The hockey world has been on pause for nearly three months, but things looking up after the NHL announced plans for a 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs this week. The league shutdown has not stopped clubs from doing whatever business they can (including signing prospects to entry-level contracts and free agents from the KHL) and potentially formulating plans after the season with the financial losses affecting the salary cap over the next couple seasons.
Taking a look at a number of potential roster scenarios involving the Toronto Maple Leafs and gauging how GM Kyle Dubas may address the situation, we will look at the Leafs situation on the blueline, specifically defenseman Travis Dermott and his future with the club.
The 23-year-old is a gifted skater and possesses good instincts, but his offensive numbers (4 goals, 7 assists in 56 games) were not up to expectations in his third NHL season coming off off-season shoulder surgery.
Dermott had the best plus/minus (+14) among Toronto defenders and with an injury-riddled blueline late in the season, the 2015 second-rounder was pressed into top pairing duty.
Dubas has been proactive during the season in getting defensemen locked up, signing Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl to multi-year extensions, adding top KHL blueliner Mikko Lehtonen to the fold, with Morgan Rielly, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren under contract next season.
Veterans Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci will likely be departing via free agency after the season, and currently Dermott is the only defenseman whose fate is in doubt.
Toronto has a stacked left side with Rielly, Muzzin, Sandin and Lehtonen. Dermott can play the right side and could replace Ceci or Barrie, but so can the 19-year-old Sandin and Lehtonen, who are both still on ELC’s.
Dubas will likely look to get Dermott signed to a two-year bridge deal coming off his entry-level contract in the same salary range as Holl ($2 Million AAV), pushing off a decision of whether to pay him big money down the road. Locking up the fleet-footed defender to a long-term deal would mean a salary in excess of $4 Million AAV for someone whose level of performance is not yet determined, which might cause the Leafs salary cap issues when it comes time to re-sign Rielly before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
Another complication to extending Dermott is the Seattle expansion draft next June and that one of Rielly, Muzzin, Holl and Dermott would have to be exposed.
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