The Toronto Maple Leafs have a head coach to hire and some rebuilding to engage in during the offseason. Also, the rumours about Mitch Marner continue to spin. Some are likely facts, but some are also obviously fiction. Which is which? Who knows for sure?

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at three rumours that might impact the team during the offseason.

Item 1: Is Craig Berube the Front-Runner for the Coaching Position 

As Maple Leafs fans know, management is actively searching for a new head coach following Sheldon Keefe’s dismissal, and former St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube has emerged as a frontrunner among the candidates. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ 4 Worst Seasons in Team History

As The Hockey News reported, Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman believes that Berube is the guy until he’s told otherwise. Friedman had earlier reported that the Toronto management team met with Berube over the weekend. Despite also planning to meet with former Los Angeles Kings coach Todd McLellan, Friedman has expressed confidence in Berube’s potential appointment.

Friedman also noted that, while Berube seems to be the leading candidate, the hiring process might extend due to General Manager Brad Treliving’s methodical approach. Treliving knows the importance of being thorough and not rushing the decision, indicating that the team will take its time to select the right candidate. Berube’s extensive experience, including leading the Blues to a Stanley Cup victory in 2019, makes him a strong contender for the position.

Item 2: Are the Maple Leafs Interested in Brett Pesce?

The Maple Leafs are also rumoured to be interested in acquiring Brett Pesce, a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) from the Carolina Hurricanes, to bolster their defence. Pesce, a 29-year-old right-shot, penalty-killing defenseman, has played his entire nine-season NHL career with the Hurricanes. While he’s expected to receive a significant raise on his next contract (over his current $4.025 million cap hit), he’s likely to be a hot commodity during this off-season. There always seems to be a scarcity of players with his defensive profile.

Related: Why Marner Trade Talk to Predators Has Picked Up Steam

Sportsnet’s Luke Fox recently ranked Pesce as the eighth-best player and the second-best defenseman expected to be available in this year’s UFA class. (He listed Florida’s Brandon Montour as the top defenseman.) Fox noted that two things might push Pesce to become a UFA. First, there have been frequent trade rumours surrounding him due to his valuable skill set. Second, the Hurricanes have salary cap constraints with several key players (Martin Necas, Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, and Teuvo Teravainen) also approaching the end of their contracts; Carolina’s management faces tough decisions, which might result in Pesce hitting the open market.

Pesce would be an attractive addition to the Maple Leafs for several reasons. His reliability and defensive skills are evident. He averaged 20:17 of ice time across 70 games with the Hurricanes, scoring three goals and 10 assists. He would address a critical need. The team faces a shortage of defensemen signed beyond this season. Several significant decisions must be made regarding UFAs T.J. Brodie, Joel Edmundson, Ilya Lyubushkin, and restricted free agent Timothy Liljegren. With only Morgan Rielly providing long-term stability, Pesce’s experience and defensive prowess would significantly strengthen Toronto’s blue line.

Item 3: Is a Trade the Best Thing for Marner?

Many Maple Leafs fans argue that a trade might be best for both the Maple Leafs and Marner. That said, Marner’s future is up to him. If he genuinely wants to stay with the Maple Leafs, he should renegotiate a favourable contract. He’s one of the top wingers in the NHL. A 100-point player is not easily replaced.

Related: Maple Leafs & Mitch Marner Are at a Crossroads

However, often co-writer Stan Smith sent me a note that he’s been getting the vibe since late March that Marner might want to play somewhere else. A tipoff was that when Marner was asked about his ankle sprain, he replied curtly, “I’ve been watching every game. You guys have been talking about it every single game.” Marner added: “You guys can say what you want. It’s behind me now. Stuff happened.”  

Marner overreacted to an innocuous question. Then, in the last few days, James Mirtle of The Athletic alleged Marner hired security to ward off reporters and harass them. 

If this is true, and Mirtle is a credible reporter with a strong reputation for reporting the facts, it shows, at the very least, that Marner feels he needs protection either from the media or fans. Marner’s statement alluded to players on the Maple Leafs being looked at as “gods” and fits in with that. At some point, certain players in all professional sports become more than just players. They become celebrities. With that comes a lot more scrutiny and a lot less privacy. That could happen in a hockey city like Toronto, and maybe it has. 

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Marner was married last summer, so he might have plans to raise a family. Does he feel safe and secure with the celebrity status he’s gained in this market? Maybe he feels he would have more privacy and his family would be safer in a market where hockey players are left alone away from the rink. If that is the case, it might be time for Marner to move on.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Pucks flying everywhere for the Maple Leafs. Some bounces will be interesting, and fans should hear news about the coaching situation shortly. After that, July 1 is looming. The team will face several changes. The offseason promises to be, as always, interesting.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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