Projecting the Leafs' opening night roster for next season

May 17 2023, 7:38 pm

The Toronto Maple Leafs are once again looking ahead to next year.

Two days on from a Kyle Dubas press conference where the team’s general manager admitted he’s not sure what the future holds for him, the team itself is facing one heck of an overhaul this summer.

While it’s a common talking point to wonder if the team will make a blockbuster trade or three, Toronto already has the challenge of 12 different unrestricted free agents hitting the market come July 1.

They won’t be able to keep everyone, but, barring catastrophe, are still expected to ice a roster of 23 players come this coming October.

Before Toronto can make any big splashes, they’ll have to merely make sure they’ve got enough bodies signed to fill out a roster in the first place, with just nine forwards and six defencemen signed for next year.

A pair of notable forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Michael Bunting look to have priced themselves out of Toronto with their expected contracts next season, as both will be searching for multi-year deals. Meanwhile, Alex Kerfoot and his $3.5 million cap hit are up for expiry, which could clear the books for Toronto to replace the middle-six forward after four seasons with the Leafs.

Below is a projection of what the Leafs could look like to kick off next season. This isn’t meant to be a perfect exercise and offered some judgment calls of how Toronto will approach the summer.

For contract projections, we used the Evolving-Hockey model, and prioritized affordability (what Toronto could squeeze under their salary cap for next season) without making any major trades or external free-agent signings in order to create the best possible roster.

Sure, the Leafs could end up doing a blockbuster deal, but for now, we’re more so taking stock of what Toronto would look like with more of a status quo approach ahead of the offseason while saying goodbye to some recent roster staples.

Here’s the projection of what Toronto’s opening night roster could look like next fall when they take to the ice for the 2023-24 season, using data from CapFriendly and Evolving-Hockey.

Leafs’ forwards (14)

Auston Matthews $11,640,250
John Tavares $11,000,000
Mitchell Marner $10,903,000
William Nylander $6,962,366
Noel Acciari* $2,117,000
Calle Jarnkrok $2,100,000
Sam Lafferty $1,150,000
Pontus Holmberg* $1,074,000
Matthew Knies $925,000
Zach Aston-Reese* $842,700
Alex Steeves $834,167
Nicholas Robertson $796,667
Nick Abruzzese* $775,000
Bobby McMann $762,500

*Evolving-Hockey projection

Under this projection, we’d see the Leafs graduate four players to the NHL in Steeves, Robertson, Abruzzese, and McMann, while re-signing Aston-Reese and Acciari to new short-term contracts.

Additionally, all of Bunting, O’Reilly, Kerfoot, David Kampf, and Wayne Simmonds would be hitting free agency, the last of which would likely be nearing retirement this summer anyway after only sparsely appearing for Toronto this past season.

Leafs’ Defence (7) 

Morgan Rielly $7,500,000
TJ Brodie $5,000,000
Jake McCabe $2,000,000
Timothy Liljegren $1,400,000
Conor Timmins $1,100,000
Topi Niemala $856,667
Mark Giordano $800,000

Toronto might have some improvements to be made on next year’s blue line, but they’re in no necessity to make a move. Six players from this year’s lineup are signed through next season, while Erik Gustafsson, Luke Schenn, and Justin Holl are all eligible to hit unrestricted free agency this summer.

Meanwhile, Jake Muzzin and his $5,625,000 million contract are likely to remain on injured reserve for one more season before it’s off the books.

Leafs’ Goalies (2)

Matt Murray (buyout) $687,500
Joseph Woll $766,667
Ilya Samsonov* $5,100,000

*Evolving-Hockey projection

The Matt Murray experiment in Toronto didn’t exactly go as planned in year one, and maybe Toronto would like to run it back again with the veteran goaltender. But should Toronto choose the buyout route, they’d have a cap hit for him of just $687,000 next season.

Toronto has a restricted free agent negotiation to go through with Ilya Samsonov,  with the Evolving-Hockey projection capping him at $5.1 million across the next four seasons.

Interestingly enough, this current projection comes in at $6.3 million under next year’s $83.5 million salary cap, offering Toronto the flexibility to add a few free-agent signings or players via trade should they so choose.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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