We’re less than four weeks away from what will either be a free agent frenzy or much more likely a free agent fizzle, and in the spirit of that, I generously offered each of the TLN Contributors $3M to spend on a free agents to upgrade the Leafs. In the spirit of this, I’ve asked them to do it a vacuum or bubble, where they can’t assume any other moves, but trust the budget to add is theirs to do what they’d like. Thankfully we didn’t have any aggressive pleas to Pietrangelo to play for $3M, but instead we’ve got a good look at some of the more cost effective free agents available.
I have a feeling Wayne Simmonds will be a popular option here, so I’ll go a different route. If they make it to UFA Tyler Ennis and Jesper Fast can be ~30 point wingers for cheap. If you can land them for around $2m they give you top 9 depth that you might need with Kapanen gone.
Take whatever is left and throw it at Carson Soucy if he doesn’t re-sign with Minnesota.
Defence. Radko Gudas and Dylan DeMelo would both be great options in the $2-3M range. Gudas especially would bring some needed grit on the back-end without sacrificing much on the transition side of things. Think of Gudas as a right-handed discount-Muzzin who makes opposing forwards think twice about going into the corners. Too often last year teams treated games against the Leafs like free skates, unafraid to go to the tough areas of the ice: time to put a cautionary voice in the back of their minds.
I’ll take the popular answer here and say Wayne Simmonds, but only if the Leafs can sign him at $1M or less for a year. He may be at the tail-end of his career, but his physical play would be useful, especially if the Leafs let Kyle Clifford walk. With about $2M left to spend, I’d ideally take a shot at Radko Gudas, who could sign for around that amount. He’s the gritty, defensive defenceman Toronto really needs and he’s right-handed. Both of these players will make the Leafs a harder team to play against and will help refine the roster. This is assuming we live in an ideal world where both would sign for those very affordable, yet still realistic amounts.
Scott Maxwell (@ScotMaxw)
I think the number one priority in free agency in this scenario would be a right shot defenseman that moves the needle at both ends of the ice. While I certainly want the Leafs to get a bit tougher, I also think it’s important to not bring in tougher players at the expense of the Leafs quality of play, and there just doesn’t seem to be the kind of players in free agency that bring toughness but aren’t liabilities on the ice (ie. Simmonds, Gudas), so the primary focus then becomes that right shot defenseman.
I think the dream scenario would be convincing TJ Brodie to sign a deal with that cap space, but Evolving Wild has his projected salary at nearly $5 million, it’s probably a long shot. The most realistic scenario would be Dylan DeMelo, who’s projected salary comes just under $3 million and is probably the only right shot defenseman in that salary range that is good in both the offensive and defensive zone. I also wouldn’t be shocked if he goes for cheaper, so I think he would be a great option to help the top 4 for the Leafs.
If they can’t get DeMelo, or they do but at a cheap enough price that there’s still ~$1 million left, there are also a few interesting options in that price range, like Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Tim Heed, Jan Rutta, and Paul Ladue. None of them necessarily move the needle, but they’re solid all around, and none of them are projected to break $1 million.
If they can’t get a defenseman, I also wouldn’t be apposed to bringing in Justin Williams on a one year deal. He can bring that leadership and experience that the Leafs need, and he still is a good player. Of course, he might be retiring, and I’d imagine he signs with the Canes again if he does come back, but a man can dream.
I’m taking the cop out route by going with adding defenceman. Given the poor play in their own end throughout many of the last four playoff appearances, the time is ripe to add some defensive help to give the team better coverage from their blue line. I could easily say Alex Pietrangelo will agree to a $3 million deal, but this is not a video game, this is real life. And in real life, I will use the majority of the allocated money to lock up Mark Pysyk. He is in the middle of his prime, is a right shot, has good size, and solid underlying metrics. More importantly, he will likely won’t command much on the open market as Evolving Hockey predicts him to sign to a $2.718 million cap hit. Pysyk would be a solid edition to the third pairing and shouldn’t hurt the Leafs cap hit long term. And I have a few thousand bucks to spare on whatever unnecessary stuff I want (Say 1000 Pysyk Leaf jerseys).
For some reason Dustin Byfuglien is calling my name. After his ankle injury and what happened with the Winnipeg Jets, I believe he’s ready for a new start. At 35, Byfuglien likely won’t command a lot of money, plus I doubt he gets it because his last game was on April 20, 2019.
That season, the [at the time] 34-year-old logged 31 points in 42 games and then had eight points in six games against last year’s Stanley Cup Champions. So, yes, I think his addition to the Maple Leafs would make them stronger, more physical and a harder matchup to play against.
If Kyle Dubas can sign him to a deal at $1-2 million, it would likely send a message to all of the league that the Maple Leafs are about to be a lot tougher to play against. The only risky part about signing Byfuglien is that he may not be the same after his ankle injury and it could be a bad signing to make. But if Dubas can get him at something low, whatever that is, I believe he’ll pull the trigger.
I feel very seen by this tweet right now…
I enjoy roundtable articles where one of the people seems very much like Kid Who Didn’t Do The Readings In Your Group Project. First two are like “hmm the Celtics are going to want to get touches for Kemba Walker despite Toronto’s zone” and then it’s like “PLAY HARD DIG DEEP”
— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) September 11, 2020
The reality of it is that I want to say that I like the ideas that Nick Barden put forth in taking a chance of Byfuglien, someone who is a reasonable risk to take if he’s interested and could potentially be a solution on forward if D doesn’t work out. I also like Michael’s suggesting of Pysyk, a player I have liked for a while, and also carries the fallback of being a solid winger if he doesn’t work out on defense, giving players like Liljegren and Lehtonen a chance to find their footing.
Additionally Earl has made me a believer in the Carson Soucy experiment if he’s available and I am certainly onboard for Jesper Fast if he isn’t overpaid this offseason, but rather than go with one of the players that Earl already listed, I’ll go with one of the players he left off with Alex Galchenyuk.
Since Galchenyuk’s 30 goal season in 2015-16 he’s managed to be underwhelming on four teams, including a really tough go of it in Pittsburgh last year before being flipped as salary cap necessity to Minnesota. He still just below a 20 goal a season, and possibly a 40-50 point if you forget what he did in Pittsburgh, and might be available as a bargain short term option looking to prove himself next season. Not a bad option as 3rd line center or he could play as a winger on one of the top two lines.
Galchenyuk being fluent in Russian also may make him a fit with the growing number of Russians in the Leafs system, and perhaps putting him on a line with two of Mikheyev, Barabanov, or Korshkov might help all of them thrive. Or not. Either way Galchenyuk is a fun pipe dream for the Leafs and one you’d love to see light up the Habs when they play.
As for you, the beautiful soul reading this post, let us know what you’d do with $3M to improve the Leafs in free agency in the comments below.