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Maple Leafs won't be in 'big-game market' come July 1, GM Dubas says

Focus is re-signing Marner, other restricted free agents with limited NHL salary cap space

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will use NHL salary cap space gained by trading Patrick Marleau to help in their attempts to re-sign their own restricted free agents, including forward Mitchell Marner, but they don't have plans to sign top players from other teams this offseason, according to general manager Kyle Dubas.

"No, the salary cap is going to constrain us big time on July 1," Dubas said Sunday at the Toronto Pride Parade. "We'll probably be looking for guys we can give a great opportunity to, like Tyler Ennis last year who came in and had a great season for us and guys of that nature, but we will not be in the big-game market at all, aside from coming to an agreement with our own guy, Mitch, and working towards that. We all know how important he is to us and to the community."

Dubas said Saturday after the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver that new contracts for pending restricted free agent forwards Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen were "at the finish line." On Sunday, he reiterated that they're working toward getting Marner's done.


[RELATED: Maple Leafs close to re-signing Johnsson, Kapanen after Marleau trade]


"I'm always hopeful it will get done before July 1, but Mitch has his rights," Dubas said. "It's not on Mitch to free us up, he has his rights. He has been a fantastic player for us and person for us. We'll continue to work with (agent) Darrin Ferris and his people, and just carry on."

The NHL announced Saturday that the salary cap for next season will be $81.5 million, a $2 million increase from 2018-19.

Video: Babcock on Patrick Marleau, 2019 NHL Draft picks

The Maple Leafs traded Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday along with a conditional first-round pick and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for a sixth-round pick in 2020. The forward, who had 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists) this season, has one season remaining on a three-year , $18.75 million contract (average annual value of $6.25 million) he signed with Toronto on July 2, 2017.

"It's impossible to quantify what he brought," Dubas said of Marleau, who turns 40 on Sept. 15. "He was unbelievable with our group in the dressing room, off the ice, on the road, you saw it every day, in addition to his contributions to the team on the ice. When you look back on the history of how the Maple Leafs have developed and progressed, Patrick Marleau's contributions are going to be seen as massive. Just the professionalism and calmness he brought to the rink every day and imparted on our young players who are going to be the core of our team for a long time, we can't thank him enough."

The Maple Leafs are no closer to moving Nikita Zaitsev than they were when reports surfaced May 30 that the defenseman requested to be traded, according to Dubas.

"I don't think it's guaranteed at all (that Zaitsev will be traded)," Dubas said. "We've told [Zaitsev and agent Dan Milstein] we will try to work with them and find a solution, but if we can't return a defenseman back and can't stay equal or improve the team, he will be back with the team. But right now, it's status quo."

Zaitsev, who turns 28 on Oct. 29, has five seasons remaining on a seven-year, $31.5 million contract (average annual value of $4.5 million) that he signed May 2, 2017.

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