Defence. Defence. Defence. It gets dull. They rarely do fun things, and they're likely most important for what doesn't happen rather than what does. The Leafs need forwards too, and yes, they are reported to be talking to Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, but those are last year's models. We want new things to be mad at when they aren't as good as Auston Matthews.

This is also the last gasp of CapFriendly-fuelled player research, so pour one out for that. I started my forward search with the first page (50 names) of the UFAs this summer, sorted by Cap Hit. Mostly it was a reason to say rude things but there are some more interesting players and I'll put them first, and you can read all the rude remarks below if you like.

Adam Henrique

At 34, Henrique has played for two teams in his NHL career before a trade to the Oilers for a playoff run. He has played as their third-line centre, which is interesting because their bargain shutdown third line was good all season and has been entirely replaced. Henrique also has some personal shooting skill, and that plus his former contract price and fame makes him a non-bargain, yet good three C. I don't think the Leafs are shopping in this part of the store though.

Anthony Mantha

Mantha is an interesting case in changing teams and changing perceptions. He was very good in Detroit at age 25 – which is usually when players peak. He went to Washington where everything was a little blurred. His defensive impact seemed to disappear and he didn't help a team that likely couldn't be helped by any one guy. And then at 29 in Vegas this year, he has a career year at both ends of the ice. He doesn't seem to have the wow factor that gets other players a big payday, but he is a buy-high candidate. Was his defensive and offensive renaissance Vegas or him?

Tyler Bertuzzi

If you look at the big list below, you'll see these three guys are four, five and six in terms of cap hits for UFA forwards. They're all projected by Evolving Hockey to have similar contracts in the over $4 million range. And Mantha and Bertuzzi are the same age. I'd pick Mantha, but I can understand why it's reasonable to think that Bertuzzi, who fits with Matthews and John Tavares and on the third line is the known commodity for the Leafs who does what they think needs doing offensively.

Alexander Wennberg

Some players just become Leafs fan talismans, and for some reason Wennberg is one of them. I think he must live preserved in aspic for his glorious year in Columbus in 2017-2018 when the Leafs were playing fast and defensively wide open hockey and seemed to just need a centre who was a little less of that. He's dulled right down since then rather a lot.

He played as the third-line centre with Jack Roslovic and a struggling Kaapo Kakko as his wingers for the Rangers this year, and it's actually pretty easy to be a guy who has good defensive impacts relative to the Rangers team, and he did. He was much duller in years prior in Seattle. The thing about him that's amusing, though, as a saviour centre is that he's actually pretty bad at faceoffs and won only 46% this year. The entire unspoken part of "faceoffs don't matter" is that usually only players around 50% or better are taking them most of the time. Wennberg is a guy for whom it does matter that he's not very good at it if you are using him to take d-zone draws regularly.

Wennberg is likely to get Bertuzzi money, but I think he's the wrong berg for the job.

Tyler Toffoli

The trouble with Toffoli is that he's currently underpaid at just over $4 million, and he likely wants to rectify that with something that starts with a six. To reduce him down to a one line comparison to the other likely top-line winger to be signed, Bertuzzi, they are about equal in value, but Toffoli is more of a positive impact on offensive zone possession, and Bertuzzi is all about bringing the puck to good shooting locations. Corsi vs xG. The Leafs, and every other team, need both.

The money difference is that Toffoli scores more goals than Bertuzzi. And they both have long enough histories in the NHL to say that with confidence. Can you assume they will score at their usual rate in any given season? No. But the chance that Toffoli gets you 30 is a lot higher. Is there cap space for a guy like this if the Leafs are trapped (by their own choices) into not moving out Mitch Marner? Well, if you want to move out Marner at some point and have him take his 25-30 goals a year with him, you need to have someone else score a few. That ain't Max Domi. On the downside, Toffoli is 32.

Jake DeBrusk

Boo hiss. It feels like Vegas is already calculating the moves to make to sign him, but let's look anyway. Boston has underpaid him on two contracts, which is likely why he's sick of them. He is a buy-low player because he was pretty mediocre this season after a gloriously good 2022-2023. Nonetheless, he's going to be looking for something like a $6 million AAV with term. He's a defensively sound forward with about Bertuzzi's goal output, and he's overall better than Bertuzzi at everything. He's even younger, turning 28 this fall, which is why he wants someone to give him six or seven years. This is exactly the kind of UFA the Leafs struggle to sign because the player can get the same money in a location they'd rather live in and the Leafs don't have the cap space for an enticing overpay.

Warren Foegele

He used to fly under the radar, but he set off alarms everywhere in the playoffs both for actually scoring a goal against Bobrovsky and also for the hit on Eetu Luostarinen that might not have been a hit at all. He got five and a game, though.

Forget the playoff dazzle and look at the player. What you'll see is someone the Oilers should already have re-signed. But he likely wanted to wait until his playoff performance could be factored in. Could the Leafs steal him? Well, he is from Markham, so does he want to visit his parents every Sunday? He's coming off a contract with a low AAV, and while he is a middle-six winger, not a top-liner, he's due a raise. He's good enough to play on the second unit power play, he's tough and forechecks hard and generates offence as well as playing well defensively. He has no personal shooting ability, which is why he's not a top-line player and why he costs $4 million or so, not a lot more than that.

