible for contract extensions with the Maple Leafs on July 1, and though neither player has been afforded much time to reflect, they both want to remain with the only NHL franchise they’ve ever played for.
“My intention is to be here,” Matthews said. “I think I've reciprocated that before, how much I enjoy playing here and what it means to me, the organization, my teammates and how much I just enjoy being here."
Matthews has been the focal point of the organization since being selected first overall in 2016, going on to win the Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy during the 2021-22 campaign. This year, Matthews recorded 40 goals and 85 points in 74 games, while leading all NHL forwards in blocked shots during the regular season and playoffs prior to elimination.
If Matthews remains on the Maple Leafs past July 1, a no-movement clause will get tacked onto the final year of his existing deal. Nylander will also have a 10-team no movement clause added to the final year of his contract if he remains on the Maple Leafs beyond July 1.
“I really do enjoy playing here, it’s a true honour," Matthews added. "The work that we're putting in to continue to strive for that end result is extremely motivating."
Nylander also expressed his desire to remain with the Maple Leafs, but took a slightly different approach than Matthews.
“I love it here. I don’t want to be anywhere else and this is where I want to win.”
Both Matthews and Nylander have one full year remaining on their contracts prior to becoming unrestricted free agents and though Nylander made it clear he wants to remain with the Maple Leafs, he did tell reporters that he’s only recently started thinking about the process of an extension.
“I have a full year — obviously I want to stay here. It would be nice if we could sort that out but the season just ended.”
Nylander also said he’d like to play in the IIHF World Championships for Sweden but would speak to Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe before making a decision. He’s been a prolific scorer for Sweden in the past, winning tournament MVP and a gold medal in 2017, while also leading the tournament in points in 2019.
Figuring out the cap gymnastics is the biggest obstacle for the Maple Leafs, particularly with Nylander, who will earn $6.9 million for the 2023-24 season, a massive bargain for the team. Matthews is scheduled to make $11.6 million next season and may be in line for a league-altering raise.
“It was nice to get past the first round, but I mean in the end our big goal is to win everything. So we’re gonna work the entire summer to get as best prepared as we can for that next year,” Nylander said.
It will be a hefty price tag, but the Maple Leafs must negotiate in good faith with their homegrown stars, it would be almost irresponsible not to.
Tavares appears unlikely to waive no-movement clause
John Tavares would be the most logical of the Core Four forwards to be traded, but he has a no-movement clause in his contract and doesn’t appear inclined to leave the Maple Leafs anytime soon. Tavares is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2024-25 season, carrying an $11 million cap hit for the next two seasons.
Toronto’s captain said he made a seven-year commitment upon signing with the Maple Leafs in July 2018 and doesn’t have plans to renege on his pact.
"I love it here. Obviously I made a commitment here for seven years to be a Leaf and I want to be here. That's how I feel. I love being captain and take that responsibility very seriously and feel really fortunate and still feel there's a tremendous opportunity for our team here in the near future and in the long run."
Marner reiterates desire to remain with hometown Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner grew up as a die-hard Maple Leafs fan, glued to his television to see what TSN reported about the team. His perspective has changed over the years and he tries to avoid what the media has to say about him, but Marner made it clear that he wants to remain with his boyhood club for the remainder of his career.
“I think that’s above me. I can’t control any of that. We’ll see what happens,” Marner said when asked about the possibility of being traded this summer. “I’ve been very fortunate to play for this team and I want to continue to play for this team and hope I get to play for this team. It’s all I dreamed of as a kid and to be able to do that now, it’s pretty surreal.”
Marner emerged as Toronto’s most valuable player in 2022-23, recording 30 goals and a team-best 99 points in 80 games, while being named as one of the three finalists for the Selke Trophy. During the regular season, Marner broke the franchise record for most consecutive games with a point, getting on the scoresheet in 23 straight games from Oct. 27-Dec. 15.
“This city loves this team as much as anyone. I feel very lucky to be able to wear this jersey. I’m definitely very lucky and don’t try to take it for granted, ever.”
Marner is owed $10.93 million through the 2024-25 campaign and it appears highly unlikely he’ll be moved before his contract expires, while operating as the team’s best playmaker and penalty killer.
Bunting, O’Reilly and Schenn uncertain about future
Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting and Luke Schenn are three imminent free agents that should be top priorities for the Maple Leafs to sign. At the risk of playing pop psychologist, it appears that all three players are grateful for their time with the organization, but may be wearing different uniforms come fall.
“I honestly am still reflecting on the season and such right now, last series and such, that I haven't given it much thought. But once I turn the page here, hopefully in a couple weeks, that's when I'll get in that mindset. As of right now, I haven't given it too much thought yet,” O’Reilly told reporters.
Upon being traded to the Maple Leafs, the Blues retained 50% of O’Reilly’s $7.5 million cap hit, the Wild took on 25% of the deal, meaning that Toronto only retained $1.875 million of his salary for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. Although playing for his hometown Maple Leafs may carry some cache, it appears that he may be too expensive to sign on a new deal.
Bunting revealed that he didn’t participate in any contract negotiations with the Maple Leafs during the regular season.
“I'll let my agent handle that stuff and be ready to make a decision when the time comes. That being said, coming home to play in Toronto was a dream of mine since I was a kid, to play for this team and put the jersey over my head. It's been pretty special to play here and it's been even more special meeting this group of guys."
Bunting spent the majority of the year on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, before being relegated to a third-line role after struggling to produce offence in the second half of the year. The 27-year-old recorded 23 goals and 49 points while playing in all 82 regular season games, leading the NHL with 41 penalties drawn at 5-on-5. Bunting exceeded his contract value of $950,000 and will be in line for a massive raise, despite the fact that he earned a three-game suspension after accidentally elbowing Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak in the head during the first round.
Luke Schenn says the culture with the Maple Leafs is as strong as anywhere he’s played and said returning to play for the team during the playoffs was a dream come true.
— Arun Srinivasan (@Arunthings) May 15, 2023
Schenn said it was a dream to return for the Maple Leafs in a larger role during the postseason and spoke several times about how proud he is of the strides he’s made in his game after turning 30. The 33-year-old has yet to make a decision, but he’ll likely get a ton of offers.
Samsonov wants to re-sign with Maple Leafs, suffered neck injury vs. Panthers
Ilya Samsonov revealed he suffered a neck injury when Luke Schenn collided with him in Game 3 of the second-round series against the Panthers. Samsonov missed the duration of the series and was replaced by Joseph Woll.
The 26-year-old exceeded expectations on a one-year deal, finishing with the 10th-most goals saved above expected during the regular season. Samsonov is a restricted free agent and told reporters that he wants to return to the Maple Leafs. He will be staying in Miami during the offseason and told reporters that he’s focused on being a good husband and father to his newborn baby.
Ilya Samsonov on Joseph Woll: I think he’s amazing.
Samsonov says he needs some time to reflect on what he needs to do in the future, but he’s focused on being a good husband and father.
More Samsonov: “I don’t like the traffic here….People in this city are amazing.”
— Arun Srinivasan (@Arunthings) May 15, 2023
It looks like Samsonov will reach a new deal with the Maple Leafs, but with all the pending free agents that need new contracts, it remains to be seen whether another team will force Toronto’s hand this summer.