Mitchell Marner will not be part of any potential roster changes the Toronto Maple Leafs will look at during the offseason, general manager Kyle Dubas said Wednesday.
The forward and Auston Matthews combined to score one goal, by Matthews, in Toronto’s 4-3 elimination by the Montreal Canadiens in their best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round.
Dubas defended both forwards and said disposing of players of their caliber because of a seven-game series would “be foolish.”
“I understand the fans and they can feel any way they want, and media are entitled to feel any way that they want, but these are two awfully great players that showed it over the entire regular season,” Dubas said.
Marner led the Maple Leafs and finished fourth in the NHL with 67 points (20 goals, 47 assists) in 55 games. Matthews won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL goals leader with 41 and was second on Toronto and fifth in the League with 66 points.
The postseason was a different story. Marner has not scored in his past 18 playoff games.
“Over time, and I know as we go through these seasons and these playoffs, that the story will be different for them in the future in terms of the way people speak about them following the playoffs,” Dubas said. “I have no doubt, as we progress through this journey with our group, that the ways that they’re viewed as playoff performers will be viewed much different in the future.”
Team president Brendan Shanahan said the goal is to keep the core of Matthews, Marner and fellow forwards John Tavares and William Nylander intact despite Toronto losing its first playoff series for a fifth consecutive season.
“I’ll say this about our top four: I think any team would love to have any one of them,” Shanahan said. “But we like them, we want them here. They’re special players. They’re all deeply, deeply committed here to win in Toronto.”
With 12 players eligible to become unrestricted free agents including forwards Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Zach Hyman, Alex Galchenyuk and goalie Frederik Andersen on July 28, Dubas said there will be changes to the roster.
Thornton said he has not made a decision on his future.
“This came so sudden, I really haven’t had time to think about it,” the 41-year-old said. “First and foremost, I have to be a dad for a little bit here. I feel really really healthy and really really good … and that’s a good sign.”
The Maple Leafs would like to re-sign Hyman but Dubas said his potential asking price, coupled with the team’s ability to fit him in under the fixed salary cap, are factors. The 28-year-old has scored 185 points (86 goals, 99 assists) in 345 games with Toronto.
There is mutual interest between Spezza and the Maple Leafs about a potential return but Dubas said coach Sheldon Keefe would have a say too. The 37-year-old scored 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 54 games this season and was one of Toronto’s top performers in the playoffs with three goals and two assists.
The emergence of goalie Jack Campbell has made Andersen’s return doubtful. The 31-year-old is 149-74-36 with a 2.79 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and 13 shutouts in 268 games for the Maple Leafs.
“I’ll definitely look back on these five years with a lot of good memories,” Andersen said. “So with regards to the future, I don’t know what’s in store yet, we’ll have to see.”
Andersen injured his knee and missed 23 games. That opened the door for Campbell, who set an NHL record for wins to start a season with 11, breaking the mark of 10 set by Montreal’s Carey Price in 2016-17. He finished 17-3-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
He is expected to be the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 goalie next season and received an endorsement from Matthews while the two embraced after Toronto’s 3-1 loss to Montreal in Game 7 Monday.
“He’s such a great teammate and so supportive,” Campbell said. “He basically just said he was proud, and we will get it done together.”
Dubas said the Maple Leafs would be interested in retaining Galchenyuk, who scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 26 games after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for forward prospect Egor Korshkov and defenseman David Warsofsky on Feb. 15.