Looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs roster, they seem pretty ready for the 2020-21 NHL season. They have a full roster, which is putting it lightly. There are give-or-take 16 forwards who could realistically be in the lineup every night, at least seven and as many as 10 defensemen to choose from, and then four goalies in net.
But what’s the harm in squeezing one more?
The flat cap this Fall caused a lot of talented players to be released into free agency because teams couldn’t afford simple raises for RFAs and there was no money to be found for UFAs, especially with 30% escrow in the way. So after all the dust has settled, there are still a lot of talented players out there that can be a luxury for teams that can afford it. While the Leafs aren’t exactly in a position to afford many players, here is my list of a select few players the Leafs would be smart to get if they can afford it.
Conor Sheary, LW
The original Mark Donk, Sheary has bounced between Pittsburgh and Buffalo for the past few years and is still a good bottom-six winger. He won’t be getting $3 million like he did last year, but maybe a cheap show-me deal that puts him in a good situation (ie. a good team again).
Trevor Lewis, C/RW
Lewis has been brought up in Leafs fan circles for a while, but at 33, he’s just going to be cheap forward depth. His numbers still look good, even on a terrible LA Kings team, and he gets to the front of the net well. He’s probably still better than Pierre Engvall and Travis Boyd at this point. Or maybe he gets the Matt Read treatment and the Leafs keep him around the Marlies as a mentor with the promise of an NHL shot if he earns it.
Jan Rutta, RD
Call me paranoid, but I’m still not sold on Zach Bogosian being a regular third pair defenseman. Jan Rutta played on the same team as him and he played higher up the lineup and he was a better player. He was the responsible one while Victor Hedman was off scoring goals with the forwards, and he was a reliable partner when Hedman magically found himself in the defensive zone milliseconds later. Rutta won’t get to play with Hedman in Toronto if that’s where he ends up, but he wouldn’t have to play as high. At the very least, he provides defensive insurance behind (or potentially ahead of) Justin Holl.
Mike Hoffman, LW
Right off the bat, I’ll be honest and say I can’t ignore what happened between Hoffman, his girlfriend, and the Karlssons. It hasn’t left my mind, especially Hoffman’s defense of her actions, and it would need to be scrutinized before he comes into the Leafs dressing room. Hoffman is a talented power play scorer, but the Sens knew that as well.
Anthony Duclair, LW
This is a player who deserves a big pay day but never got one. If the Leafs had a few million to spend on a second-line winger right now, I would be screaming for them to hire Duclair. That said, maybe a multi-year deal on a winning team playing next to William Nylander and John Tavares while the salary cap heals is a worthwhile investment for Duclair to make? In two years, he’ll still only be 27 and will still have a chance for a big contract.
I’ll never say no to scoring touch — and Duclair has plenty — especially when I’m not quite sure Ilya Mikheyev, Alex Kerfoot, or anyone else is second line material. I would also entertain a 20-man roster if we get him on the second line. That upgrade is worthwhile to me if all it means is other players (Mikko Lehtonen and a forward of Sheldon Keefe’s choosing) get papered down every off day.
Which free agent draws your attention the most?
Speaking of the Goat, here is a list of all the former Leafs (who played games for the team) still out there on the market. Frederik Gauthier, Ron Hainsey, Brian Boyle, Michael Grabner, Matt Martin, Matt Hunwick, Garret Sparks, Nick Shore, Pontus Aberg, Kevin Gravel, T.J. Brennan, and Rinat Valiev.
The NHL Board of Governors will begin discussing how to start the 2020-21 season today. Here is what Gary Bettman said before the meeting. [PPP]
Leafs prospect Rodion Amirov was named “Man of the Week” in Russia after his splendid performance at the Karjala Cup. They wrote up a whole profile on him including aspects of his “early years” which by my calculations are still happening now. [KHL]
Egor Korshkov totally meant to do this, I swear!
Fellow Leafs prospect Topi Niemela got a game in with Karpat yesterday and he got a secondary assist on this goal. It was Niemela at the top of the zone who found Jesse Puljujarvi, leading to the goal.
#Leafs 2020 third round pick Topi Niemela played 11:33 in a 2-1 victory for Karpat today. He picked up a secondary assist on this nice feed to Jesse Puljujarvi, who set up Mika Pyorala for the game’s first goal: pic.twitter.com/Ke4wc6FgrJ— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) November 11, 2020
Former Leafs goalie (and Stanley Cup Champion) Curtis McElhinney was on Mike McKenna’s goalie podcast, it’s a good listen if you’re interested.
Here’s a show for you… 6DMM 35: Curtis McElhinney episode of 6 Degrees with Mike McKennahttps://t.co/iK7Wt0desF— 6 Degrees with Mike McKenna (@6DegreesMM) November 11, 2020