TORONTO (Sep. 3) — Whether you revere John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander for their wondrous scoring exploits in the regular season — or detest them for repetitive deficiency in the Stanley Cup playoffs — this season will be the last for the talented nucleus of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So says a person that recently worked for the hockey club under Brendan Shanahan.
“It doesn’t matter if the Leafs miss the playoffs, get knocked out again in the first round or win the Stanley Cup, one of Matthews, Marner or Nylander will be traded — either at the regular–season deadline or next summer,” said the person, wishing to not be identified. “Management knows and has constantly discussed this scenario, understanding there is no way for the team to maintain, or improve, its defense without such a move. That includes re–signing Morgan Rielly, or finding a replacement. After the coming season, it’s over for the Big 4 up front.”
This prediction dovetails with a blog I wrote here nearly one month ago (https://bit.ly/3itRUiM). Nor does it require a mathematics degree to comprehend. With more than $40 million of a flat, $81.5 million salary cap committed to the aforementioned, the Maple Leafs cannot afford to retain Rielly, whose asking price in unrestricted free agency next year is likely to exceed $7 million. Even filling out the roster with cheap, interchangeable parts — necessary, again, this off–season after losing first–line winger Zach Hyman to Edmonton — will become an arduous chore if general manager Kyle Dubas does not move one of his mega contracts. “Kyle is a good man; he takes too much of the heat for decisions made by the hockey department,” said the former employee. “He is, understandably, a bit stubborn when it comes to the high draft choices he signed (Nylander, Matthews, Marner). Unfortunately for the Leafs, the pandemic stunted any growth in the cap figure. Which obviously wasn’t foreseeable when the contracts were negotiated. And, Kyle did well by keeping trade and movement restrictions out of all three. That said, he has no alternative but to make a move he’d rather not make before [the 2022–23] season.”
ONE OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS BIG THREE DRAFT CHOICES WILL HEAD IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION AFTER THE COMING SEASON. MARK BLINCH GETTY IMAGES/NHL
Tavares is the lone member of the nucleus locked in for another four years at $11 million against the cap. He cannot be traded, demoted, put on waivers or bought out. There are no–such barriers pertaining to the younger three forwards. It’s rather comical to fathom that T.J. Brodie, Justin Holl and Wayne Simmonds have movement constraints, but Matthews does not. Of course, Matthews, in return for relinquishing such a clause, was granted unrestricted free agency after his first pro contract. Which is virtually unheard of. No. 34 can walk away from the Leafs at age 27, after the 2023–24 season. As can Nylander, but at 29. Marner is signed through the 2024–25 schedule. He’ll also be 29 when first qualified to become a UFA. And, it’s all–but certain that one of the three will enter his final season with the Blue and White this October. I wondered which player the ex–Leafs employee thinks will be the first to go. “Don’t be shocked if it’s Auston,” he replied. “If he provides any indication he’ll look elsewhere after his contract, the Leafs may not have a choice. That’s the gamble they took by granting him free agency at 27. It doesn’t mean the Leafs will be able to trade Auston. He carries a big ticket and another team will encounter the same contract deadline. Plus, there’s no playoff resume yet. But, I sense he’s the guy management could target.
“I mean, when have the Leafs ever been able to keep their best players, regardless of circumstance?”
As mentioned, the underlying issue — interminable with the Leafs — is the blue line. If the club has to move forward without Rielly, as it did this summer with Hyman, there is no answer to the conundrum. A defense unit with Jake Muzzin, Brodie, Holl, Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin will hardly send waves of panic through the opposition. Sandin may become an every day player, but his size and weight won’t be conducive to the grind of the long NHL schedule… not to mention four grueling playoff rounds. At the moment, there is no chance the Leafs can deploy an elite defenseman after this season, whether or not you contend Rielly belongs in that category. Without question, he’s the best of the lot. And, he’ll walk before next year at this time, just as Hyman did last month.
Trading Rielly for a commensurate player, and salary, is not possible under the current cap figure.
NHL ROOKIE CARDS — Part 1
While browsing through my collection of hockey cards this week, I took photos of the most–valuable rookie items dating from 1970 to 1992. They include the first–year O–Pee–Chee cards of the following 64 players and coaches: Bobby Clarke, Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming, Rick Middleton, coaches Don Cherry and Scotty Bowman, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Doug Wilson, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Michel Goulet, Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Dino Ciccarelli, Peter Stastny, Denis Savard, Larry Murphy, Dale Hawerchuk, Grant Fuhr, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens, Phil Housley, Brian Bellows, Bernie Nicholls, Steve Larmer, Steve Yzerman, Dave Anderychuk, Doug Gilmour, Cam Neely, Chris Chelios, Pat LaFontaine, Mario Lemieux, Al MacInnis, Wendel Clark, Luc Robitaille, Adam Oates, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Joe Sakic, Brian Leetch, Jaromir Jagr, Mats Sundin, Sergei Fedorov, Rob Blake, Curtis Joseph, coach Pat Burns, Martin Brodeur, Mike Modano, Vacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Ed Belfour, Mark Recchi, Eric Lindros, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Bure, Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne and Dominik Hasek.
