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As with every offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a number of decisions that will set up what the club will do in the trade market and free agency before the opening of training camp. Those decisions are above and beyond what they do with core players that have been part of six straight playoff failures, but with those whose contracts are up.
On their roster, the Leafs have 10 free agents (six unrestricted and four restricted) and even with the expiration of the salary retention on Phil Kessel’s deal, Toronto has less than $8 million in cap space to work with. That may change depending on trades that clear cap space, but this is where things stand currently on the four RFA’s.
Kase was one of a number of smart budget signings made by GM Kyle Dubas in the wake of the departures of Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, and Nick Foligno last summer. The 26-year-old former 20-goal scorer has struggled with concussion issues throughout his career but was effective in a third-line role with countryman David Kampf. At times, he stepped up into the top-six and scored 14 goals in 50 games, but he found himself on the injured list multiple times.
Eligible for arbitration this summer, the Leafs will likely give Kase a qualifying offer (a 10% increase on his $1.25 million) and try to get him signed to a one-year deal, which will walk the veteran winger to unrestricted free agency.
It was a coming-of-age season for Engvall, who posted a career-high 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 78 games, playing a variety of positions and roles up and down the lineup. Coming off a two-year, $2.5 million deal and in the wake of Ilya Mikheyev’s likely departure via free agency, GM Kyle Dubas will likely try to negotiate a multi-year extension with the soon-to-be 26-year-old two-way winger if it is not too costly but could settle on a one-year deal if the AAV stays under $2 million.
The two former first-round picks saw the roles grow this season in the final year of their entry-level deals. Liljegren made the biggest leap, playing 61 games on the right side and posting a career-high 23 points. Sandin struggles with injuries limited the 22-year-old to 51 games, but it appeared that his defensive side of the game began to catch up to his offensive abilities.
The Leafs cap situation likely prevents them from signing the two blueliners to anything longer to bridge deals. It is very possible that Dubas will move out Justin Holl’s salary with Mark Giordano and/or Ilya Lyubushkin potentially returning. Two-year deals for under $2 million would allow Toronto to maintain control on Liljegren and Sandin until Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie’s contracts expire in 2024, giving Dubas the cap space at that point to lock them up on long-term extensions.