19 years and counting as the Toronto Maple Leafs were once again unable to win a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series. While the 2021-22 team certainly felt to be their most talented group, it still wasn’t enough to get past the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Coaches and management are expected to meet for the next couple of weeks as they cement the team’s plan heading into the offseason. While money will be tight and there’s a huge priority to keep goaltender Jack Campbell in town, let’s examine a few free-agent defensemen who should be on the Maple Leafs’ radar come July 13 when free agency begins.
First off, let’s start with their own free-agent-to-be Mark Giordano, who should be a priority for the Maple Leafs to re-sign. The trade to bring him and Colin Blackwell in from the Seattle Kraken was a smart move by general manager Kyle Dubas and now we will see if the veteran is willing to accept a league-minimum deal, much like his old pal Jason Spezza did for Toronto.
“Gio” will hit the open market coming off a 38-year-old season where he produced 35 points in 75 games; and while he’s certainly not fleet of foot, the veteran blueliner is as smart as they come and is a calming presence for the team’s young defensemen. Leafs Nation loved seeing him play with Timothy Liljegren throughout the second half of this season, so look for Dubas to provide Giordano with a one or two-year contract offer, likely hovering around $1 million against the salary cap.
With the likes of Rasmus Sandin and Liljegren expected to play a major role in 2022-23 for the Maple Leafs, they are likely to consider some very cheap options on the blue line, and Robert Hagg could be a target. His regular season was split between the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers and in 64 total games, he collected 138 hits and 102 blocked shots. Two areas of concern for the Maple Leafs, as Hagg, loves to use his 6-foot-2 frame to get involved in the play.
Hagg’s game is built for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, even with the deep Panthers not giving him a look so far this postseason. Their blue line is much deeper than the Maple Leafs and some within the Panthers fan base are calling for him to be inserted into their lineup.
It doesn’t seem like he’s going to re-sign with Florida at this point, but of course, that could potentially change. If Hagg hits the open market as expected come July 13, the Maple Leafs should inquire about his price tag and see if they can fit him in with their limited cap space. There’s some potential a guy like Jake Muzzin gets moved to free up some more space for Jack Campbell to re-sign, so Hagg could be a nice replacement for way less money if Muzzin does indeed get traded.
An untimely injury for Buffalo Sabres defenseman Colin Miller meant he was staying put with the Sabres through this season’s trade deadline when there was a very good chance he was getting shipped out of town. The Maple Leafs would have been right there in the mix with interest, as Miller was a familiar name to the likes of Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe from their days with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault St. Marie Greyhounds organization.
Miller is someone who could be a huge upgrade on the likes of Justin Holl and pending free agent Ilya Lyubushkin and could provide the Maple Leafs with another piece to plug into all situations on the ice. The 29-year-old finished the 2021-22 season appearing in 38 games tallying 14 points, and has shown in the past that he’s capable of producing more offensively. Starting next season with TJ Brodie, Miller and Liljegren on Toronto’s right side of their blue line would be a nice improvement over how it finished this season.
The Maple Leafs will be in tough to improve their hockey club from the outside this offseason and many of their changes could be completed internally. The likes of Hagg and Miller could become affordable options for upgrading on the team’s back end and keeping Giordano in town should be a priority. Dubas and company have a ton of work to tackle with limited resources at their disposal. This summer is going to be an interesting one to watch for Leafs Nation, so buckle up and expect the unexpected.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween