If there’s one thing that most Leafs fans should be able to agree upon at this point it’s that the bottom six forward group for the Leafs will need to be pretty cheap. If there’s a second thing that we’ll agree on it’s that the team defense needs to be better, and even if Toronto goes out and spends a small fortune on Alex Pietrangelo, there is still a need to consider other defensive upgrades.
With that in mind, I’ve examined the contract projections on Evolving Hockey, and found a few names that stand out as potential bargains for the Leafs to consider. And given that we’re just a day removed from seeing the Lightning win after pooper scooping Luke Schenn, Zach Bogosian, and Kevin Shattenkirk from free agency, I hope you can appreciate the value in the Leafs doing the same.
Here are the bargains:
Trevor van Riemsdyk-D
Good news for anyone who hung on to their JVR jerseys, you might get a chance to use them again. Evolving Hockey projects that Trevor is most likely destined for a 1 year deal at around $844k, but even if you look by their averages, he could be at a 2 year deal around $1.5M.
It’s worth considering TVR as he’s clearly an upgrade over Ceci, might be a better fit for the Leafs than Barrie, and you could even make a case that he’s better than Holl. The Leafs might find their best RHD sitting in the bargain bin on free agency day. The other advantage to bringing in TVR is that he’s insurance that the Leafs don’t need to rush Liljegren, and if Toronto doesn’t want to play Dermott or Lehtonen on the right side, now they wouldn’t have to.
Trevor van Riemsdyk isn’t going to offer the Leafs much in the way of offense. He’s not going to be a top pairing guy. He is a bottom pairing defender priced like a bottom pairing defender, who you don’t mind using at the end of the game when protecting a lead, and he doesn’t require excessive sheltering. He’s a strong depth option and security plan for Liljegren. He’s definitely someone Toronto should look at.
Zemgus Girgensons- C
Sticking with the idea of improving team defense, here’s a somewhat sheltered defensive standout for the bottom six, that might be able to improve other areas of his game once being removed from the toxic environment of the Sabres.
Girgensons is very likely to only see a one year deal offered to him, and Evolving Hockey projects his cap hit around $957k. A decent price for a fourth line center, but also friendly to the Leafs in that it can be removed from their cap completely if he doesn’t pan out and needs to be sent down to the Marlies.
Girgensons is a lot like what the Leafs already have in and are ready to move from in Freddie Gauthier, and a less offensive version of Pierre Engvall. The difference between Girgensons and the Leafs bottom six forwards however is that he hits, and that when all other things are equal is something the Leafs could certainly use more of in their lineup. Size and physicality at a discount price is the name of the game, and Girgensons is definitely an appealing option.
Alex Galchenyuk- F
Okay, this is one that doesn’t have a whole lot of statistical appeal to it, and is strictly about shopping name brand players and seeing if they can be brought in on a cheap deal to see if there’s anything left in the tank. The fact that Galchenyuk even having one good game against the Habs probably has a ton of appeal to Leafs fans as well.
Galchenyuk is a project. One that could pay off big for the Leafs, or one that could stick them with some salary they can’t completely bury. On a one year deal, Evolving Hockey predicts Galchenyuk would cost around $1.5M.
Galchenyuk takes some of the pressure off the young winger that the Leafs might need to lean on. He’s a potential candidate to replace Alex Kerfoot, if the Leafs move on from him, although gambling on Galchenyuk in a position as important as 3C isn’t too advisable. He’s also a player who speaks fluent Russian that can connect with players like Korshkov and Barabanov who are new to North America, as well as Mikheyev.
Even if Galchenyuk slides into a Spezza type, 4th line wing that can produce some offense role, he’s not a bad risk as long as you don’t count on him filling a major hole in the lineup.
Corey Perry- RW
The past couple of weeks have been a strong showcase for why you still want Corey Perry on your team, and if the Leafs go through with a winger selloff to make space for money on the blueline, Perry becomes an affordable option.
There are a few things to consider here though. Perry did not have a regular season that warranted the praise he’s received in the past few weeks. And he’ll be coming back older. And he’ll probably cost more than someone like Jason Spezza and basically be playing an overlapping role.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling the Leafs would benefit from having a world class asshole on their team. I mean this in the best possible way. The Leafs had Komarov and Kadri recently to get under the skin of opposition, and while they aren’t on Perry’s level, they did the job, and created necessary distractions. Perry as a true 4th line agitator could be interesting, but there is a buyer beware attached to him, and he’s not likely to come as cheap as Spezza (Evolving Hockey projects Spezza at $1.1M, and Perry at $1.4M). If Perry rounds down to $1M he could be a target, otherwise the Leafs are better off moving on.
Mikko Koivu- C
As someone who has been firmly in the bring Joe Thornton home camp for a while, I think I’m ready to move on to a slightly different target. Instead I see Joe Thornton as a potential trade deadline acquisition, and Koivu as the center who can better serve the Leafs efforts over the course of a season.
Making a case for either player being spry is a challenge, but I’d certainly favour the 37 year old who had a training camp and some games this summer, over the 41 year old who hasn’t played competitively since March. While that isn’t entirely fair to Thornton, who is working out with a team in Switzerland to keep in game shape, there is also the matter of the Leafs certainly being able to benefit from the more defensively dominate game of Koivu, when they have already addressed most of their offensive needs in other parts of the lineup.
There is also a potential of $100k in savings looking at the projected contracts, as Koivu projects at $2.04M, and Thornton at $2.14M. Thornton might potentially take a home town discount to join the Leafs, but banking on hometown discounts to build out a roster is less than ideal planning.
History has taught us that seldom do we see true bargains on the opening day of free agency, and if the Leafs are going to target depth on day one they might get their first choice of who they want, but there would be a premium attached.
In a year where there is less money to go around, potentially fewer teams going to the top of the cap or the maximum number of players contracts, the deals will be had later in free agency scooping of the players who want to preserve their NHL careers and will settle for less. In which case this list will expand significantly.
Looking at the Evolving hockey numbers and seeing who would potentially have an affordable one year contract is a true source of optimism. They like players like Mark Pysyk, Brendan Dillon, Jesper Fast, Johan Larsson, and Wayne Simmonds all as potential under $2M on a single year deal players. Filling out the roster with talent, but at a low price never felt so attainable, and when we’re coming out of a Cup Final where there has been a ton of praise heaped on to the Champions for doing exactly that, perhaps the Leafs will explore the UFA bargain bins next week.