Leafs 2015 top pick Mitch Marner had another impressive night at the Mastercard Memorial Cup in Red Deer, AB, as the 19-year-old had four assists in a 9-1 London Knights victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Marner assisted on first period goals by Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak and added another pair of helpers as Dvorak completed a hat trick early in the third.
Leafs draft pick JJ Piccinich also scored for London, who have defeated both WHL clubs and will face QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda on Tuesday.
Through two games, Marner leads the tournament with nine points (two goals and seven assists).
The Toronto Maple Leafs have certain aspects of their summer plans etched in stone, such as selecting Auston Matthews at the NHL Draft and finding goaltending help in a trade or free agency, but GM Lou Lamoriello's off-season strategy also depends on things external to his club falling into place.
If you look at the Tampa Bay Lightning being one win away from their second straight Stanley Cup Final appearance without Steven Stamkos playing one minute in the post-season, it is reasonable to conclude that the chances of the Markham, ON native being a free agent on July 1 are good.
It is not the fact that Stamkos is not worth a long-term, big money contract, but that signing the 26-year-old for upwards of $10 Million per season means that Tampa will not be able to afford other core players who need to be signed over the next two years.
Forwards Alex Killorn, Vladimir Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov become restricted free agents this summer. Next summer, forwards Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy are RFA's and Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop become unrestricted free agents.
Namestnikov, Drouin and Vasilevskiy are coming off entry-level deals and will likely sign short-term bridge deals, but Kucherov may be the exception to that rule.
In his Monday column, Erik Erlandsson
refers to the Russian winger as a silent superstar who has filled the gap for the absent Stamkos, who has missed the entire post-season with a blood clot issue.
With the tying goal against Pittsburgh on Sunday, Kucherov has scored 10 or more goals in consecutive playoffs and might be someone that GM Steve Yzerman would prefer to get locked up to a longer term deal for a more cap friendly amount, as the Leafs did with RFA's Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri at the end of the season.
If Yzerman goes the bridge route, it could be a cap benefit in the short term but a detriment down the road, as happened with PK Subban in Montreal.
If the Lightning re-sign Kucherov to a long term deal after the playoffs, it will serve as another sign that Steven Stamkos days in Tampa are coming to a close and could mean that his days in Toronto are beginning.
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