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Maple Leafs Cheap Forward Pipeline Just Keeps Pumping

The Toronto Maple Leafs unique system is that a core of the players now eat up a large chunk of the salary-cap. Is that an issue for the team?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have found a way to keep finding cheap forwards to work with the team’s elite top units. Why will that pipeline keep pumping? Why is there no end in sight?

The Upside and Downside of the Core Four

In one way, the Toronto Maple Leafs were geniuses to have signed what has been called the Core Four when they did. Although those signings didn’t work as planned because of a COVID-19-induced salary-cap squeeze, the signings haven’t been the problem that many fans and hockey analysts have predicted.

What the Core Four (and I know that there are others who have jumped up in salary – Morgan Rielly is an example) have given the team is the knowledge that it can compete and probably make the postseason playoffs every single year they are together. They are that good and they can carry a team through the long haul of a regular season.


The Maple Leafs Must Constantly Seek Cheap Forwards

Now winning in the postseason has been an issue that cannot be denied. So every offseason it seems, the Maple Leafs’ organization is dragging the NHL lake for cheaper bottom-six players (Zach Aston-Reese), players who want to return home to Ontario and still have fuel left in their tanks (Mark Giordano), or players who for some reason are a bit down-and-out and want to sign a one-season show-me deal (Ilya Samsonov).

Mark Giordano Maple Leafs
Mark Giordano Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have a history of finding good-enough middle-six or bottom-six forwards to complete the team. And in the case of new players like Michael Bunting or David Kampf they have not had to overspend to get them. That fact in itself is crucial.

Because the underbelly of the way the Core Four works is that the organization cannot afford (until the salary cap moves upwards) to spend any significant portion of its cap space on signing newer players or re-signing those players on the team they’d probably – in a perfect world – would love to keep (Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev come to mind). These players end up leaving the team.

Players Keep Leaving; Players Keep Coming

Over the seasons I have covered the Maple Leafs, players like Hyman, Mikheyev, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnson have all moved on because of the organization’s financial constraints. While that’s problematic, the good in that is that the team doesn’t seem to have any issues at all replacing these old players by signing new players.

The Maple Leafs have a pretty successful history of being able to replace departing players with undervalued players from the open market. Now it seems, there’s a new source of replacement “parts” moving upwards. Those are players from the team’s own development system. In addition to inexpensive and undervalued replacements from the open market, there seem (to me) a number of younger prospects rising through the system.

Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 5-2 Loss to the Bruins

Pontus Holmberg: Just the Start of Marlies Who Might Be Moving

Pontus Holmberg is just the beginning. He’s been great in the team’s lineup. Furthermore, he’s not alone. Just a quick look at the team’s AHL Toronto Marlies suggests the types of possibilities of those who are moving upward in the system and might be moving upwards to the big club’s rosters.

Without going into detail, let me list some names of possibilities.

Nick Robertson (injured again but in the organization’s plans).

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs

Logan Shaw (a bit over the tooth but contributing lots of points with 50 in 44 games).

Alex Steeves( who’s been consistent and has been called up a number of times).

Nick Abruzzese (also in the team’s plans and who has been called up).

Adam Gaudette (who has NHL experience and is shining in the AHL this season).

Joey Anderson (who’s been up and down recently) but is someone the organization won’t give up on easily).

Finally, Bobby McMann (who might be the next permanent call-up to join Holmberg).

When Replacements Are Needed, the Maple Leafs Find Them

With the All-Star break and bye week here, I’m just thinking about how the Maple Leafs might do next season with replacement players. My short answer is quite well.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Gio, Woll & Holmberg



  1. Jon Harding

    February 4, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Old Prof – with all due respect, and tongue firmly in cheek, are you complaining or bragging with this piece?

  2. Afp1961

    February 4, 2023 at 3:15 pm

    Jim – signing guys to replace those who have left. Will never be the problem. Loads of bodies out there. But talented ones ? That’s the question. The exiting of Brown Kadri Hyman Mikheyev Marchment (approx 12m of cap value while leafs) was definitely not replaced talent for talent. Not even close. Approx 5m was brought in to replace these exact bodies and hence the talent loss is obvious. This is where the erosion of depth talent comes to the fore and becomes so evident when playing balanced teams such as the bolts or bruins.

    It all comes down to four guys occupying 50% of the cap. Leafs have no choice but to rely upon Marlie callups to fill the roster and nhl bargain barrel retreads. It is what it is until they decide to break up the core four or they hope the cap goes up by more than a million…

  3. Pingback: Both Giordano & McMann Showing Value – Hockey 1 on 1

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