In his fight at the end of the season, Mark Giordano set out one priority in choosing his next move on the cusp of free rein: win.
So throw it in the pile of those who still believe in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Showcasing The Passion, Giordano signed a two-year, $1.6 million contract with his hometown club. His median annual salary of $800,000, a fraction of what was valued on the open market, is just above the veterans’ minimum.
Giordano, 38, arrived in Toronto on a trade deadline with the Seattle Cracken that made him their first captain in their first season since being drafted by the Calgary Flames. He stepped in and immediately helped shore up the Leafs’ bottom pair, forming an undeniably effective, if somewhat protected, partnership with Timothy Lilliegren.
He spent most of his minutes in a seven-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning along with Justin Hall, continuing to show decent results.
The former Norris Trophy winner scored 35 points in 75 games between Seattle and Toronto.
Giordano’s deal is one of many cost-effective deals that Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs think tank are set to broker this offseason as he continues to build around his high-priced core. While it’s possible a big move will free up some cash, management remains adamant after six consecutive first-round losses, indicating they plan to move forward with basically the same group.
That core includes Morgan Rilly, who will gobble up the extra $1 million tied to the NHL’s salary cap and some of it while he’s owed a $2.5 million raise.
While it’s undoubtedly a logical and valuable move, Giordano’s extension raises questions about other defenders under the team’s control.
Behind Rilly and in addition to Giordano, Jake Muzzin and Rasmus Sandin also play on the left flank. Mazzin had a nightmare season but rebounded in the playoffs and remains an important part of the team’s beating heart. Sandin, meanwhile, has been out of the game since acquiring Giordano following an injury in late March. He was promoted to the active roster during the first round but did not make the roster.
On the surface, Mazzin is an obvious trade candidate, but there is a no-trade clause in the contract that includes two more seasons at a cost of $5.625 million. Sandin is a restricted free agent after the last season of his entry-level contract was burned before he could establish himself as a full-time NHL defenseman.
It’s possible Muzzin or Sandin could be traded in the off-season, though it’s likely only the latter has any value on the open market. Whether he’s a mainstay in the lineup or used in a trade that returns the missing piece, at some point Sandin, the asset, has to start working for the Leafs.
Another interesting summer in the Land of Leaves continues.
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