In spite of making two major trades, adding veteran center Jason Spezza and re-signing wingers Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, the Toronto Maple Leafs still appear to have some holes to fill before reconvening for training camp in mid-September, but none of them will be able to be filled while winger Mitch Marner remains unsigned.
With winger Zach Hyman and defenseman Travis Dermott not expected back well into the regular season, GM Kyle Dubas could be looking for a veteran willing to take a league minimum contract for the opportunity to play alongside Auston Matthews or John Tavares up front or a key role on the bottom pairing and penalty killing unit, but the Leafs do not know how much room they will need to keep open to accommodate Marner’s contract and that likely means that they will hold off signing anyone until the restricted free agent signs.
What Dubas may do in the weeks prior to camp is sign players to professional tryouts (PTO) that do not count against the cap, who could play their way onto the roster but might have to wait until late September or just before the season begins in early October.
The top level of unrestricted free agents (Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Jake Gardiner, Derick Brassard, Patrick Maroon) will get short-term contracts and not have to rely on this method, but veteran players with question marks of whether they can keep up with the speedy pace of the league may have to.
At forward, Thomas Vanek scored 16 goals with Detroit last season, but the 35-year-old still has not be re-signed by the Wings, who are in a rebuild scenario under new GM Steve Yzerman.
On defense, former Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf has not found a home since being bought out by Los Angeles and 35-year-olds Dan Girardi and Ben Lovejoy remain unsigned. As the summer moves into August, these players will become increasingly desperate to find a landing spot and may take a low guaranteed salary just for a chance to play.
That scenario would be perfect for Toronto, especially on defense with the prospect of choosing from a pool of Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Ben Harpur, Andreas Borgman and Kevin Gravel to play 12 to 15 minutes per night.
William Nylander is looking for a new start after missing training camp, the pre-season and two months of the regular season due to a contract impasse, and symbolic of that change will be switching his jersey number from 29 to 88.
Nylander wore #39 when recalled from the AHL in 2016, but changed to #29 the last two seasons, but is switching to 88 (last worn by Eric Lindros in 2006), which is the number he wore when playing for MODO in the SHL.
The winger said via Twitter that he will pick up the tab for the number change by paying for it if fans take it to Real Sports Apparel located at Scotiabank Arena and Maple Leaf Square, which is a smart PR gesture for someone who raised the ire of the Leafs faithful, but they more than likely will start feeling better about Nylander if he returns to form and puts up 65-70 points next season.
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