As the most bizarre free agent day in NHL history limps along like the most boring thing since day two of the draft two days ago, it’s hard to find a lot of optimism in the Leafs’ single move so far.
Wayne Simmonds, who was allowed officially to talk to teams before the noon start of free agency, became the first UFA to go up on TSN’s signing board today. And by the time Kyle Dubas met with the media at 3:30, that was the only thing the Leafs had done.
Evan Rodrigues, once said to be in serious talks with the Leafs after he arrived as an unsigned RFA in the Kapanen trade, signed with Pittsburgh for a minimum salary deal. At least he doesn’t have to move again, so why not?
Not signed by anyone is Alex Pietrangelo, but we now know that Kyle Dubas spoke to his agent.
Kyle Dubas confirms that the #leafs have spoken with agent Don Meehan on Alex Pietrangelo. He told them what the team's "limitations" are contract-wise.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 9, 2020
Dubas’s concern as he outlined below is not just this year’s cap space, but the coming years with Morgan Rielly and Zach Hyman about to become UFAs.
“... we wouldn’t want to eat away at the depth of out group, but if we have the chance to make our team tangibly better, I think we would always look at that.”
It’s a wise course to just give Pietrangelo a concept the Leafs think they can make work, and let him decide what he wants. You don’t want a UFA on your team just because you paid him the most. You want a player like that because you both want that deal to work, and therefore the team to succeed.
Meanwhile as the day draws to a close and the long weekend begins in Canada, no one but some goalies have been signed for big contracts today. The highest ranked player on TSN’s list of the top 100 free agents to get a deal who isn’t a goalie, is Kevin Shattenkirk, number 10.
He, one of the several available right-shooting defenders who aren’t Pietrangelo, signed with Anaheim for three years and $3.9 million. Likely a lot more than Tampa would have offered him. Tampa re-signed Luke Schenn for $800,000, and the Panthers signed Radko Gudas for three years at $2.5 million. Justin Schultz went from the Penguins to the Capitals for two years at $4 million, Alex Petrovic signed a minimum salary deal in Calgary, while Matt Benning got $2 million from Nashville for one year.
And all of that leaves Tyson Barrie as the last big righty defender on the list not signed — other than Pietrangelo.
What are Florida doing in the mix on all this Barrie-poking?
Their current defence roster looks like this:
- Aaron Ekblad - RD - $7.5 million per year to 2025
- Keith Yandle - LD - $6.35 million to 2023
- Anton Stralman - RD - $5.5 million to 2022
- Markus Nutivaara - RD/LD (shoots L) - $2.7 million to 2022
- Radko Gudas - RD - $ 2.5 million to 2023
- MacKenzie Weegar - RD/LD (shoots R) - unsigned RFA with arbitration rights
They also have a host of young defenders on ELCs, none of whom jump out as excellent prospects.
Now, what is Florida doing thinking of adding power play wonder and suspect defender Tyson Barrie? What were they doing adding Radko Gudas?
What once seemed unlikely — that Florida would move Weegar instead of re-signing him, now seems inevitable, but also, are they moving someone else too?
They seem to be letting their expensive clutch of forward UFAs walk, so they have cap space — and a need for forwards — and it sure looks like the new guy in town, Bill Zito, is getting ready to trade someone more than just Weegar.
Obviously a smart GM would follow up his first trick of removing Mike Matheson by shifting Anton Stralman who is still serviceable, but on a terrible deal. No one is trading you a good forward for Stralman. If they’re looking at Barrie, it seems more plausible they’d want to shift out Keith Yandle, also on a terrible deal and so bad defensively, Barrie would be an upgrade. But again, that doesn’t get you forwards, just cap space and salary relief.
Is it possible they would move out Aaron Ekblad? That seems bonkers without some really hot commodity in the prospect pool. They just drafted centre Anton Lundell, and winger Emil Heineman. They don’t have even a tepid commodity in the pool. It just doesn’t seem possible that they trade a cost-controlled 24-year-old top-pairing defender.
But he’s $2 million or so cheaper than Pietrangelo, who the Leafs likely can’t get, so why not dream until the dream is crushed? If Weegar is the consolation prize, it’s better than looking at the New York Rangers defencemen every night.