All but Middleton, Bellows, Nicholls, Clark and Joseph are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
All of my rookie cards are in the same condition as the day I purchased the full sets — in the corresponding NHL seasons. This first of two parts begins with Bobby Clarke (1970–71) and ends with Patrick Roy (1986–87).
Prices quoted are the highest figure posted, for each item, on E–BAY.
FROM THE 1970–71 O–PEE–CHEE SET. BOBBY CLARKE. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $500.00 CAD.
FROM THE 1974-75 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LANNY McDONALD. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $945.82 CAD. BORJE SALMING. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $650.00 CAD.
FROM THE 1974–75 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LEFT–TO–RIGHT… RICK MIDDLETON. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $1,259.84 CAD. DENIS POTVIN. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $1,100.00 CAD. DON CHERRY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $12,610.99 CAD. SCOTTY BOWMAN. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $600.00 CAD.
LEFT: FROM THE 1977–78 O–PEE–CHEE SET. CLARK GILLIES. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $213.13 CAD. BRYAN TROTTIER. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $10,709.34 CAD. RIGHT: FROM THE 1978–79 O–PEE–CHEE SET: MIKE BOSSY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $6,305.50 CAD. DOUG WILSON. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $1,261.09 CAD.
FROM THE 1979–80 O–PEE–CHEE SET. WAYNE GRETZKY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $129,999.99 CAD.
FROM THE 1980–81 O–PEE–CHEE SET. MARK MESSIER. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $33,999.99 CAD.
FROM THE 1980–81 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LEFT–TO–RIGHT… MICHEL GOULET. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $1,819.65 CAD. RAY BOURQUE. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $3,783.29 CAD. MIKE GARTNER. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $1,261.09 CAD.
FROM THE 1981–82 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LEFT–TO–RIGHT… GLENN ANDERSON. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $250.00 CAD. PAUL COFFEY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $2,000.00 CAD. JARI KURRI. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $4,729.12 CAD.
FROM THE 1981–82 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LEFT–TO–RIGHT: DINO CICCARELLI. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $450.00 CAD. PETER STASTNY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $788.19 CAD. DENIS SAVARD. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $350.00 CAD. LARRY MURPHY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $477.96 CAD.
FROM THE 1982–83 O–PEE–CHEE SET. DALE HAWECHUK. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $4,413.85 CAD.
FROM THE 1982–83 O–PEE–CHEE SET. GRANT FUHR. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $500.00 CAD. RON FRANCIS. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $750.00 CAD.
FROM THE 1983–84 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LEFT–TO–RIGHT: SCOTT STEVENS. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $300.00 CAD. PHIL HOUSLEY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $150.00 CAD. BRIAN BELLOWS. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $94.58 CAD. BERNIE NICHOLLS. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $350.00 CAD.
FROM THE 1983–84 O–PEE–CHEE SET. ONE OF THE LARGEST BLUNDERS IN MODERN HOCKEY CARD HISTORY. HALL–OF–FAMER STEVE LARMER’S ROOKIE ITEM IS ACTUALLY A PHOTO OF TEAMMATE STEVE LUDZIK. WHILE LARMER’S IMAGE APPEARS ON LUDZIK’S ROOKIE CARD. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY (FOR LARMER’S NAME/LUDZIK’S PHOTO): $399.99 CAD.
FROM THE 1984–85 O–PEE–CHEE SET. STEVE YZERMAN. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $2,250.00 CAD.
FROM THE 1984–85 O–PEE–CHEE SET. DAVE ANDREYCHUK. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $800.00 CAD. DOUG GILMOUR. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $3,783.30 CAD.
FROM THE 1984–85 O–PEE–CHEE SET. LEFT–TO–RIGHT… CAM NEELY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $1,765.53 CAD. CHRIS CHELIOS. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $750.00 CAD. PAT LaFONTAINE. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $400.00 CAD.
FROM THE 1985–86 O–PEE–CHEE SET. MARIO LEMIEUX. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $25,221.98 CAD.
FROM THE 1985–86 O–PEE–CHEE SET. AL MacINNIS. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $600.00 CAD. FROM THE 1986–87 O–PEE–CHEE SET. WENDEL CLARK. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $6,305.48 CAD.
FROM THE 1986–87 O–PEE–CHEE SET. PATRICK ROY. TOP PRICE ON E–BAY: $4,500.00 CAD.
SO, JUST FOR FUN…
SELLING ALL OF THESE CARDS FOR THE TOP PRICE ON E–BAY WOULD EARN $268,736.88 CAD.
NEXT BLOG: NHL ROOKIE CARDS FROM 1987–88 TO 1991–92.