With the Leafs undergoing a massive rebuild, dipping their toes in the free agent waters on Wednesday should be an exercise taken with an extreme caution.
In the past couple seasons, with the exception of David Clarkson, the team has mostly opted for short, inexpensive one-year deals for depth forwards such as Mason Raymond, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik and David Booth. It’s a strategy that has given both sides flexibility – the players have gotten a chance to prove themselves in a low-risk, high-reward scenario, while the Leafs have avoided any long-term commitments that could hamper the team’s cap situation.
As a number of Marlies will be battling for jobs in training camp and will likely make up a good portion of the roster, a similar approach is the best option, and there are a few such players the Leafs could consider signing for next season.
Despite an ankle injury that limited him to just 45 games last season, Brad Richardson was a solid contributor in a third-line role for the Canucks, with 8 goals and 21 points. He can kill penalties and provide great defensive depth up front. The one question will be his health, and whether the 30-year-old can bounce back from the surgery he had in May to repair the injury.
If the Leafs trade the majority of their forward core – namely, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul – the team will need some veteran leadership up front to go along with Stephane Robidas on the back end.
Enter Brenden Morrow.
Coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance with Tampa Bay, Morrow would provide the perfect voice for the young crop of forwards expected to dominate Toronto’s lineup. Last season his cap hit with the Lightning was $1.55 Million, a $50,000 raise over his 2013-14 salary, so he would likely come just as cheap.
If the Leafs are willing to offer a tad more money and term while also not breaking the bank, they might be able to snag Erik Condra. After being scratched for the first part of the season, Condra flourished on a line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Curtis Lazar in Ottawa’s run to the playoffs, providing incredible value at a cap hit of $1.25 million. The 28-year-old has a nose for the net and can score the dirty goals when asked, while also providing defensive coverage. Ottawa has reportedly made its final offer, but the team needs to re-sign RFAs Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson, leaving Condra as the odd man out, and a potential terrific pickup.