He's the guy you get to play up and down your lineup in a Calle Järnkrok way and who supports your less physical players. I know what the Leafs will think, though. They have Bobby McMann, who can score, and Järnkrok and Matt Knies so they don't need more of that at higher prices. And I know what I think: their third line was trash and Foegele would help fix that.

William Carrier

I've been following Carrier's career since he was on the Sabres. I watched them back when they were terrible, and he really stood out. In Vegas, he's been a presence on their bottom six in the way that is in reality what some people desperately wish was true about someone like Ryan Reaves. Of course, they played together for a time.

When Jason Spezza was still playing on the Leafs, I did a long look at what you can legitimately expect in goal scoring from a fourth-liner. I was fed up with the never-ending complaints about how the Leafs never had good enough players and they didn't score goals in their eight minutes a night. The answer to the question was Jason Spezza or William Carrier were the best you were going to get, and most times you got someone who had five or so goals on a year.

Carrier spent a long time on LTIR this season, which in Vegas means he was hurt at some point. He only played 39 games, and since he turns 30 this December, he's likely fully in "fourth liner, play him more minutes only in emergencies" territory. He is, if healthy, one of the best fourth liners the Leafs could ask for. He will likely make Reaves money on a one-year deal, and play a lot more if he's not sitting on LTIR.

This is the kind of depth player serious teams get. Reaves is the kind of depth player teams concerned with generating buzz in the media get. That chart is overstating Carrier's offensive impacts a little because he had some exceptional results in his shortened season this year. But he is routinely better than every single player in the Leafs bottom six at impacts on Corsi and xG.

William Carrier is the human rebuke to the idea that the fourth line doesn't matter. And while it is true that Reaves can't truly destroy the team failing to add anything, but occasionally doing good things at the net front or checking hard once he makes it back to the defensive zone, it's also true that there is a wasted opportunity there to play some hockey. The fourth line doesn't matter enough to spend big on it.

Suddenly the Leafs have some inexpensive depth forwards with speed and a mix of skills that make them more useful while they're more fun to watch. And it could be one/third better all the time if Reaves hung the skates up. I don't believe that's happening. I don't believe he'll be traded or waived or benched or put in the press box. But this is what the Leafs are passing up.

Now that that rant about my white whale is over, on to the rude remarks:

