The Toronto Maple Leafs expect to have a different look in 2021-22 after failing to win a Stanley Cup Playoff series for a fifth consecutive season.
“The goal here is to win and changes will happen,” forward William Nylander said Wednesday. “That’s just the business of it.”
Forwards Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Zach Hyman and goalie Frederik Andersen are among the 12 Maple Leafs players who can become unrestricted free agents.
Entering his 23rd NHL season at the time, Thornton signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs in October and said he “needed to win a Stanley Cup.”
Toronto fell far short of that goal, losing its best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens. They have lost their first playoff series five straight seasons and have not won a playoff series since 2004.
Thornton, who scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 44 games this season, said he has not made a decision on his future.
“This came so sudden, I really haven’t had time to think about it,” Thornton 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.”
Thornton has a 10-year-old daughter, Ayla, and a 7-year-old son, River. The 41-year-old is No. 14 on the NHL’s all-time scoring list with 1,529 points (425 goals, 1,104 assists) and is sixth in games played with 1,680.
Hyman has scored 185 points (86 goals, 99 assists) in 345 games with the Maple Leafs.
“Honestly I haven’t even had time to think about it,” Hyman said. “I’ve just been digesting what’s happened over the past two weeks and it’s obviously heartbreaking.”
Spezza, who has played for the Maple Leafs on one-year contracts each of the past two seasons, said he’d like to return.
“I would,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of unfinished business. I feel very invested in the group here, and hopeful that I get the opportunity to do that again next year and push this team over the top.”
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 teammate Auston 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.”