Maple Leafs Roundup: Dubas talks Sandin offer sheet, Campbell decision, trades

MONTRÉAL – Given the pressure on the Toronto Maple Leafs (and their general manager, personally) to reap better results in 2022-23, it should come as no surprise that, on the eve of the NHL Draft, Kyle Dubas faced more questions on his current players than the new hopefuls he’ll be bringing into the fold this week.

In a wide-ranging scrum Wednesday afternoon at a downtown Montreal hotel, Dubas spoke to the state of talks with his unrestricted free agents, his less-than-easy negotiation with restricted free agent Rasmus Sandin, and the trade landscape ahead of the busiest week for NHL business.

Concern over a Sandin offer sheet?

One week before Sandin is set to become a restricted free agent, his general manager fired a message, through the media, to the defenceman’s agent, Lewis Gross.

“If there’s going to be an offer sheet, the sooner the better, so we can make our decision and move on,” Dubas replied, when asked if he was concerned a rival team might try to scoop the coveted 22-year-old.

Fellow pending RFA, Timothy Liljegren, signed a two-year, $2.8-million bridge deal. No doubt, Sandin has been offered something similar.

He wants more. And with so many veteran left-shot defenders, it remains unclear exactly where Sandin immediately fits into a lineup he did not crack in the post-season after rehabbing a knee injury.

The Maple Leafs need cap-friendly talent on board.

“They’re massive parts of our future,” said Dubas, lumping Liljegren into his answer on the Sandin negotiation. “They’re significantly younger than the other full-time members of our defence corps. And we need them to continue to take steps.

“In Rasmus’s case, one of the major focuses is on trying to set him up to continue to be healthy all the way through the year and putting the proper resources into him to arm him to do that.”

Dubas praised Sandin’s talent and competitiveness, but also challenged the Swede to grow into a top-four mainstay in Toronto.

“We see he and Timothy as both massive parts of it moving ahead,” Dubas said.

Here’s the catch.

Dubas prefers to bridge Sandin in the ballpark of $1.4 million per season.

Without arbitration rights, the player’s only leverage is to (a) not show up at training camp, which could hurt an athlete already on the bubble of the starting lineup or (b) sign an offer sheet.

Inking Sandin to an AAV between $2,100,742 and $4,201,488 would cost a rival club a second-round pick in compensation.

‘Close to decision time’ on Campbell, Mrazek

Chairs on the goalie carousel are already getting snatched up, and unless Dubas acts within the next week, he risks rolling out a Petr Mrazek–Erik Källgren tandem on opening night.

(Heck, Pittsburgh just re-signed backup Casey DeSmith, subtracting one more netminder from an already thin UFA class.)

Things can change, but the sense Wednesday is that the 30-year-old Campbell – a soon-to-be UFA who’s earned just $5.78 million in his career — will fetch more money and term elsewhere (Edmonton? New Jersey? Detroit?).

“It’s no secret that goaltending is a priority for us, and we continue to speak with he and his people,” Dubas said.

“Obviously, it’s getting close to decision time for everybody, and especially for Jack because it’s a life-altering event. And so, we’ll continue to speak with them here this week, through the weekend, and be well prepared going into next week for where we want to go.”

While matter-of-fact on Campbell, Dubas spoke much more encouragingly of Mrazek.

The Czech suffered three groin injuries in the first of a contracted three seasons with Toronto and posted a career-worst .888 save percentage. He has been dangled as trade bait.

Mrazek has been training hard this summer, intending to redeem himself. Dubas pumped his tires Wednesday, praising Mrazek’s willingness to face the media after a tough outing and his communication during the off-season.

“Do I bet that he was the goalie he was last year in the 20 games? Or do I bet he was the goalie he was for the 270 before, which was a .910 save-percentage guy that gave his team a chance to win?” Dubas said.

“I’d probably bet on the larger sample, and that’s where Peter fits into it at this time.”

Hmmm… we’re not certain if Dubas is selling himself or his potential trade partners on Mrazek.

Many Maple Leafs hold trade value

Dubas maintains he is “open to anything” during hockey’s silly season, be it trading the negotiating rights of a pending UFA to get another pick in Thursday’s draft, trading down the ladder, or clearing out roster players to bring in a better asset.

The rumour mill has tossed around names like Mrazek, Justin Holl and Alexander Kerfoot as candidates who could be moved this summer.

Once the 32 GMs descended in Montreal this week, they all have a good idea what the others are trying to accomplish. Trouble is, with cap space so scarce for all the contenders, finding trade fits is tricky. Now is the time for execution.

“If we need to create cap space to improve our team, we know, based on the conversations we’ve had, that we would be able to move a lot of our players, if needed, for good value,” Dubas said.

“So, I think we’re in a good spot there.”

Tale of Two Ilyas

Both feel like longshots, but there is certainly a better chance of Toronto re-signing defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin than winger Ilya Mikheyev, speeding into the open market after a career-best 21-goal campaign.

Dubas has made it known that he’s willing to trade Mikheyev’s negotiating rights for a draft pick should an opponent wish to get a head start on negotiating the Russian’s next contract.

“Unfortunately, it’s very public, the state of talks there,” Dubas said. “Anything can change. You never want to totally close it off, but we’ll see what happens.

“And if not, it’s been a great three years in Toronto, and it’s a great story for us and the player that came as a free agent and will look to cash in, using the resources that we had.

“He put a great effort returning from injury and obviously had a great season here with us. So, that’s great for him. And we’ll continue to stay in touch with him in case the market changes.”

The executive was more optimistic on rugged D-man Lyubushkin, with whom the Leafs have had “lots of discussion.” (Read: There is still a gap in contract ask, but it’s not as wide as Mikheyev’s.)

“It’s just going to be a matter of what we can afford based on the minutes that he’s going to be capable of giving us and the role he’s going to be able to give us,” Dubas said.

“We’d love to have him back. But it’s also for him and his family a huge opportunity as an unrestricted free agent. But if it works, we’d love to have him.”

Lyubushkin, 28, has made a total of $4.15 million over his four NHL seasons. His profile and earning potential may never be higher, with so few right-shot defenders available.

Guys on the backburner

If you’re here for Michael Bunting extension news, check back later.

Breakout Calder finalist Bunting, Kerfoot, Holl and valued depth centre David Kämpf are all a year away from turning UFA and eligible to sign extensions as early as July 13.

But don’t expect them to that quick.

Dubas is placing those conversations on a waitlist as he focuses on the draft and free agency. He’ll let the dust settle in a week or two and re-evaluate his cap picture before talking early extensions.

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