Maple Leafs ‘No Longer a Championship Destination’: Report

Joel Edmundson and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

Getty Joel Edmundson and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

One of the first transactions in free agency saw Jeff Skinner signing with the Edmonton Oilers instead of his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

NHL insider Chris Johnston, speaking on The Chris Johnston Show episode recorded on July 2, revealed that despite the Maple Leafs’ pitch to have Skinner play on a line with star players Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Skinner opted for the Oilers and the duo comprised of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“He’s going there [Edmonton] clearly to win. I mean, he could have signed for one year and $3 million in about ten spots,” Johnston said. “I know the Leafs were among the teams that had talked to him and were trying to pitch him in the idea, ‘Hey, you can play alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on our team!'”

Echoing that report, Erik Beaston of Bleacher Report, claimed Toronto is “no longer a championship destination” in a column published on July 4.

“The Toronto Maple Leafs have been quieter than most in free agency thus far, making news for deals that did not get done as opposed to those that did,” Beaston wrote. “That Skinner turned down the opportunity to go to the team and specifically play with Matthews and Marner suggests a change in the NHL universe.”

The Oilers reached the Stanley Cup Final in the 2024 postseason, ultimately falling to the Florida Panthers in Game 7. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, have not appeared in the finals since they last won it in 1967.

Oilers’ Recent Success Outshines Leafs’ Struggles

The Maple Leafs have consistently struggled in the playoffs. Other franchises have eliminated Toronto in the first round in six out of the last eight seasons.

The Oilers, in comparison, have advanced past the first round three consecutive seasons reaching the conference finals, the second round, and lastly the finals in 2024.

Despite having a talented roster featuring Matthews and Marner, Toronto’s steady failures to get over the hump, even if it’s just advancing one round into the postseason, seems to be impacting their appeal to convince free agents of signing with the franchise.

“For all of the prestige and honor that comes with playing for the Maple Leafs, an organization that is to hockey what the New York Yankees are to baseball, its inability to get over the hump and win a championship is astonishing,” Beaston wrote. “That Toronto is Skinner’s hometown team and that he had never played in a single playoff game, but still passed on the opportunity to suit up for the Leafs only highlights that the team is no longer the championship destination it was previously for players looking to make money in the pursuit of making history.”

Leafs’ Playoff Failures Impacting Player Attraction

The Oilers might have failed to win the 2024 Cup but reaching the final round was more than enticing enough for Skinner to sign with the team instead of the Leafs.

Skinner signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Oilers on July 1 after the Buffalo Sabres bought out the remainder of his $72 million contract.

“Skinner, on his buyout where he had many options, is now playing on a one-year $3 million contract. I know he’s still getting paid by Buffalo, so financially he’s doing well. Clearly, he’s going there to win,” Johnston noted.

As Beaston pointed out, Skinner has yet to play in a playoff game at age 32 and has more than 1,000 regular-season outings (1,006) under his belt. Signing with the Oilers offers him not only the chance to make his playoff debut but also a strong opportunity to make a deep run.

According to Spotrac’s free-agent tracker, the Maple Leafs signed Chris Tanev to a $27 million deal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a $14 million contract. The Oilers, on the other hand, didn’t sign any player to a contract larger than $8 million.

It’s fair to say, however, that Edmonton found better value players in free agency than Toronto.

Toronto lost Skinner to Edmonton. Insider Nick Kypreos revealed the Leafs overpaid for signing Chris Tanev, an aging defenseman. Moreover, the Oilers brought back all of their Stanley Cup Final-run main contributors except Sam Carrick (signed with the New York Rangers) and Warren Foegele (to the Los Angeles Kings).

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