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Saturday FTB: three affordable UFAs I want the Leafs to sign

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Three for the price of one Alex Pietrangelo!

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 09: Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 09, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario.
Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

The Leafs are out of the playoffs, and as of last night so are the Raptors. With the Jays still in the middle of their regular season, it’s proper offseason time in Toronto.

The NHL Draft is going to take place on October 6th and 7th, with the Leafs owning the 15th overall pick on Day 1 and 10 picks on Day 2. Seeing which top prospect inevitably drops from the top-10 will be interesting to see. My hope is that it’ll be Yaroslav Askarov, but my guess is it’ll be Marco Rossi.

Free Agency is on October 9th at 12pm EST. I’m very interested to see what kind of contracts the players will be getting this Fall with the pandemic and massive escrow influencing what players will want to do. Will some players with families prefer to move to Canada? Will some free agents try to maximize where they are on short term deals and hope for a big contract when the economy comes back? Money now is always better than money later, but players often work in different ways.

I hope Kyle Dubas and the Leafs are active in free agency because the team and city has a lot to offer, convincing good players to take value deals is a great way to help the team get better. I thought the bottom six was really weak last season, no one was really good enough to drive play, especially not consistently.

There are three players in particular I hope the Leafs target and acquire.

Dylan DeMelo

While everyone has been talking about Alex Pietrangelo or the magical unicorn top-pair trade acquisition, I’ve been wondering if a 27-year-old Dylan DeMelo is exactly who Morgan Rielly needs to play with him to get the best out of the Leafs top pair. A good skater who is a solid passer, situationally aware, and can play top-four minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill. He has the profile of a decade-younger Ron Hainsey and will very definitely be far-and-away the best partner Rielly has had in his career.

When DeMelo was a prospect on San Jose, he was on the third pair, but in his two seasons with the Ottawa Senators, he moved up to the second pair and had great impacts on an awful team (first paired with Thomas Chabot, but improved his shot share numbers the following season next to Mark Borowiecki).

When DeMelo was traded to Winnipeg for a third round pick, he was played with Josh Morrissey and was highly rated by people in and out of the team for the job he did in a very short stint. If the Leafs can get him for the price of one Justin Holl contract, I would happily see it happen and it would be a satisfying raise to his current $900k contract that is expiring.

“Winnipeg was in dire need of was a shutdown defenseman capable of skating against the opposition’s top two lines and putting in minutes on the penalty kill. And DeMelo checks those boxes as well as, if not better than, any of the rental options on the market.” - The Hockey News

Johan Larsson

Larsson is another player with incredibly strong possession impacts on a team that doesn’t lend to points scoring and is someone the Leafs could very happily slot in on the third line on a relatively cheap deal. He certainly could be a much better fit than Kasperi Kapanen was.

Larsson made $1.55 million as an RFA with the Buffalo Sabres last season. In free agency, he doesn’t have much of a case to make more than a couple million as he’s never hit 20 points in a season in his career. That said, look at the tweet below and see how well he can play as a defensive forward against top competition.

Wayne Simmonds

Simmonds’ reputation speaks for himself. He’s been a brilliant finisher throughout his career (and still has it at the age of 32) similar to Jason Spezza, and I think the two would be unbelievable together on the bottom six with a transition playmaker with them (Pierre Engvall). The line wouldn’t be the fastest, but they would provide some size, finishing ability from all three players (yes, Engvall too), and good possession capabilities.

You won’t need to play them much, which is what Sheldon Keefe likes to do with this fourth lines, but all three are capable of playing higher if need be. Engvall played on the third line last year and did well despite an awful on-ice shooting percentage, Spezza was 3C for a while when Kerfoot was on the wing, and Simmonds played third line on New Jersey and Philly.

Yesterday’s Game

New York Islanders 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 3 — TBL leads 2-1
The Bolts were without Brayden Point for this game and it showed as they struggled to match the Islanders offense with their depth defensively. It was a close game until the end, the Lightning still have a chance to make it a third straight five-game series this postseason with games on Sunday and Tuesday. [Recap]

“The score makes it look a bit ugly, but the Lightning simply made too many mistakes at crucial moments and the Islanders capitalized on them. Overall, the Lightning carried play at 5v5 and reminded New York that no lead is safe against them. Regardless, the absence of Brayden Point and Alex Killorn did hurt the Lightning this evening, it just wasn’t as much as we expected.”

Today’s Game

Vegas Golden Knights “@” Dallas Stars — DAL leads 2-1
8pm ET — CBC, SN, NBC, TVAS

Various Leafs Branches

The NHL Player Safety is Consistently Inconsistent — Omar

Jokerit game cancelled today after Coronavirus outbreak on another KHL team — Katya

I know we were talking about acquiring Sean Walker in the comments for much of the summer, but it appears he is off the market.

The Pittsburgh Penguins traded Nick Bjugstad, and retained half his salary, to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional seventh round pick. Bjugstad missed all but 13 games last season due to having surgery for an unknown injury, the condition on the pick kicks in his he’s healthy or productive. Bjugstad’s $4.1 million initial cap hit is two thirds that of Patrick Marleau, who cost a first round pick.