The eve of June 1st is just the right time to take a look at the current contract situations of some of the prospects in the Maple Leafs system.
The following players will become free agents unless they’re signed by 5 p.m. tomorrow, either because they were drafted out of the CHL in 2015 (two-year window) or out of Europe in 2013 (four-year window).
Only a week away, here is the current list of drafted players whom their respective teams must sign by June 1, or lose their signing rights. pic.twitter.com/T65ePEqhbK
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) May 25, 2017
Let’s break down the Leafs‘ situation.
The Numbers Game
Snug against the 50-contract limit at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs currently have 37 contracts on their books for 2017-18. That number doesn’t include RFAs Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Brendan Leipsic, Seth Griffith, Antoine Bibeau, Garret Sparks or Justin Holl.
While the contracts of Stephane Robidas, Colin Greening and Milan Michalek are now expiring, Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton will remain on injured reserve next season. Ben Smith and Eric Fehr were acquired/signed for expansion draft purposes and don’t figure to be among the team’s regular NHL forwards next year.
The Leafs recently added three free agent signings out of Europe on entry-level deals in Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen (both on two-year contracts) and Miro Aaltonen (one year). They also recently brought 2016 pick Carl Grundstrom to Toronto on a three-year entry-level contract. Whether recent Memorial Cup champion Jeremy Bracco makes the Toronto Marlies or returns for an overage junior season, his entry-level contract will no longer “slide” now that he’s 20 years old. All five of those players are included in the 37.
Among their UFAs, the Leafs will have to decide if they want to bring back either Roman Polak or Matt Hunwick as veteran depth on the blue line. They’ll also need a backup goalie with Curtis McElhinney’s contract set to expire on July 1.
Coming off a 130-point overage season, Adam Brooks is in need of a contract with his junior career now over. There are also decision to be made with Jack Walker, Stephen Desrocher, Nikita Korostelev, Fabrice Herzog and Dominic Toninato (which we’ll get into below).
It’s worth keeping in mind that the Leafs have made 26 draft selections since 2014 — tied with the Lightning for the most in the NHL — with 20 of those picks coming in the last two years. They picked 11 players last June, only two of which have received NHL contracts as of this writing in Auston Matthews and Grundstrom. The Leafs will also select seven times in seven rounds in 2017 as of now. It’s easy to see how the non-roster player situation could get rather tight rather quickly as the Leafs project their contract spaces over the next few years.
|Signed through 2017-18||RFAs||UFAs|
|SPC Total: 37/50|
14 F, 6D, 1G, 16 Non-Roster
|Horton, Nathan||Connor Brown||Matt Hunwick|
|Lupul, Joffrey||Zach Hyman||Roman Polak|
|Kadri, Nazem||Brendan Leipsic||Andrew Campbell|
|Van Riemsdyk, James||Seth Griffith||Steve Oleksy|
|Bozak, Tyler||Justin Holl|
|Komarov, Leo||Antoine Bibeau|
|Martin, Matt||Garret Sparks|
|Fehr, Eric||Sergei Kalinin|
Fabrice Herzog, Nikita Korostelev & Stephen Desrocher
The most pressing decisions in the immediate term involve Fabrice Herzog, Nikita Korostelev and Stephen Desrocher, who must be signed by 5 p.m. on June 1 (tomorrow) or the Leafs will relinquish their rights.
As a draft pick out of the Swiss league in 2013, Fabrice Herzog‘s rights belonged to the Leafs for a period of four years. The former fifth-round pick crossed over to the QMJHL to play for the Quebec Remparts in his plus-one season, posting 32 goals and 58 points in 61 games, and he appeared in five games for the Marlies at the end of the year on a tryout agreement. After returning to the Swiss League, where he’s spent the past three seasons, Herzog hasn’t been involved in the Leafs rookie tournaments or training camps. There was some intrigue with his size and skill package, but his NLA numbers haven’t been overly impressive – his 20 points in 44 games this past season didn’t break the top 10 in points-per-game among under-24 players — and the Leafs have plenty of depth on the wings in their system. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be signed.
Nikita Korostelev was an intriguing seventh round swing in 2015; he actually outproduced teammate Pavel Zacha – a sixth overall pick by New Jersey – in their draft season with 53 points in 55 games. He’s a skilled forward with size and a good shot, but there are question marks surrounding his skating and defensive play. Korostelev’s numbers haven’t taken a huge step forward since his draft season; he struggled in his plus-one year with 42 points in 53 games but rebounded fairly well in his plus-two season, posting 1.16 points per game (22nd among OHL forwards) in a season split between Sarnia and Peterborough.
Korostelev is eligible to return to the OHL for an overage season, but as a 20-year-old, his entry-level contract would not slide off the books. Korostelev’s KHL rights were traded to CSKA Moscow back in September, but he has been in Canada since age 14, playing his bantam and midget hockey for the Vaughan Kings (where he played under Leafs’ Director of Eastern Scouting, Lindsay Hofford) and the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. The report when the Leafs drafted him was that he was highly committed to chasing the NHL dream, but he will likely need a big overage season to make that a reality. It doesn’t appear likely that Korostelev will be signed by tomorrow.
