Ever since the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season ended, sifting through free agency to find a player in his prime has been a hot topic in Leafs Nation. It wasn’t uncommon to go on social media and see “they’re going to sign Alzner!” or “do you think they have a shot at Shattenkirk?”
But considering where the Leafs are in their development, there are only so many spots that need to be filled and they’re all fairly minor. Up front, unless Lou Lamoriello does decide to move a veteran like Tyler Bozak or James van Riemsdyk, Toronto is set on offence. On the back end, the Leafs have prospects coming up and in goal, they’re set with Frederik Andersen. So even though bringing in another core piece through free agency may be tempting, it’s just not worth it.
Enough Forward Depth
Sure, adding the likes of Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton would no doubt be exciting, but it wouldn’t serve a good purpose.
Toronto already has three very solid centres in Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak. Again, Bozak could be moved, but presuming he isn’t, the Leafs are set down the middle. On the left side, James van Riemsdyk may or may not be in Toronto long-term as well, but presuming he’s there for the year, he’s the Leafs’ top guy on the left wing.
Leo Komarov has been extremely effective for the team and fits great with Kadri and Brown, and Mike Babcock seems to love Zach Hyman playing with Matthews and Nylander. Rounding out the left side is Matt Martin, who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
With right wingers Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Connor Brown all still improving and Kasperi Kapanen getting his fix of NHL action last season, not to mention prospects like Josh Leivo, Nikita Soshnikov, and Kerby Rychel trying to crack the lineup, the Leafs are good to go up front.
The one spot Toronto will need to look to fill is the fourth-line centre slot. It’s unclear if Brian Boyle is interested in coming back, or if the Leafs are interested in bringing him back, but presuming he does depart, this is the one area where the Leafs could test the waters. That being said, a fourth-line centre realistically shouldn’t be bringing in a big pay day and signing the likes of Dominic Moore on a one-year deal would hardly make headlines.
To get it out of the way, Andersen is around long-term, that much is clear. Toronto will need a backup goaltender for the year, but this is something that can wait until much closer to opening night. Considering Andersen played 66 games last year, a contending backup probably isn’t one of Lou Lamoriello’s top priorities. The Leafs could end up signing a goalie when free agency opens, but another option might be to hold out and re-sign Curtis McElhinney for another year, which wouldn’t be a bad plan.
Then we get to the blue line— the one area where countless rumours have been thrown out and a spot really does need to be filled. First, it was going to be Sami Vatanen, then Colin Miller, but in the end, the spot is still vacant. In any other free-agent class, signing a big-name defenceman would make sense. But considering how weak the class is, defencemen like Karl Alzner are going to be overpaid horribly. Toronto just drafted a highly touted prospect in Timothy Liljegren and though he’s a couple of years off from really making an impact in the NHL, he may be the long-term solution for the Leafs.
On the left side, Toronto has a ton of prospects as it is, with Travis Dermott, Andrew Nielsen, Calle Rosen, and Andreas Borgman all fighting to make the team with only one spot really available. On the right side, Toronto could bring back Cody Franson, which would be alright, but he’s much more of a temporary solution than a long-term fix. If the Leafs are set on bringing in a right-handed shot defenceman who really has a future in Toronto, it has to happen another way, not through this year’s free agent class.
Toronto could fill areas using the available options that free agency comes with, but if they do, don’t expect any long-term, big-money signings. At least for this year, it should be minor players getting interest from the Leafs, not high-end assets.
Ben is a journalism student at Ryerson University and covers the Toronto Maple Leafs.