3 Free-Agent Centers the Maple Leafs’ New GM Should Target

The waiting game continues in Toronto as the Maple Leafs slowly weave their way through a very important recruitment process. Team president Brendan Shanahan is looking to replace Kyle Dubas as Leafs general manager (GM) and once the new executive is in place, there’s plenty of work to do. It’s likely the new GM will be coming from another organization, which means they won’t be able to assist the Maple Leafs with anything come draft night, so naturally, their attention is going to be all over free agents and offseason trades.

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While I’ve recently mentioned five moves the team should consider making this offseason, for today, let’s zone in on some free agents who should be on the Maple Leafs’ radar. Here’s three centers the new GM should have interest bringing to Toronto:

Sean Monahan

With Ryan O’Reilly set for a nice pay day elsewhere and with David Kampf and Noel Acciari set to potentially hit the open market, the Maple Leafs are going to need to sign at least one center to round out their depth chart. Former Montreal Canadien and Calgary Flame Sean Monahan should be on their radar.

Sean Monahan Calgary Flames
Sean Monahan has a history with Brad Treliving which could come into play with the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In his first season in Montreal, Monahan battled some injury trouble but was still very productive when he dressed. The Brampton, ON native finished with 17 points in 25 games in 2022-23. He won an impressive 55% of his faceoffs while giving the Canadiens some minutes on the power play and penalty kill.

Monahan would be a nice complimentary piece for the Maple Leafs who the team could use either down the middle or on the wing. His versatility could spell John Tavares moving to the left wing on the second line or even being bumped down to third line center at times. Yes, not ideal, but it’s always nice to have options.

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The funny wrinkle in the case for bringing Monahan to the Maple Leafs is the fact if the team signs Brad Treliving as their new general manager. He does appear to be the favorite at this point. Treliving and Monahan have a rich history from their days in Calgary together. Treliving traded Monahan to Montreal last offseason as the team was trying to create cap space to bring in a new core which included signing Nazem Kadri and trading for Jonathan Huberdeau.

At this point it’s hard to handicap if adding Treliving would increase the odds of Monahan being interested to sign in Toronto. Of all the free-agent centers set to be available on the open market when July 1 hits, Monahan is one of the most attractive at 28 years old and should 100% be on the Maple Leafs’ radar. Toronto will likely have competition from the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers for Monahan’s services.

Jonathan Toews

This may come as a surprise to some, but despite the health concerns and all the drama that surrounded Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks last season, Toews managed to collect a reasonable 31 points in 56 games. If Kampf and Acciari do indeed sign elsewhere, the Maple Leafs should consider signing Toews to slot in as their third-line center.

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Toews and the Blackhawks mutually agreed the long-time captain would not be returning to the hockey club for the 2023-24 season. Now it’s up to Toews to decide where his journey will take him next.

‘Captain Serious’ can still get it done. He’s effective on the power play and penalty kill and could give the Maple Leafs an option for both their second units. His resume speaks for itself and Toews’ leadership qualities will help replace some of what O’Reilly brought to the team.

As for Toews in Toronto, his next contract isn’t going to break the bank and the Leafs will have the cap space to make it work. If there’s going to be a glaring hole down the middle, bringing in a three-time Stanley Cup champion who wins over 60% of his faceoffs, plays in all situations and can still provide secondary scoring makes complete sense for the new GM.

Erik Haula

New Jersey Devils forward Erik Haula rounds out three pending free agent centers the Maple Leafs should consider signing this upcoming offseason. Only issue with Haula is the fact he wants to stay in New Jersey and an extension may be reached before free agency opens in July.

Erik Haula New Jersey Devils
Erik Haula, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Haula would be perfect in Toronto and could play anywhere among the team’s middle six. In 2022-23, the 32-year-old recorded 41 points in 80 games, while playing in all situations for the Devils. He also won over 54% of the close to 1100 faceoffs he was a part of last season.

Haula is likely looking for at least a three-year contract, somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 million average annual value. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald and Haula’s camp are likely discussing the parameters of an extension in New Jersey, but if he doesn’t agree to a new contract, the Maple Leafs should be making a phone call.

It’s the ‘term’ of his next contract which will likely be the sticking point. Since 2018-19, Haula has played for a whopping six organizations. Of the three centers mentioned above, he’s the least likely to land with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto’s new GM will be busy this summer. While the ‘core four’ appear set to be returning to the Maple Leafs, there’s going to be a number of holes to fill on the roster, and more specifically down the middle of the ice. The free-agent market this summer is very thin. Of all the available options, signing one of Monahan or Toews should be considered, with Haula being more of a long shot.