Recapping Maple Leafs’ First Day of Free Agency

Day 1 of free agency has come and gone, and as always, the chaos wasted no time unfolding. Kicking off the festivities with the likes of Jack Campbell signing a five-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers and Claude Giroux inking a three-year deal with the Ottawa Senators, and ending the day with Johnny Gaudreau signing a seven-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, there was certainly no shortage of action.

Related: 2022 NHL Free Agent Tracker

The Toronto Maple Leafs, on the other hand, stayed relatively quiet. They made four signings in total, but nothing that really moved the needle too much roster-wise. Of course, the biggest storylines surrounding them on Wednesday mostly had to do with Campbell and the other free agents leaving. But while the Maple Leafs didn’t break out the chequebook for any of the big ticket names, that doesn’t mean the other signings were insignificant. There are likely more moves to be made, but with the first day in the books, let’s take a look at the pieces they brought in.

Ilya Samsonov (G) – 1 year, $1.8 million

If you told me this time last year that the Maple Leafs would be running a tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov heading into the 2022-23 season, I would have laughed. Unfortunately, those are the circumstances and that’s where we’re at. General manager Kyle Dubas was already taking a big risk with the acquisition of Matt Murray, and there’s a debate to be had about whether signing Samsonov inflates or minimizes that risk. 

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

A former first-round pick of the Washington Capitals, Samsonov has been a tandem goalie since coming into the league in 2019-20. The 25-year-old Russian netminder is coming off of a rough 2021-22 season where he carried a 3.02 goals- against average (GAA) and a .896 save percentage (SV%). On the other hand, the upside is absolutely still there. You don’t get drafted in the first round if you don’t have the potential of a starting goalie. Although the move could backfire in a big way, taking two goalies with high upside who are looking to prove something and having them push each other is a crazy enough idea that it just might work. 

Nicolas Aube-Kubel (RW) – 1 year, $1 million 

Among the list of players the Maple Leafs lost in free agency on Wednesday were Ilya Mikheyev, Colin Blackwell, and Ondrej Kase. While it’s not far out to suggest they could look to the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Toronto Marlies to fill some of those bottom six roster spots, Aube-Kubel is a textbook replacement for players like these. A former fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015, the Alberta native joined the Colorado Avalanche after the Flyers placed him on waivers in November and ended up winning a Stanley Cup with them. He also made some extra headlines for dropping the Cup during the Avs’ celebration. 

Aube-Kubel’s production for the Avalanche was solid, for a fourth-liner anyways. He had 22 points in 67 games, and while he was radio silent on the scoresheet during the Avalanche’s playoff run, he did his job in an energy role for the club. He’s not the biggest player at 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his size and likes to throw the body around. Dubas cited that he believes Aube-Kubel could help make up for the loss of Mikheyev, particularly in terms of speed and forechecking. As such, he should fit nicely in the Maple Leafs’ bottom six.

Adam Gaudette (C) – 1 year, $750,000 

Like Aube-Kubel, Adam Gaudette is another option for the bottom six. A former Hobey Baker Award winner as the top NCAA hockey player in 2018, he’s a 6-foot-1 centre with possible top-nine upside. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, he made his NHL debut in 2017-18 after recording 60 points in 38 games for Northeastern University in his Hobey Baker-winning season. His career year to date came in 2019-20 when he registered 33 points in 59 games. 

The Gaudette signing is about as low-risk as you can get. He’s making league minimum and comes with strong offensive upside and a contract that’s easy to bury if he doesn’t work out. It was reported that he had an illness that negatively impacted his health last season, so it will be interesting to see how he does at full health. At his best, I could see him turning into a third-line scorer for the Maple Leafs who’s capable of 15 goals or so. If the signing doesn’t work out, it’s easy to work around. But with the money he’s going to be making, it’s a good gamble to make. 

Denis Malgin (C/LW) – 1 year, $750,000

This was without a doubt the most polarizing and probably the funniest signing the Maple Leafs could have made on Day 1. Generally, a player making league minimum wouldn’t garner this much attention, but Denis Malgin has an unfortunate history with the Maple Leafs. The team originally acquired him in 2019-20, one-for-one, in exchange for forward Mason Marchment. Marchment went on to record 47 points in 54 games for the Florida Panthers this season, whereas Malgin only got a chance to play eight games with the team before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the season down. 

Denis Malgin Florida Panthers
Denis Malgin,. Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Swiss forward returned to his home country to play pro in 2020-21, and seemingly found a new gear. He led the Swiss league in scoring in 2021-22, finishing with 52 points in 48 games. While the Maple Leafs held his rights, his contract in Switzerland ran through the 2022-23 season, so they had to sign him by Friday per the NL-NHL transfer agreement. He is, unfortunately, going to have the dark cloud of the Marchment trade hanging over his head regardless of what happens. Even though the move wasn’t his fault, there’s still reason to believe that he can be a useful bottom-six player for the team.

Dubas Likely Not Done Making Moves

The Maple Leafs didn’t get one of the shiny new toys on Day 1 of free agency, but that doesn’t mean they won’t potentially be looking at bigger names over the next few days. Dubas said himself that he’d like to add some more forwards and potentially a depth defenseman who can throw the body. The fact that he didn’t use the term “depth forwards” in that statement leads me to believe that the Maple Leafs may be aiming for something bigger.

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It was obvious throughout the season that the line of Alex Kerfoot, John Tavares, and William Nylander ran stale on more than one occasion, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see them pursue somebody for the top six. Somebody like Dylan Strome comes to mind. Then, there’s also the possibility of the Maple Leafs moving somebody like Justin Holl or Jake Muzzin to clear cap space on the back end, especially with the logjam they currently have. Either way, I would expect to see some more moves from the Maple Leafs, and these next few days are going to be entertaining.

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