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31 in 31

Three questions facing Toronto Maple Leafs

Marner contract, Nylander return to form among concerns

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs.


[Maple Leafs 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]


1. Will Mitchell Marner sign?

For the second consecutive offseason, the Maple Leafs are trying to sign a high-level restricted free agent before training camp begins. Last year, forward William Nylander did not sign his contract until minutes before the 5 p.m. ET deadline on Dec. 1 to be able to play in 2018-19. 

Now Marner, who had an NHL career-high 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists) last season and led the Maple Leafs in scoring each of the past two seasons, is the one without a contract. 

"It's really status quo at this point. We were sure hopeful to have it done in the spring," general manager Kyle Dubas told TSN earlier this month. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to do that. We'll just keep working at it and working with (Marner's agent) Darren Ferris and working with Mitch. Obviously, he is a huge part of what we do in every regard and we are hopeful he is going to be a Leaf for a very, very long time."

Marner said he is unlikely to attend training camp without a contract and has explored the possibility of training with the Zurich of the National League.

Video: Marner, Marchand land at No. 4 and No. 5 on the list


2. Will William Nylander bounce back?

Nylander struggled last season after returning to the lineup Dec. 6, having missed the first 28 games while negotiating a new contract. He had 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 54 regular-season games after he had 61 points in each of his first two NHL seasons.

The 23-year-old performed well at the 2019 IIHF World Championship for Sweden, leading the tournament in scoring with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in eight games.

"I learned a lot last season, how it is going through really tough times," Nylander said. "I had three points my first 20 games after returning, and that's never happened in my life before. I knew it wasn't going for me, and going through that stuff, you learn the mindset of how you have to think and work every day to get back to playing like you can. I don't think I was really where I could be at the entire year. It felt good at the World Championships, which was maybe a little late (to find my game), but it was good to get back to knowing how I can play." 

Video: 31 in 31: Toronto Maple Leafs 2019-20 season preview


3. Who will be the backup goalie?

Garret Sparks spent much of last season as the backup behind Frederik Andersen, going 8-9-1 with a 3.15 goals-against average and .902 save percentage before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson less than a week before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sparks was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights on July 23, leaving a competition to fill the role in training camp.

Hutchinson was 2-3-0 with a 2.64 GAA and .914 save percentage in five games with the Maple Leafs. He signed a one-year contract June 27 and will be challenged in camp by veteran Michal Neuvirth, who was signed to a professional tryout contract July 23 after going 1-4-1 with a 4.27 GAA and .859 save percentage in seven games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season.

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