Garret Sparks, Jake Gardiner, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Sparks, Kadri, Marner, Woll, Gardiner

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I’m not sure how other Toronto Maple Leafs fans are engaging this off-season, but I’ve given up looking at the early-morning news to catch action about the Mitch Marner negotiations. I keep thinking about William Nylander’s recent comment that there’s “lots of time” left. Nylander might have nailed this one, hinting that fans are in for long, protracted negotiations.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot: What Should Fans Know?

While we are waiting for Marner’s decision, there’s been other player news and a rumor or two. In this post, I will share some of the circulating news and rumors about the Maple Leafs.

Item One: Garret
Sparks Is the Longest-Tenured Maple Leafs Player

I never considered this, but when Nazem Kadri was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, he made Garret Sparks the longest-tenured player in the Maple Leafs organization. Sparks, whose standing with the team is in question after his demotion as the backup to goalie Frederik Andersen, was drafted in 2011.

Toronto Maple Leafs Garret Sparks
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

He had great success with the Toronto Marlies, but hasn’t honed his game with the big club. It will be interesting to see if he’s the longest-tenured player for long. I think we’ll be hearing more about Sparks this off-season.

Item Two: Why
Nazem Kadri Nixed the Calgary Flames Trade

A loyal Maple Leafs player to the end, Kadri recently revealed why he blocked the trade to the Calgary Flames. It wasn’t that he thought the Flames were a poor team or organization, but he hoped against hope that he would be able to remain on the Maple Leafs roster this season.

AsKadri told Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on their Sportsnet program,

“So what happened is they had a deal in place and they wanted me to move my no-trade clause. But you know, obviously, for me, it was no disrespect to Calgary or the Flames organization. I love their team and I love the direction they’re headed. I just figured that had I declined, I would have had a better opportunity of being a Maple Leaf next year and that’s really what it came down to. I wanted to play for the Leafs next year. I wanted to be a part of that. In declining that trade I had aspirations of being a Leaf and we know clearly that didn’t happen.”

Nazem Kadri
Former Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Kadri finally saw the writing on the wall. He wrapped up his feelings in a short admission, “They (the Maple Leafs) had other plans.” If Kadri had hard feelings because of the trade, he didn’t say so during this interview.

Related: Was It Time for the Maple Leafs to Trade Nazem Kadri?

That said, he must feel he has something to prove after being dumped by the team he had grown up playing for. He said, “For me, it’s about going in to next season with a chip on my shoulder. I know what I’m capable of and I want to just prove a point more than anything. So I’ll be looking to have a big year next year.”

He added that he had “talked to everybody in the (Colorado) organization and they’re ecstatic to have me so it’s nice to be wanted” (my emphasis). I respect Kadri’s attitude since the trade and I hope he becomes a 40-goal scorer this season.

Item Three: Will
Mitch Marner Pull Another William Nylander?

Although Maple Leafs fans seem to be holding their breath waiting for restricted free agent (RFA) Marner to sign, perhaps they should settle in for drama similar to Nylander’s, last season’s hold out.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Andrew Berkshire spoke to Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup and discussed the ongoing contract negotiations. He stated that he was certain Marner would re-sign with the Maple Leafs; however, his short-and-simple prognostication was that it won’t happen until later in the summer.  

Related: Senators Sign Ennis With Future in Mind

Why? Because, as Berkshire noted, it’s just before
training camp starts when the pressure begins to fall on the player to sign and
the leverage shifts to the team and away from the player.

Item Four: Goalie Joseph Woll Is Being Tutored by
the Maple Leafs

As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported on July 10, 21-year-old goalie prospect Joseph Woll, who was drafted in the third round (62nd overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and recently finished his NCAA career at Boston College, was able to travel, practice, and train with the team for the final five weeks of the season – even during the seven-game playoff loss to the Boston Bruins.

Joseph Woll Boston College
Joseph Woll, when he was with Boston College (Image courtesy of Boston College)

General manager Kyle Dubas offered Woll the opportunity to shadow the team, and Woll accepted. He was with the Maple Leafs during practices and sat in the press box during games. The young goalie reported, “It was great being around the team and getting to know some the guys on a daily basis and seeing what they go through and how they prepare and meeting with the coaching staff and just kind of getting the feel for pro hockey.”

He also reported that new teammates Andersen, Sparks, and Michael Hutchinson all welcomed him. He singled out two goalies specifically when he stated, “Both Freddy and Sparky were awesome to me when I first came in.”

Item Five: What Happens to Marlies Goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo this Season?

The undrafted 25-year-old, Finnish Kasimir Kaskisuo was a borderline ECHL goalie until Calvin Pickard and Curtis McElhinney were waived by the Maple Leafs. Suddenly, he became the Marlies’ starter. Although his regular season could have been stronger, Kaskisuo carried the Marlies to two playoff upsets. In fact, he was so good that Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe started him over Hutchinson with the Marlies’ season on the line.

Related: Can Alexander Kerfoot Replace Nazem Kadri?

Kaskisuo enters the 2019-20 season on an expiring contract and it’s up in the air what happens to him. Andersen is strong, but who’s going to play behind him remains unsettled.

Item Six: Might the Maple Leafs Still Sign Gardiner?

Although I don’t believe Gardiner wants this to be true, there’s a rumor that the Maple Leafs are “still in the game for Jake Gardiner.” That rumor, reported by Justin Cuthbert of Yahoo Sports Canada, focused on Gardiner’s perceived health.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Former Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gardiner’s ailing back during the second half of last season might have scared teams off, and the rumor is that he doesn’t have the kind of leverage that would demand a long-term contract from another team. If that’s accurate, the Maple Leafs might become an appealing alternative as Gardiner attempts to rebuild the kind of value that would allow him to sign for more money and a longer term.

As Cuthbert suggests, and all Maple Leafs fans know, Gardiner’s signing depends in part on the outcome of Marner’s negotiations. The team has only about $9.5 million left to sign Marner. Could they trade Cody Ceci to free up cap space for Gardiner? After the way he was treated by the fans last season, would Gardiner even consider signing a short-term deal with the Maple Leafs – especially one where he might lose salary over his previous contract?

As Cuthbert suggests, and all Maple Leafs fans know, Gardiner’s signing depends in part on the outcome of Marner’s negotiations. The team has only about $9.5 million left to sign Marner. Could they trade Cody Ceci to free up cap space for Gardiner? After the way he was treated by the fans last season, would Gardiner even consider signing a short-term deal with the Maple Leafs – especially one where he might lose salary over his previous contract?

What’s Next?

There is some recent noise that Marner might be offered an offer sheet by the Columbus Blue Jackets. What happens with that rumor we shall soon see. In the meantime, Maple Leafs fans should keep their ear to the ground about what’s happening with the team. The team is shaping up for next season, but obviously not all the action has been completed.

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