TORONTO — The Maple Leafs will get nothing in return for Zach Hyman when he hits the open market on Wednesday. And general manager Kyle Dubas can live with that.
According to TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger, Hyman is set to sign a long-term deal with the Edmonton Oilers when free agency officially begins next week. Dubas had subsequently been engaged with Oilers’ GM Ken Holland on a sign-and-trade that would have allowed Hyman to ink a max-term eight-year deal with Edmonton.
But Dreger reported on Saturday those talks proved fruitless. Dubas and the Leafs placed a high value on the cap savings that eighth year would bring Edmonton, and the Oilers weren’t willing to meet their expectations.
“We know what the value is of the eighth year with the cap savings and so if there's a fair deal to be made to do that, we'll do that,” Dubas told reporters on a Zoom call Saturday, following the conclusion of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. “But we've been in that situation before [too], and the other GMs aren't helping you out there; they’re pulling the pin from the grenade and they're throwing it to you. I know there's a narrative that we should just get something but you're saving a team significant dollars on the salary cap and that comes with the cost, and we're not going to bend on [what we think is fair].”
Hyman, 29, has played the entirety of his career to date in Toronto, amassing 85 goals and 185 points in 345 career games. Dreger reiterated on Saturday that the deal in place for Hyman now with Edmonton will be for seven years and is likely to carry an average annual value of $5.5 million.
That was a contract far too rich for the cap-strapped Leafs to match. Toronto only has about $9.4 million in space for next season with several areas to address, including its now-depleted forward depth and the backup goaltender position.
Since Dubas had previously given Hyman and his agent Todd Reynolds permission to speak with other teams ahead of free agency, the news of Hyman’s imminent departure on Saturday was hardly surprising. But Dubas only doubled-down further on comments he made Wednesday, expressing his unwavering faith in the core of Toronto’s current roster.
"It was fairly clear to us internally based on the discussions…that he was going to be on the move,” Dubas said of Hyman. “And we had done what we could to try to make it work and unfortunately we couldn't get anything [finished]. I think the belief in our group is the group that's going to move ahead and not the group that's been here together for a number of years. [Hyman] is a loss, but we have to pick up and move on.”
Toronto laid some foundation for its long-term future over the weekend, drafting forwards Matthew Knies (from the USHL’s Tri-City Americans) and Ty Voit (from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting), along with goaltender Vyacheslav Peksa (from the MHL’s Irbis Kazan).
But focus remains firmly on the Leafs’ present. As free agency looms, he remains in contact with the Leafs’ own pending UFAs Frederik Andersen, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Foligno and Zach Bogosian, while also scouring the market for viable options.
“Having greater depth and greater versatility in terms of who can come in and out of the lineup [is key],” Dubas said. “On the back end, we added Zach Bogosian last year in free agency and that would be the type of player I think that we're looking at, to fill those voids in terms of penalty killing utility [with more of a] size and strength element. Upfront, I think it's continuing to find a great identity in the bottom six of our team. We’ve come along in that regard but we're not close to where we want to be.”
Dubas did also note he hasn’t spoken with Morgan Rielly, a UFA in 2022, on an extension yet. Toronto will wait to see how the open market for defencemen continues to unfold before heading down that path.
More immediately there’s a need to unearth the right complement to Jack Campbell in the crease. The 29-year-old took over the Leafs’ starter’s net last season and excelled, compiling a .921 save percentage and 2.15 goals-against average in the regular season. Andersen’s return to the Leafs’ is still up in the air, but Dubas wants to make sure Campbell gets the right partner.
“I don't think Jack needs a true mentor at this point. I think he's been through a lot throughout his career,” Dubas said. “He’s got great experience, he's got a great disposition. We're really just looking for the best goalie possible to come in and form as good a tandem as possible and let them get after it, push each other, support each other and be the best duo that they can to help our team.”
While Dubas works to fill in the blanks, Toronto’s bleak recent playoff history continues to loom large. The Leafs have now been eliminated in five straight first-round playoff series, a reality Dubas refuses to sidestep around. In fact, he’d rather keep addressing it head on, up until his team can finally break through.
“We have to get on the attack, get on our toes, and believe in what we're capable of when we're at our best, and just speak openly about it,” he said. “We can either try to block [that past failure] out, or let the pressure come down and we can use the pressure to push us forward. And I think talking openly about it and getting after it and attacking that narrative is the best way for us to go about that as a group.”