Stephen Desrocher has shown steady improvement in his production since the Leafs drafted him as a 19-year-old in 2015, although it remains to be seen how much offensive upside he has at the pro level. Brock Otten of OHL Prospects suggested to me recently that he thinks the 6’4 defenceman will garner some NHL interest.
I think he’s an NHL prospect. Size. Skating ability. Big point shot. His defensive game has come a long way. He could easily develop into a quality third pairing guy, IMO. If the Leafs don’t sign him, I’d be shocked if another NHL team doesn’t give him a deal. Or he may just take an AHL deal for now and be told the Leafs will sign him once some contracts come off the books.
Unlike the wing position, the Leafs are not flush with defensive depth. The organization has taken full advantage of the no-roster-limit rule in the AHL in recent seasons and Desrocher would be a good candidate for an AHL contract. The benefit of an AHL deal is that another NHL team would not be able to sign Desrocher to an ELC without first terminating the AHL contract, which essentially extends the Leafs’ rights window with the player.
Adam Brooks & Jack Walker
Walker and Brooks were both drafted in 2016 and are no longer eligible for junior hockey. The 21-year-olds will need to receive contract offers by June 1, 2017 at 5 p.m. EST or the Leafs will lose their exclusive rights (they don’t need to be signed by tomorrow; they just need to receive a bona fide offer, which is where they differ from Korostelev, Desrocher and Herzog).
This is a confusing situation that requires the assistance of resident sports lawyer Elliot Saccucci:
Pursuant to Article 8.6 and sub-clauses (i) and (ii) Brooks and Walker need a Bona Fide Offer by June 1st, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. in order for the Leafs to maintain the exclusive right of negoation until June 1, 2018. Given that clause (iii) applies to players being drafted at 20 who then re-enter the Draft at 22 (i.e. a special rule carve-out) we can infer that sub-clauses (i) and (ii) apply to drafted 20 year olds who do not re-enter the Draft at 22 (i.e. normal case 20 year olds). Note that pursuant to sub-clause (e) a “Bona Fide Offer” is an SPC that corresponds with the permissible signing period for a 20 year old as dictated by Article 9.1(b). An “SPC”, as defined by the CBA, is an NHL contract, which pursuant to Article 9.1(b) is for 3 years for 21 year olds like Walker and Brooks. Pursuant to sub-clause (f) of Article 8.6, if neither player receives a Bona Fide offer (i.e. an SPC) by June 1st, 2017 at 5:00 p.m., they will be removed from the Leafs reserve list. In that case, they would be eligible to re-enter the Draft (see Article 8.4(iv)) wherein they would have been and therefore have become a Free Agent, but for having been drafted in 2016. Thus, if not signed by the Leafs they are then removed from the reserve list and must re-enter the Draft. They are not Free Agents permitted to sign an SPC with another club. Theoretically, they could sign an AHL deal and wait out their Draft eligibility until Free Agent status.
Adam Brooks would seem to be a shoe-in for a contract. He scored 43 goals and 130 points in 66 games in 2016-17, which is similar production to Connor Brown in his overage season, except Brooks produced 120 points in the season prior as well. The 21-year-old is a natural center, which is a position where the Marlies lacked depth last season (and they will now be without the injured Frederik Gauthier to start the 2017-18 season).
Jack Walker seems like a good candidate for an AHL deal. There’s some intrigue here – former Victoria head coach Dave Lowry told me last summer that he was the fastest player in the WHL with the puck on his stick – and there might be some growth potential given he was a defenceman who converted to the forward position early in his junior career. However, his numbers took a step back in his overage season — 72 points in 70 games in his fifth year of junior isn’t particularly noteworthy — on a mediocre Victoria team.
A few other notes:
– The situation with Vladimir Bobylev is different than Brooks and Walker. Having turned 20 in April, he’s eligible for either the AHL or a WHL overage year next season. He’s also already done one back-and-forth to the KHL earlier in the 2016-17 season, so that has to be kept in mind. The Leafs will retain Bobylev’s rights for another year.
– Martins Dzierkals of Rouyn-Noranda is eligible for an overage QMJHL year next season. While the 20-year-old has spent the two seasons since the 2015 draft in the CHL, he was drafted out of Russia, giving the Leafs a four-year window (June 1, 2019). He impressed onlookers in the QMJHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament in 2016 with his speed, work ethic and willingness to battle in the hard areas of the ice despite his size. However, his numbers took a step back this season with 49 points in 47 appearances followed by just two assists in six postseason games. The Leafs could look at the AHL option with Dzierkals depending on how he looks at development camp/the rookie tournament/main camp, but returning to junior for an overage year looks like the best bet.
– University of Minnesota-Duluth forward Dominic Toninato, a 2012 fifth-round pick, will become a free agent on August 15 if he isn’t signed by then, as is detailed by Kevin McGran here. The 23-year-old has posted solid if unspectacular numbers in college; after a breakout sophomore year with 16 goals and 26 points in 34 games, he didn’t quite reach those goals-per-game and points-per-game rates in his subsequent two seasons. Toninato’s agent told McGran that his client will not sign an AHL deal because he is anticipating interest from other NHL teams if the Leafs aren’t willing to extend an entry-level offer. The Leafs offered Toninato an ELC last summer, but he opted to finish college. As a centerman, the Marlies could use the added depth.