Five former Leafs still remain without a home for the 2023-24 season
BY RYAN SMITHERAM SEPTEMBER 11, 2023 (9:41)
Per CapFriendly, Jake Gardiner, Nick Ritchie, Phil Kessel, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Aston-Reese are still waiting for PTOs or league-minimum deals, but a few of them may have already played their last NHL game.
It was revealed last week that Phil Kessel, the NHL's ironman, is willing to sacrifice his ironman streak and not be an everyday player in order to land a contract. It's a huge concession to make, but it shows that the 35-year-old wants the opportunity to win his fourth Stanley Cup. Kessel could provide a contender with some depth scoring as he registered 14 goals and 36 points in 82 games last season.
Simmonds skated in just 18 games with the Leafs last season and was waived multiple times to allow younger players to take his spot in the lineup. Simmonds has always been a fan favourite and a great guy to have in the locker room, but has lost more than a step over the past couple of seasons. In addition to losing a step, injuries have also hampered his ability to stay in the lineup.
Gardiner, who was a whipping boy during his time in Toronto, has played just 26 games since 2020-21 season due to a severe back injury that has required multiple surgeries. The 33-year-old was once a fairly productive offensive defenseman, cracking the 50-point mark once and reached the 30-point mark 6 times in his 10-year career so far.
Zach Aston-Reese was brought into Leaf training camp on a PTO last season and turned it into a 1-year deal. He was brought in to provide more physicality to the Leafs' bottom-six as well as a more defensive presence. ZAR skated in 77 games putting up a career-high 10 goals, but just never seemed comfortable in his role in Toronto. He will likely find himself on another PTO somewhere, and could possibly return to Toronto on one, but given that there is only one forward spot available, the 29-year-old will likely choose a team that has more opportunities available for him.
That brings us to Nick Ritchie, whose first season in Toronto was a disaster. He was shipped out to Arizona in the Ilya Lyubushkin trade 2 seasons ago, as he was unable to live up to the $2.5M salary Kyle Dubas had given him. The former first-round pick seemingly found a home in Arizona following the trade, scoring 10 times in 24 games, but once again struggled last season, only scoring 9 times in 58 games before being traded to Calgary. Ritchie is only 27 and could find a home in the bottom-six somewhere.
ASIDE FROM PHIL KESSEL, WHICH FORMER LEAF STANDS THE BEST CHANCE OF SIGNING A NEW DEAL BEFORE THE SEASON BEGINS?
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