Perhaps there’s just a lull that’s the same for every NHL team. However, it seems really quiet for the Toronto Maple Leafs at a time during the offseason when I might expect more action. Perhaps I forget how this works in June.
The Maple Leafs have a ton of work to do in what seems like not so much time to do it. Specifically, in terms of this post, I will look at three unrestricted free agents the team will likely consider. Among those players who finished the season with the team, which ones should the Maple Leafs seek to sign or let go?
Considering Aston-Reese, O’Reilly & Holl
In this post, I first want to look at Zach Aston-Reese (ZAR). Last season was his first in Toronto. Second, I want to look at Ryan O’Reilly (ROR). O’Reilly came at the trade deadline and the team hoped he might be the tipping point for getting them over the hump. Third, I want to look at Justin Holl. Holl has played with the Maple Leafs for the past six seasons.
For the sake of this post, let’s assume that the three players in question would like to return to the team. That might be a far reach, especially for Holl. Although he’s said he’d like to return to Toronto, given his reception and the fact that he has been a bit of a whipping boy among Maple Leafs’ fans, you’d think he’d take a chance to leave – almost anywhere perhaps – if he gets a comparable contract offer. It’s had to have been a rough ride personally on some nights.
For each player, I will present the reasons for and against bringing them back for the 2023-24 season.
Player One: Zach Aston-Reese – Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Re-Sign Him?
There are a number of reasons to re-sign Aston-Reese. These include:
Reason One: He Has a Strong Forecheck Game
Aston-Reese’s effective forechecking style creates advantages for the Maple Leafs by applying pressure on opponents and disrupting plays.
Reason Two: His Physicality
The team benefits from Aston-Reese’s physical presence, as his hits create space for teammates. He adds a level of grit to the lineup.
Reason Three: His Net-Front Presence
Aston-Reese has the ability to battle in front of the net, which leads to scoring opportunities and screens for his teammates. He enhances the team’s offense and defense.
Reason Four: He’s on a Cap-Friendly Contrat
Re-signing Aston-Reese at a projected cost of under $1 million lets the Maple Leafs allocate resources to other areas of need while maintaining a capable forward.
One Potential Drawback
Reason One: Does He Take a Spot of an Emerging Prospect?
Are there promising prospects within the Maple Leafs’ organization, such as Bobby McMann or Matthew Knies, who could make Aston-Reese expendable if they demonstrate potential and fit his role?
Player Two: Ryan O’Reilly, Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Re-Sign Him?
There are a number of reasons to re-sign O’Reilly.
Reasons One: The Impact of His Playoff Performance
O’Reilly’s experience, leadership, and championship resume add value to the team, particularly during the playoffs.
Reason Two: His Potential Fit
If O’Reilly is willing to accept a shorter-term contract with a lower average annual value (AAV), he could still contribute to the Maple Leafs’ lineup. He does seem to bring out the best in John Tavares.
Reasons Why O’Reilly Might Be Headed to Free Agency
Reason One: His Contract Limitations
If O’Reilly is offered a significant contract, projected at $5.5 million annually over four years, it might be tough for the Maple Leafs to make that fit inside their salary cap constraints.
Reason Two: His Skating Speed and Roster Needs
O’Reilly is good, but he isn’t speedy. The team might see its potential in adding more speed to the lineup. If so, that could affect O’Reilly’s potential role and lead him to seek a better fit somewhere else.
Player Three: Justin Holl, Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Re-Sign Him?
There are a number of reasons to re-sign Justin Holl:
Reason One: His Defensive Consistency
Holl has shown the ability to be a solid defensive defenseman, particularly in controlling the puck on breakouts.
Reason Two: He’s a Right-Handed Defenseman
Holl has value as a right-handed defenseman who can kill penalties. That makes him attractive to almost any team. Right-handers are rare.
Reason Three: He Potentially Has a Cap-Friendly Contract
With an estimated salary cap hit of around $2.5 million, Holl could provide a cost-effective option for the Maple Leafs (or another team) looking to bolster their defensive depth.
Reasons Against Re-Signing Justin Holl
Reason One: His Inconsistent Performance
Holl does make the occasional mistake or lapse in his positioning. These raise concerns about his ability to consistently perform at a high level.
Reason Two: Are There Emerging Prospects?
The emergence of prospects Timothy Liljegren and Conor Timmins on the right side of the defense could make Holl expendable. If there’s a younger and as trustworthy defenseman who might play the spot, the team will open up opportunities for these prospects to make an impact.
The Bottom Line
As the offseason progresses, the Maple Leafs must make important decisions about Aston-Reese, O’Reilly, and Holl. Each player presents a unique set of reasons for and against their re-signing.
Ultimately, decisions rest on the Maple Leafs’ long-term goals, roster plans, and the availability of other options in free agency or within their organization that are just as good (and perhaps much cheaper).
We’ll see what the team will do in a few weeks.
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