The 2017 NHL Draft has come and gone, which means the next stop on the NHL calendar is free agency. Now the Toronto Maple Leafs are in “win now” mode while Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander are still on their entry-level deals. That gives the Leafs two years in the cases of Matthews and Marner. After that, the Leafs’ cap situation will get a little more interesting with those three getting big raises.
So what do the Leafs do in the meantime? They were able to make it to the playoffs last season and even pushed the Washington Capitals to six games before being eliminated. Obviously, the Leafs’ core being one year older will make them better but then again the Leafs won’t be surprising anyone this year. They’ll need to make some improvements.
Sure the Leafs will try to make a trade or two, but they will probably dip into free agency as well. Who are some players the Leafs should target? Here are four possibilities.
This is quite possibly the most important free agent the Leafs have to sign. The Leafs’ depth at center goes three deep when it comes to quality with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. Without Boyle, the Leafs would be forced to use Ben Smith as their fourth-line center to start the season. Frederik Gauthier might be able to take on the role, but he will miss the start of the season while still recovering from an injury.
Boyle provided valuable depth at center after he was acquired at the trade deadline. If he leaves, the Leafs are right back to where they were before his acquisition. Not to mention that the Leafs gave up a second-rounder for him and to just lose him for nothing would be terrible. Now, of course, that’s the risk when you go after a rental player but the Leafs are still in need of his services. If he’s not too expensive, the Leafs should try to bring him back.
Now, this is only if the Leafs can’t find a defenseman via trade. We all know the Leafs were in on Travis Hamonic, but he ended up going to the Calgary Flames. Marc Methot was just traded to the Dallas Stars, and it seems the Leafs aren’t going to get any other of the extra defensemen the Vegas Golden Knights have. The Leafs will continue to look for defensemen via the trade route, but they may have to end up looking to free agency.
Now, is Girardi the best defenseman out there? No, but he is a veteran leader and more importantly, he has tons of playoff experience. After being bought out by the New York Rangers, many teams could be looking for a ‘prove it’ deal for Girardi. With the Leafs, he could possibly get a bit more on a two-year deal. With the Leafs looking to contend, it might just be enough to bring him to Toronto.
Now, if the Leafs can’t bring back Boyle, Moore might be a cheaper option. A former Leaf who played for them in 101 games from 2008-2009, he has bounced around from team to team for his entire career. He was an important part of the New York Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and has made it to the Conference Finals three separate times.
Obviously, the Leafs could use that type of experience and should see if he wants to come back to town. Even if they bring back Boyle, they could still bring in Moore as he can play the wing as well. He is definitely a cheaper option as he has never made more than $1.5 million on a one- or two-year deal in his last seven contracts.
The Leafs might bring back Curtis McElhinney as their backup goalie but if he elects to sign elsewhere, Elliott could be an option. Another player who might have to accept a ‘prove it’ deal, he has to bounce back from the year he had in Calgary last season.
He could provide the Leafs with another valuable backup, one who is motivated to do better than last year. With Frederik Andersen established as the starter, the pressure would be off of Elliott. More importantly, if there is an injury to Andersen, Elliott is the type of goalie that can take control of the net for a week or two.
With the window open for teams to talk to free agents, the next few weeks are bound to get very interesting. Who do you want the Leafs to sign?