Leafs’ Game 7 Loss Could Change Free Agency Approach

The Maple Leafs are entering a long summer of uncertainty with their roster and how much it could cost to bring back players destined for free agency.

The off-season has started early again for the Leafs, after losing Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night.

With a sixth consecutive first-round playoff exit on the books, the focus will be on the financial books and futures of many Leafs who played key roles in an otherwise record-breaking season.

Will they try to roll it back with four core forwards: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander? While they would almost certainly want to, the salary cap will be a major factor with nine permanent employees moving towards unlimited or limited free desk.

There’s also the question of how much they can afford to offer up-and-coming free keeper Jack Campbell.

They have already pledged $77,451 million (US) for next season’s roster – $40.5 million for those core attackers. With the NHL cap rising to $82.5 million, there’s just over $5 million left to work with.

The Leafs got career years from Matthews, a Hart Trophy contender, as well as Marner and Nylander. Campbell, meanwhile, set career highs with 31 wins and 49 starts, and has proved a steal since a 2020 trade with the Los Angeles Kings. At age 30, he proved he could handle the No. 1 workload after Frederik Andersen left for Carolina through a free agency.

If he closes the last year of a contract with a $1.65 million cap hit, he’ll be looking for a big raise — maybe $12 million over three years. With the injury-prone Petr Mrázek also under contract for $3.8 million each, that would mean nearly $8 million allocated to goalkeepers, making other key moves difficult.

Other Leafs UFAs include Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza, Colin Blackwell, Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin. RFAs include Ondrej Kaše, Pierre Engvall, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.

The time – to win a cup and play another year in the NHL – is running out for Spezza.

“Jason always gives us everything he has,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s a man who doesn’t have time on his side. He worked and dedicates himself every day of his life to win a cup… I sympathize with him every time.”

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