1. Steven Stamkos Will sign with Tampa for about $7 million. TBL 34 LW, C 79 40 41 1.03 0.15 18:13 $8,500,000
2. Sam Reinhart He has 57 goals, he's making Marner money. FLA 28 RW 82 57 37 1.15 0.24 20:17 $6,500,000
3. Jake Guentzel Carolina is offering to trade for his signing rights, he'll be gone before July 1 to an American team. CAR 29 LW, RW 67 30 47 1.15 0.13 20:00 $6,000,000
4. Adam Henrique See above EDM 34 LW, C 82 24 27 0.62 0.17 16:50 $5,825,000
5. Anthony Mantha See above VGK 29 LW, RW 74 23 21 0.59 0.2 14:13 $5,700,000
6. Tyler Bertuzzi See above TOR 29 LW, RW 80 21 22 0.54 0.13 16:02 $5,500,000
7. Teuvo Teräväinen Carolina has mined his peak years for value, and might decide to let him go. He shoots like Max Domi and got lucky this year. CAR 29 LW, RW 76 25 28 0.7 0.18 16:24 $5,400,000
8. Jason Zucker Third liner with no special teams value. NSH 32 LW, RW 69 14 18 0.46 0.09 13:49 $5,300,000
9. Jakub Vrána Wildly overpaid, he's now mostly an AHLer STL 28 LW 21 2 4 0.29 0.05 12:07 $5,250,000
10. Tyler Johnson Doesn't even seem to be good at faceoffs these days. CHI 33 RW, C, LW 67 17 14 0.46 0.15 15:32 $5,000,000
11. Jonathan Marchessault Due a very big raise and would definitely be salting the sea on the Leafs. VGK 33 RW, LW 82 42 27 0.84 0.16 17:53 $5,000,000
12. Vladimir Tarasenko Teräväinen only older. FLA 32 RW 76 23 32 0.72 0.15 15:44 $5,000,000
13. Elias Lindholm Just offered a pile of cash by Vancouver despite being the only Canuck not to shoot the lights out. VAN 29 C, RW 75 15 29 0.59 0.09 19:41 $4,850,000
14. David Perron Was a top liner until this season. Caveat Emptor. DET 36 RW, LW 76 17 30 0.62 0.11 15:37 $4,750,000
15. Victor Olofsson Coming off a terrible year, so he'll be making half this cap hit. Would be a project for a bad team to make him a deadline asset. BUF 28 RW, LW 51 7 8 0.29 0.11 11:34 $4,750,000
16. Kevin Labanc Had a great age 25 season, and then slid off a cliff. A cheap project signing. SJS 28 RW, LW 46 2 7 0.2 0.03 11:37 $4,725,000
17. Mike Hoffman He's a power play one-timer and nothing else. SJS 34 LW 66 10 13 0.35 0.14 13:43 $4,500,000
18. Alexander Wennberg See above NYR 29 C 79 10 20 0.38 0.11 17:59 $4,500,000
19. Viktor Arvidsson Missed most of the year, but likely to re-sign in LA LAK 31 RW, LW 18 6 9 0.83 0.1 16:41 $4,250,000
20. Tyler Toffoli See above WPG 32 RW, LW 79 33 22 0.7 0.14 16:57 $4,250,000
21. Anthony Beauvillier Max Domi, only slightly better at shooting, and more quickly losing his overrated status. NSH 27 RW, LW 60 5 12 0.28 0.05 13:34 $4,150,000
22. Jake DeBrusk See above BOS 27 RW, LW 80 19 21 0.5 0.1 16:49 $4,000,000
23. Jack Roslovic Coming off a very good year, but not really a C. NYR 27 C, RW 59 9 22 0.53 0.08 15:33 $4,000,000
24. Joe Pavelski Retired DAL 39 RW 82 27 40 0.82 0.14 16:48 $3,500,000
25. Tanner Pearson Not good at anything in Montréal. MTL 31 LW 54 5 8 0.24 0.06 12:56 $3,250,000
26. Kasperi Kapanen What happened to him? STL 27 RW 73 6 16 0.3 0.06 14:23 $3,200,000
27. Max Domi Domi Domi Domi -- not worth a raise, will get one. TOR 29 C, RW 80 9 38 0.59 0.07 13:47 $3,000,000
28. Anthony Duclair Domi's old linemate is a shooter as bad defensively as Domi, so better overall. TBL 28 LW, RW 73 24 18 0.58 0.19 15:46 $3,000,000
29. Matt Duchene The line's going to be long to sign him for about Lindholm money, if Dallas doesn't do it first. DAL 33 RW, C 80 25 40 0.81 0.15 16:45 $3,000,000
30. Patrick Kane Middle six winger of some value, high risk he misses a lot of games. DET 35 RW 50 20 27 0.94 0.14 18:22 $2,750,000
31. Warren Foegele See above EDM 28 LW, RW 82 20 21 0.5 0.1 13:58 $2,750,000
32. Chandler Stephenson Was horrible this season. High risk, buy low bottom-sixer. VGK 30 C, LW 75 16 35 0.68 0.16 18:29 $2,750,000
33. Zemgus Girgensons Defence only depth winger. BUF 30 LW, C 63 8 6 0.22 0.11 11:50 $2,500,000
34. Kyle Okposo Good in the room. FLA 36 RW 67 12 10 0.33 0.11 13:20 $2,500,000
35. Dominik Kubalik Looked good at Worlds, was one of the worst players in the NHL this season. OTT 28 LW, RW 74 11 4 0.2 0.12 12:07 $2,500,000
36. Alexander Barabanov Was good in San Jose when healthy. SJS 30 RW, LW 46 4 9 0.28 0.06 15:52 $2,500,000
37. Max Pacioretty More high risk than Kane. WSH 35 LW 47 4 19 0.49 0.04 14:26 $2,000,000
38. Tyson Jost Can't figure out NHL offence. BUF 26 C 43 3 3 0.14 0.06 10:35 $2,000,000
39. Daniel Sprong Nick Robertson cranked up to 11. He can score on the power play. DET 27 RW, LW 76 18 25 0.57 0.11 12:00 $2,000,000
40. Sean Monahan Will get paid based on that 15% Sh%. Not a bad scoring middle-sixer, though. WPG 29 C, LW, RW 83 26 33 0.71 0.15 18:05 $1,985,000
41. Teddy Blueger Good bottom sixer, actually good at faceoffs, not a scoring threat. Bargain priced. VAN 29 C, LW 68 6 22 0.41 0.06 14:56 $1,900,000
42. Jordan Martinook All defence, but is it real or is it Carolina? CAR 31 LW, RW 82 14 18 0.39 0.09 14:38 $1,800,000
43. Travis Boyd Spent the season injured, was the Coyotes 1C the year before. UTA 30 C, RW 16 2 6 0.5 0.17 9:37 $1,750,000
44. Cal Clutterbuck Nope. NYI 36 RW 82 7 12 0.23 0.12 11:52 $1,750,000
45. Yakov Trenin All defence. COL 27 LW, C 76 12 5 0.22 0.1 14:34 $1,700,000
46. Eric Robinson Columbus sent him to the minors. BUF 29 LW 47 3 7 0.21 0.05 11:19 $1,600,000
47. Tomas Tatar Nothing but a shooter coming off a bad shooting year. SEA 33 LW, RW 70 9 15 0.34 0.13 12:27 $1,500,000
48. Matt Martin Nope NYI 35 LW, RW 57 4 4 0.14 0.08 9:18 $1,500,000
49. William Carrier See above (the reason I made the list this long) VGK 29 LW 39 6 2 0.21 0.09 11:10 $1,400,000
50. Nicolas Aubé-Kubel Borderline NHLer on a poor team. WSH 28 RW 60 6 10 0.27 0.1 12:12 $1,225,000