Elliotte Friedman discusses the seriousness of an offer sheet threat with RFA Connor Brown, Phil Kessel pays an offseason visit to Toronto, and more in the Friday links.

Leafs Links

Kessel on young Leafs: “It’s always tougher the second year” (TSN)
Phil Kessel explains why he comes back to Toronto in the off season and sheds light on the current Maple Leafs and the pressure that awaits the young team.

On returning to Toronto in the offseason:

All of my friends are here. I lived here for six years. I love this town. They treated me great here. I like to come back and hang out with my friends. I work out with Gary Roberts and we have a good group up there, so that’s fun. It’s a great city to live in and I like it here in the summer.

On his years as a Leaf and the outlook for the Leafs next season:

Through my years here, we always had a lot of good players but we just couldn’t get over the hump. That’s kind of how it happens. We’ll see how they do this year. It’s always tougher the second year. There is a little more pressure. But they’ve got good players there. You never know what will happen. It’s a tough league.

Elliotte Friedman on his latest ’30 Thoughts’ (Fan 590)
The NHL insider discusses the NHL CBA, players not going to the Olympics, the impact of Connor McDavid’s massive deal, Connor Brown’s contract status, the Hurricanes’ ownership situation and the use of long-term injured reserve & offer sheets.

On the possibility of a Connor Brown offer sheet:

I wouldn’t be surprised if there has been conversation. I always think there is conversation. Over the years, I’ve been told that there has been a lot more talk about offer sheets than we’re aware of. It’s just actually doing it that is the issue. I’ve had a couple of guys say to me that the best players don’t hit FA anymore. Four of the biggest contracts that were handed out this summer weren’t for guys who are going to be FAs this year; it’s guys who will be FAs next year — Carey Price, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Cam Fowler and Martin Jones. Teams are already looking at it, and if Tavares signs, it really thins out. I think teams are looking at it and saying, “You don’t get the best players in FA anymore and if you have to improve really quickly…” They think we’re going to get to a day where there is more of them. I know a lot of people look at it and say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I look at a guy like Connor Brown, and it doesn’t take four first-rounders to do it. He is a guy who has gained a lot of respect in the league because of how hard he worked to get here. There were a lot of people who never believed he would be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, and now he is. He works hard and he’s a talented guy, and the Leafs are in a real tight cap crunch. That is the way I think you’re going to see this used, if it does get used, is to really sit there and say, “How can we make life uncomfortable on another team that is our rival?” And the Leafs are going to have some cap issues in a few years.

I’m not surprised that it hasn’t happened because it never seems to, but I look at a guy like Connor Brown and think that we’re getting closer to the day where we are going to see these offer sheets weaponized a little bit. Toronto is going to be tight.

On the McDavid contract as an outlier or a game changer:

I think teams will argue that Connor McDavid is an outlier. As one agent said to me, teams are going to say, “Look, this is a $12.5 million player who has won an Art Ross, a Hart Trophy as MVP, and a Ted Lindsay award at age 20. You got that? Then you can make $12.5 million.” I think the biggest impact is going to have is, what is the next level player going to get? Another agent said, “Players are going to argue, ‘Okay, I know I’m not Connor McDavid, but I’m not $6 million worse than Connor McDavid'”. Now someone is going to say, “McDavid is making $12.5 million; I should get $8.5 million.” That is where the challenge is going to be. Edmonton is already seeing that. What is Draisatl’s next contract going to be? A guy like Ryan Johansen, who is a year away from UFA as a number-one center, what is his next contract going to be? I think that’s going to be the real discussion — not necessarily how many players should be in McDavid’s stratosphere, but what that does for the next level group of guys; the guys that aren’t McDavid but are still really good and can help your team.

Enroth signs in KHL with Dinamo Minsk (PHT)
After a disappointing season that started in Toronto, Jhonas Enroth is off to the KHL. The 29-year-old goalie has signed a one-year deal to play for Dinamo Minsk. Last season, Enroth was signed to be the Maple Leafs’ backup. But he got off to a tough start and ended up in the minors. Eventually, he was traded to the Ducks and played for their AHL affiliate in San Diego.

What We Learned: Lavish Leafs make more dubious decisions (Puck Daddy)
These are upper-class problems, no doubt. When you have good players and plenty of success, you end up paying the price one way or the other. Maybe you hope the cap goes up a little more than it has in recent seasons. Or maybe you think the next two years, before Matthews starts pulling an AAV in the eight figures, is your time to really and truly go for it, then you worry about the rest later. I think that’s probably a good strategy. Pay through the nose for whatever talent you can get your hands on for the short term, connive to get out of any overly onerous deals you may still have around when the tax man comes, and come out the other side with a top-heavy but strong roster that’s truly competitive in the Eastern Conference as the Penguins and Capitals age.

[Paywall] Can new Leafs D Ron Hainsey handle tough minutes? (The Athletic)
Fit wise it makes sense from a traditional standpoint. I’m just still not entirely sure Hainsey will do the job he was intended to do: take on tough minutes and shut down the other team. He’ll get the tough minutes, but the second part of that mission statement is the important part and the one I’m concerned about. It’s not just about the role you play, it’s about what you do with it.

As CBA watch grows, so do signing bonuses (TSN)
The scary thing here if you’re an owner is, barring some sort of intervention or incredible cap squeeze, there’s no obvious recourse. The number of signing bonus money owed in 2020-21 has nearly doubled from where it was just a season ago. If the next couple of off-seasons behave in a similar manner, just how much liability is the league looking at here? At the current rate of 25 per cent and assuming a three per cent growth rate on the NHL’s hard cap, we could be comfortably looking at anywhere from $400 million to $500 million in signing bonuses liabilities – more than double what we are observing in 2017-18.