Maple Leafs Have Affordable Forward Options via Free Agency

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has made one thing clear, he’s not moving any of his core players this summer and they will be looking for some value on the free agent market. The organization currently has just under $10 million in cap space and have several needs, so whoever they end up signing will be a cost-effective addition. I’ve touched previously on some defensemen the team could be interested in, and today we jump up front to the forward group.

3 Free Agent Forwards the Maple Leafs Should Target

Ryan Donato

The 25-year-old did not receive a qualifying offer this week from the San Jose Sharks and becomes one of the more intriguing names to hit the open market. He’s a Harvard grad who has shown he can score. Last season he recorded 20 points in 50 games for the Sharks, but the season previous tallied 14 goals in 62 games for the Minnesota Wild.

Ryan Donato San Jose Sharks
Ryan Donato would be an interesting addition for the Maple Leafs (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Donato showed very well at the World Championships earlier this summer for Team USA, recording four points in 10 games. The Maple Leafs have some needs on their left side up front and the Boston-native could be given some opportunity to shine. His offensive instincts would make him well suited for one of the team’s top lines — the only issue would be, would he be blocking prospect Nick Robertson?

There’s also Alex Galchenyuk to think about as well, as the Maple Leafs have interest in bringing him back. Regardless, if the team wants a cheap option who has a ton to prove and would be motivated to sign a short-term contract with the potential of a long-term extension, Donato should be considered.

Michael Bunting

Bunting is one of the more interesting names on the free agent market as he’s only 25 years old and a Group 6 unrestricted free agent, as he did not accrue the required games by the age of 25. The Maple Leafs don’t care as they are super familiar with him as he was a Sault St. Marie Greyhound, coached by Keefe and brought in by Dubas. The Maple Leafs GM has shown in the past he loves to be loyal to players he knows — we saw it with the Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell trade a couple of seasons ago.

Bunting can score and has done so everywhere he’s played. Last season he tallied 10 goals in 21 games, which is certainly going to catch the eyes of many teams, not just the Maple Leafs. However, considering the relationship and the fact he’s from Toronto, this could be a match made in heaven. He would be an interesting add to the Maple Leafs’ top two lines and could be given a shot to compete for one of the left-wing spots.

For those that don’t know much about Bunting, he’s a 5-foot-11 winger who skates well and has some elite offensive instincts. He loves to work the front of the net and most of his goals throughout his professional career have come via a tip or rebound. Somewhere Zach Hyman’s ears are burning.

Cedric Paquette

Out of the three options presented today, Paquette is what the Maple Leafs crave the most. He’s physical, he’ll stick up for teammates, he’s versatile to play both the wing and center, and he’s a Stanley Cup champion with loads of postseason experience. The Quebec-native is going to be a top priority for a team like the Montreal Canadiens, so there’s a chance we could see a bidding war take place, which would be bad news for the cash-strapped Maple Leafs.

If he’s willing to accept less money for longer term, perhaps Dubas would consider offering a three-year deal to the 27-year-old and keep his annual salary around $2 million. Last season, Paquette made $1.65 million and recorded eight points in 47 games, split between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes.

Cedric Paquette Tampa Bay Lightning
Cedric Paquette is one free agent who has Stanley Cup experience (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The long-time Tampa Bay Lightning hits absolutely everybody, which would help the Leafs’ need for some more killer instinct. He’s been amongst the league leaders in hits since his arrival into the NHL, and even has a season where he finished with 269. To give you an idea, Hyman led the Maple Leafs’ forward group with 69 hits last season, which basically translates to roughly 100 hits in an 82-game season. Only 169 more to go.

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With Paquette on the left wing and Wayne Simmonds on the right, it could certainly present itself as an interesting checking line for head coach Sheldon Keefe. The versatile forward has also shown he’s capable of playing down the middle, as he’s won 1,456 faceoffs over the course of his eight-year career. Flexibility within the lineup is something the team desires and will be looking to add more of this summer. Paquette should be near the top of their list.

The Maple Leafs are not going to be spending like some teams this week as their bank card is approaching insufficient funds. Dubas and company and going to be trolling the free agent waters to find value. These three players are names to watch as free agency opens on Wednesday. While Donato is a decent option, the latter two seem much more likely to be wearing blue and white next season.

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