Now just seven weeks away, NHL free agency is quickly approaching. One thing to note this year is the excessive number of impact-making free agent defencemen on the list, which has been greatly overlooked given the lack of talent at the forward and goaltending positions.
That’s good news for the Toronto Maple Leafs who, despite what some might tell you, shouldn’t be as worried about their top-six forward group as much as they should be about their defence corps. The main reason for this: There was a serious lack of stability and consistency on the Leafs’ back-end last season.
Just about every Leaf fan out there would tell you there is one and only one defenceman set to become a free agent this summer they would like to have play for their favourite team. That is, of course, Nashville Predators blue-liner Ryan Suter. What people must realize, though, is that he isn’t the only one out there who would be a nice fit for this team.
In no particular order, here is a list of six defencemen who Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and his staff should seriously consider as Canada Day gets closer.
Jackman has never played for a team other than the St. Louis Blues. That doesn’t mean the possibility of him leaving St. Louis doesn’t exist, though, according to David Rogers of FrozenNotes.com.
“The odds of Barret Jackman returning to the Blues sits at 60-40, 70-30 in favor of the defenseman returning,” Rogers said via email. “Ultimately I think the Blues will make Jackman an offer but I don’t see it being the highest on the table. Other teams will look to pry Jackman away in the hopes his game will ascend to an even higher level in an environment where he’ll need to establish himself all over again.
The 31-year-old would bring many useful traits to the Maple Leafs’ blue line. For one, he is a solid shutdown defenceman who isn’t afraid to play with a physical edge. This, along with the leadership qualities that he has brought to the Blues’ dressing room for a number of years, is something the Leafs are in need of.
Kevin Shattenkirk, who recently wrapped up his sophomore season in the NHL and his first full season with the Blues, wasn’t shy when it came to speaking about the type of person Jackman is.
“Off the ice, the intangibles speak volumes about the type of character he has,” Shattenkirk said in a Detroit Free Press article. “That’s why he’s such a leader in here.”
The main question now surrounds Jackman’s salary. Is he worth more than the $3.5 million he was paid by the Blues in 2011-2012?
With 11 goals and 46 points, it was another solid season offensively for Wideman, who is currently under contract with the Washington Capitals until July 1 barring a new deal with the team. He has proven season in and season out that he is a talented puck moving defenceman, which is something that is essential to success in today’s NHL.
While his offensive abilities are impressive, they may not be the most intriguing of his capabilities as an NHL’er. During the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Wideman was often picked on as the worst player on the team for his defensive struggles. He was even called a ‘goat’ at times. Through all of this, though, he managed to keep a positive attitude.
“I thought I had a pretty good series defensively. I didn’t lose my guy a whole lot and didn’t have any real bad breakdowns where I got beat. I was on the ice for some goals,” Wideman told The Washington Times. “I thought I played well. I was happy with my series.”
No matter how you look at Wideman and the way he plays, though, there is no doubting what he can do on the score sheet. In his case, and this is rather unique, you could say with confidence that what he lacks in his own end is certainly more than made up for in the offensive zone.
Among situations Wideman would be useful in on the Leafs’ roster: the power play and with the team in dire need of goal.
Wideman should not be a priority of the Leafs given the fact that they already have the likes of Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner on the back-end to help move the puck. However, there is no doubt that he would be a nice addition to the team and that he should be considered as Canada Day approaches.
Not much time needs to be spent on Detroit Red Wings defenceman Brad Stuart considering that he is likely to wind up in California, according to Ansar Khan of MLive.com.
“The chances of Stuart re-signing with the Wings are virtually nil,” Khan said via email. “Like maybe 1 percent, if even that.
“It’s a family issue. His family lives in San Jose and can’t move due to a custody issue with his step-daughter. It’s forced Stuart to live by himself in Detroit during the season and commute to San Jose whenever he gets the chance.”
One still has to wonder if it would be worth the Leafs’ time to take a run at Stuart. After all, he would be a force on the back-end at six-foot-two, 213 pounds. As well, Stuart has made it clear in the past that he isn’t afraid of what might happen to him on the ice, as proven by this hit he put on Sidney Crosby in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.
As everyone knows, if you mess with the world’s best player, you’re bound to suffer revenge.
Foster, a member of the Minnesota Wild, likely wouldn’t have a spot handed to him as many of the players on this list probably would if they signed with the Leafs. That doesn’t make him someone the team shouldn’t look into, though.
At 30 years of age, Foster is coming off of an up and down season in which he played for three NHL teams and in two games with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. Of his time in the NHL, Foster was a healthy scratch for much of it. He played in a total of just 51 games due to his inability to stick in any lineup, but as Michael Russo of the Star Tribune said, a strong finish to the 2011-2012 campaign could help him land a nice job for next season.
Foster had a nice finish, registering 10 shots while going plus-three in his final eight games.
As a puck mover with a blast from the blue line, Foster, like Wideman, would be a nice addition to the Leafs’ power play but shouldn’t be a priority. Perhaps he is best suited for a contract of roughly $1 million to $1.2 million over one year, allowing him the chance to prove himself while presenting the Leafs with the possibility of having found a pleasant surprise.
Similar to Foster and Wideman, Carle is a puck mover. However, he is also very solid defensively and would certainly be useful at both ends of the rink. Perhaps he is the most plausible of the players on this list given his two-way ability and relative amount of experience in the league.
We must keep in mind, though, that it remains to be seen if Carle will even make it to free agency. Dustin Leed, who covers Carle’s current team, the Philadelphia Flyers, for TheHockeyGuys.net, believes that there is a strong possibility Carle will be back with the team.
“I say 80 percent he will be back,” Leed said via direct message on Twitter moments after reporting that Carle and the Flyers are working on a new contract.
Carle, 27, has shown to be a swift skating, well-positioned defenceman over the course of his eight-year NHL career. As well, he can make a solid first pass out of the defensive zone to get a rush started and he can jump in on the rush quite effectively himself. As for his numbers, Carle has shown to be successful statistically also.
During his time in the NHL Carle has posted a plus/minus rating below zero just twice. This past season Carle managed four goals and 34 assists to go along with a plus-four rating.
There’s no denying the fact that Carle would be a nice addition to the Leafs’ lineup. The two biggest questions: Will he leave Philadelphia? Just how much would he be able to fetch on the open market? He earned $3.8 million last season, which likely won’t lower given his age and performance.
Wildcard: Ryan Suter
Finally, there is the defenceman that every team would love to have. He can score goals, set up plays, shut down the opposition and much more. And at 27 years of age, there is still plenty of time for him to become a franchise player. All it will take is a lot of money.
Then again, it will take a lot of money to sign any of the players listed above.
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Lukas, a student at the University of Ottawa, covers the Toronto Maple Leafs on a part-time basis for The Hockey Writers. Contact Lukas at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter, @LukasHardonk.