Anyone who watches hockey in Canada, or follows on social media, knows the name Darren Dreger. He is one of the NHL journalists out there with a high level of league connections and experience. So when he reports on something, there’s at least a heavy dose of accuracy behind it and bettors at Ontario sportsbooks will pay attention.
That’s what made his Saturday midday tweet, just after C Ryan O’Reilly signed as a free agent with the Nashville Predators, so telling. Dreger reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs were serious about bringing O’Reilly back, had matched the Preds in term and money ($4.5 million AAV over four years) but O’Reilly left anyway.
The Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Despite dripping money, with billion-dollar valuations, and the best in facilities and coaching, they still can’t win when it matters. There’s a deeper rot there and it is next to impossible to put a thumb on it.
So did O’Reilly, a Cup and playoff MVP winner with the St. Louis Blues in 2019, get a fast sense of that and high-tail it out of Toronto? O’Reilly alluded to coaching decisions that negatively impacted the team in their weak performance against the Florida Panthers in Round 2 of the 2023 NHL Playoffs.
Already in the offseason, Toronto hired new general manager Brad Treliving but Sheldon Keefe will remain as coach. Treliving announced that last week.
Predators GM Barry Trotz (who also signed former Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn on Saturday) is re-making the team around character guys. Unless someone sits down and asks O’Reilly, we’ll never know.
Weekend Began Slowly For Maple Leafs
So as the free agency signing period began Saturday, the Leafs made two moves – bringing in energy guy and fighter F Ryan Reaves and D John Klingberg – amid a line of free agents leaving. Those leaving the Leafs included O’Reilly, Schenn, Noel Acciari, Alexander Kerfoot, Justin Holl and Michael Bunting. So there was a level of justifiable consternation in Leafsland.
Sunday morning, somewhat surprisingly, operators such as BetMGM Ontario Sportsbook still had the Leafs at 11.00 decimal odds in their Stanley Cup futures, behind the Colorado Avalanche (9.00) and Edmonton Oilers (10.50), while generating 2.1% of the handle and 4.3% of ticket sales. That means, of course, Toronto was favoured to win the Eastern Conference at 6.50 odds.
That was with just 10 forwards signed for the new season, and injury-prone Matt Murray and sophomore Joseph Woll in goal.
Then Sunday happened.
Surging to Life on Sunday
The Leafs made all the news on Day 2 of free agency, making two positive moves that bulked up their lineup. Leafs fans and all bettors at Ontario sports betting apps had reason to sit up and take notice.
First, it was announced that F Tyler Bertuzzi was signing for one year, at $5.5 million. Bertuzzi steps in to replace Bunting on the top Auston Matthews line. At 6 feet 1, 199 pounds, Bertuzzi should be an upgrade.
Bertuzzi is gritty, comes up with pucks in congested areas, makes plays – he had a great playoff with the Boston Bruins, with five goals, 10 points, in seven games. The veteran had injury issues last season and is just a year beyond a 30-goal, 62-point campaign with the Detroit Red Wings, in 2021-22.
Then later in the day came the news the Leafs had wrapped up something similar with the other top free agent still available Sunday, F Max Domi. The son of former Leafs enforcer Tie Domi signed a one-year, $3 million contract.
Domi had a good contract-year season last year – 18 goals and 49 points with the Chicago Blackhawks, two more goals with the Dallas Stars after being traded there at the February trade deadline, then a solid three goal, 13-point performance for the Stars during their playoff run.
How Will Leafs Lineup Shift?
It will be interesting for fans and those jumping on futures NHL betting in Ontario alike to see what Keefe does with the lineup. Domi and Leafs F Mitch Marner tore it up together during their junior hockey days with the London Knights of the OHL.
The big “if” now surrounds F William Nylander, going into the last year of his contract ($6.9 million). The Leafs are trying to get something done on the contract front, but reports indicate the two sides are far apart on money.
The Leafs are also looking to get Matthews signed to a new deal, and reports are more optimistic there.
So with the team currently $2.4 million over the cap – factoring in D Jake Muzzin on long-term injured reserve – something has to give over the next few weeks.
One possibility is buying out G Murray, who is set to make $4.6 million this year.
2024 Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Odds
PointsBet Ontario Sportsbook currently has the Leafs at 11.00 to win the Cup. NorthStar Bets has them at 12.50.
Who do you like in the East, with the Bruins dealing Taylor Hall and watching Bertuzzi walk? What about where the New Jersey Devils sit? The Carolina Hurricanes brought in Bunting, so how does that change their chances of contending?
The Leafs are looking more formidable to start this week, assuming they can sort out their goaltending situation soon.
As offseason player movement continues to churn rosters throughout the league, stick with OntarioBet for continuing coverage as well as reviews of the best Ontario casino apps.