Gone are the days where the Toronto Maple Leafs lament their need of a number one center. It’s time to start thinking of Additions for a Leafs Stanley Cup Run. They have a number one center in 40-goal Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews. They may have another in Nazem Kadri, should his production trajectory continue. The conversation has shifted from needs to wants on the organizational wish list. No, this off-season is about putting complementary pieces around a young nucleus, to capitalize on Elliotte Friedman’s proverbial “two year window” of salary cap room. The time to push for a Stanley Cup is now. Let’s examine two additions for Leafs Stanley Cup Run.
With just over five million in salary bonus overages tacked onto next year’s cap, the Leafs have exactly $8,684,166 to spend. Bear in mind they have yet to sign restricted free agents Connor Brown and Zach Hyman.
Two Additions for a Leafs Stanley Cup Run
Potential price point: $4-6 million
There have been many murmurs around Toronto about an upgrade on Auston Matthews’ wing where Zach Hyman played for most of the season. Kovalchuk would certainly give that line a much greater scoring threat with his patented one timer. He’s a known entity in the NHL as a five time 40 goal scorer. He’s also scored at more than a point per game pace over his KHL career.
While his on ice production is beyond question, Kovalchuk comes with significant baggage: he signed a lucrative 15 year $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils in 2010, but then refused to honor it when he “retired” from the NHL in 2013. That deal, which was initially intended to be 17 years long, was ruled to be a circumvention of the NHL salary cap and the Devils forfeited their 2014 first round pick as a result. They are also stuck paying the League $250,000 per year until the deal’s end in 2025.
Then there was the 2015 IIHF World Championship incident. After the final between Russia and Canada (a 6-1 team Canada win) Kovalchuk, then the Captain of the Russian team, signaled his mates off the ice before the Canadian anthem played and the flags had been raised to the rafters.The Russian Hockey Federation payed the IIHF $85,000 in fines for that stunt.
Now, Kovalchuk is interested in making a return to the NHL. The optics aren’t great.
All that extra curricular encumbrance may have reduced demand and price for the sharp shooter in his bid to return to North America. That would be welcome news for the Leafs, who would need to organize a complex sign-and-trade scenario with the Devils, who still own his NHL rights.
Potential price point: $5-6 million
Term: 3+ years
Leafs fans would love to see this pulled off! His curfew breaking days behind him, Radulov is another attractive upgrade for the Leafs top forward line. Signing him would also hamper the offence of their division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. Radulov put up 18 goals and 54 points on a one year contract last season. His KHL numbers with CSKA Moscow suggest that his return to the NHL merely scratched the surface of his capabilities.
It will be difficult to pry Radulov away from La Belle Provence. His first experience in North American hockey was with the Quebec Remparts where he scored 227 points in just two seasons. Safe to say Quebec holds a special place in his heart. His familiarity with Shea Weber might also play a role in his decision given that they were teammates in Nashville.
Any of these moves will require some fancy footwork from the Leafs’ management. Assuming both Connor Brown and Zach Hyman are worth more than 2 million dollars each, the Leafs would have less than $5 million to play with. Toronto does have an opportunity to clear cap space by either trading James Van Riemsdyk, or Joffrey Lupul/Nathan Horton from long term injury reserve. It’s a tall order, but for the Leafs, the time to make move is now.
There won’t be many chances to come.
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