After getting bounced in the second round of the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs' dream of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1967 will have to wait another year. The Buds have to retool this offseason. Change is coming.
The drama has already begun with President Brendan Shanahan moving on from GM Kyle Dubas shortly after the season ended.
For the past five seasons, the Leafs have relied on their "Core 4" to power them to success. That core is made up of centers John Tavares and Auston Matthews, as well as wingers Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
After five seasons, the "Core 4," while bringing a ton of regular-season success, hasn't got it done in the playoffs. To get that 14th Stanley Cup in franchise history and the first in 56 years, the Leafs could part ways with one of those four. So who will it be?
Which of the Core 4 Leaves?
To get us started, we can look at the next team odds for all four of these players. Note these odds are for where the player will be at the start of next season, except for Auston Matthews, whose odds are for the 24-25 season.
|John Tavares||Auston Matthews||Mitch Marner||William Nylander|
|Toronto -5000||Toronto -500||Toronto -260||Toronto -220|
|NY Rangers +1000||Arizona +500||Los Angeles +600||Calgary +600|
|Pittsburgh +1600||Chicago +600||Winnipeg +750||Washington +600|
|Chicago +1600||NY Rangers +1000||Vancouver +750||Minnesota +600|
|NY Islanders +5000||Los Angeles +1000||Colorado +750||Vancouver +600|
All four players are favored to stay in Toronto, and that kind of makes sense. Toronto doesn't want to get rid of any of these players, but they'll have to move one in order to either acquire that missing piece or make some room for upgrades elsewhere on the roster.
At -220 to stay in T.O., oddsmakers believe William Nylander will be the sacrifice for the Leafs' retool. And there are a few really good reasons for why that is.
The first reason is production. Since 2018-19, Nylander is fourth in both total production and points per game for the four players in question.
- Mitch Marner: 424 points in 348 games (1.22 per game)
- Auston Matthews: 410 points in 337 games (1.22 per game)
- John Tavares: 354 points in 360 games (0.98 per game)
- William Nylander: 295 points in 336 games (0.88 per game)
If Toronto moves on from any of these four players, it's going to be the one that brings the least to the table offensively.
Nylander's contract will be the second reason he's the tribute to the Leafs' retool. While the salary cap is going up $1 million, that's not really enough to squeeze in either of Toronto's forwards making eight figures. Nylander's $6.962 million cap hit for one more year is very digestible for any team looking to bring him in.
That combination of production and easy-to-squeeze-in cap hit makes Nylander an attractive target for a number of NHL teams.
Why Not The Others?
I know Leafs' fans are saying Tavares needs to be the player to make way. But with a full no-move clause, Tavares is in complete control over his immediate future and he doesn't want to go anywhere.
John Tavares on his no-movement clause: "I love it here. I made a commitment to be here for seven years. I want to be here."— Steven Ellis (@SEllisHockey) May 15, 2023
That's why there's a 98% implied odds that Tavares stays in Toronto for the 2023-24 season.
When it comes to Auston Matthews, there's no reason to trade him. The 25-year-old is second in the NHL for goals in the past five seasons with 225. Only three centers have 200+ goals since 18-19. That's Leon Drasaitl (231), Matthews and Connor McDavid (216). That's it. That's the list. If the Leafs' next GM trades Matthews, he isn't going to find another player like him.
Marner doesn't score the same number of goals as Matthews or play down the middle like Tavares, but he's the fifth-highest-scoring player in the league since 2018-19 with 424 points. He's also one of the most versatile players in the NHL.
He plays in all three situations (5-on-5, PP, PK) and his coach has even played him on defense.
We might be seeing Mitch Marner on defense this season. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/9YPqEK9l3d— theScore (@theScore) September 30, 2022
A player as productive and trusted as Marner isn't getting traded any time soon. And so that leaves William Nylander as the odd man out. Sorry, Willy.