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Even if you win the Stanley Cup like the St. Louis Blues just did, in today's landscape there is always turnover, acquisitions and losses. The Toronto Maple Leafs have just been bounced out of the playoffs in the first round 3 years in a row, having seasons of 95, 105 and 100 points. What do they need to do to get over the hump? Let's look at 3 things they need to do this off-season, in order of importance:
1. SIGN MITCH MARNER BEFORE JULY 1ST
This contract needs to be signed, sealed and delivered first and foremost so they know how much cap room they have left to make other moves. They should not mess around with this situation like they did with William Nylander a year ago; this is the last of the 3 young stars drafted high in the 1st round earlier this decade that need to get done after Nylander in December, followed by Auston Matthews in February and now just Marner remains. Should this linger on like it did with Nylander, it will be become problematic for the team and its ability to make their other off-season moves. This is a more important reason than worrying about an offer sheet as many fans and media have been speculating, so if does not get done by July 1st they could be in big-time trouble. Personally, I would sign him to an 8-year deal worth $90 Million - a cap hit of exactly $11.25 Million per year which is what he is worth on the market and would be sandwiched between Auston Matthews ($11.6M) and John Tavares ($11M). My point is just get it done!
2. ACQUIRE A TOP-PAIRING RIGHT-SHOT DEFENCEMAN
It has always been a position of weakness for this hockey team. We now know what the club has in Morgan Rielly, who has evolved into a big stud D-man that could win a Norris Trophy in the not-too distant future. What the biggest need remains and is the biggest hole on the roster heading into this off-season is a good #2 to play with him. If the Leafs are to become a serious contender, this is the piece they need to put them over the top. Now how do they get that piece to the puzzle? Using a position of strength, the Leafs are 4-deep at right wing. Your not trading Marner, you said as long as you are the general manager you are not trading Nylander (quoting general manager Kyle Dubas when he signed him in December) and Connor Brown will not get you much in return. That leaves Kasperi Kapanen by process of elimination as the feature piece I would put in a trade package as he currently has high value with tremendous upside. I know this sounds crazy to trade Kapanen, but the reality is you are deeper than the Pacific Ocean up front and do not have enough on the back-end as it currently stands. As it goes in a salary cap world, you can't keep everybody - so someone has to go.
3. NAME A CAPTAIN
I think the time has come for management to make a decision once and for all who is going to wear the prestigious "C" on the front of his sweater to lead this team to the promised land. It has been three and a half seasons now since Dion Phaneuf and his inflated contract was shipped out of town in February of 2016, and given the fact they have now hit a stalemate with not being able to get out of the 1st Round three years in a row, not to mention also now that the young stars on this team have had three years to show what they have and are now going to be paid big money with their entry-level deals having expired, the time is now to name a Captain before they show up for training camp in September. No you do not want to rush into it and make the wrong decision, which is what the holdup has been all this time - but if you want to take that next step you can not leave this lingering on forever. It says here that it should be either Auston Matthews or Morgan Rielly, but there are plenty of arguments out there in Leafs Nation for say John Tavares or Mitch Marner.
After that, there are other questions as well such as trading Patrick Marleau back out west getting the other team to eat as much of his $6.25 Million cap hit if possible, a trade involving Nikita Zaitsev who has asked to be dealt for "personal reasons", an upgrade at the backup goalie position over Garrett Sparks among other moves that only the team knows and we have never thought of. But these 3 top things I have listed above need to be addressed pronto, and it should not be too much for Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan to figure out. After all, this is why they pay these guys the big bucks. I have confidence in them, so I expect them to deliver.