Leafs defeat in Game 7 could change free agency approach

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

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

With a sixth straight elimination in the first-round playoffs, the spotlight will turn to the financial books and the future of the many Leafs who played key roles in a record-breaking season.

Will they try to come back with four main strikers: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander? While they will almost certainly want to, the salary cap will be a significant factor, with nine regulars going to an unrestricted or restricted free agency.

There’s also the question of how much they can offer goalkeeper Jack Campbell.

They have $77.451 million (US) already committed to next season’s roster – $40.5 million for the main forwards. With the NHL cap rising to $82.5 million, there’s just over $5 million left to work with.

The Leafs gained career years from Matthews, a Hart Trophy contender, as well as Marner and Nylander. Campbell, meanwhile, has set career records with 31 wins and 49 starts, and has proven to be a bargain since a 2020 trade with the Los Angeles Kings. At 30, he proved he could handle the #1 workload after Frederik Andersen left for Carolina via free agency.

Coming out of the final year of a contract with a cap of $1.65 million, he will be looking for a big raise — maybe $12 million over three years. With injury-prone Petr Mrázek also under a $3.8 million contract, that would mean nearly $8 million committed to goalkeepers, making other key moves difficult.

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

Time – to win a Cup and play another year in the NHL – is running out for Spezza.

“Jason gives us everything he has all the time,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s a guy who doesn’t have time on his side. He worked and committed every day of his life to win a Cup… I feel for him every time.”

After failing against Lightning despite a decent run from Jack Campbell, the Leafs have a decision to make with the netminder destined for unfettered free agency.

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