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Yesterday, there were reports that the Pittsburgh Penguins had traded the negotiating rights of forward Maxime Talbot to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a fifth round draft pick.
As it turns out, the Maple Leafs had actually come to an agreement with the Penguins that they could speak exclusively to Talbot and his agent, Pat Brisson, for 48 hours commencing Sunday. If the two parties had come to an agreement on a new contract, the Leafs would have sent a fifth round pick to the Penguins and Talbot would be donning the blue and white.
Had the Maple Leafs signed Talbot, they would have acquired a proven bottom-six forward who would be able to ignite the team at any point in a game with his speedy style of play. But since he isn’t a Leaf, general manager Brian Burke is still looking to improve his third and fourth lines.
Now, with the free agent market set to open up, it’s time to take a look at what free agents could help improve the Maple Leafs’ bottom-six forward group.
Maxime Talbot – Pittsburgh Penguins
Although the Maple Leafs and Talbot were not able to come to an agreement, he could still become a Leaf.
Talbot, 27, is more of an energy player who will score every once in a while. In 82 games last season, the native of Lemoyne, Quebec scored eight goals and 13 assists. He has excelled in the playoffs throughout his entire career, with 14 goals, 19 assists and a plus-12 rating in 66 games.
Talbot would also come at a relatively cheap price. He earned just over $1 million last season, so don’t expect him to make more than $1.3 next season.
Scottie Upshall – Columbus Blue Jackets
Unlike most of the players you will find on this list, Scottie Upshall would be able to play on any of the top three lines.
Upshall scored 22 goals and 34 points in 82 games last season and 39 points in 49 games the season before; he certainly has the statistics to play on the first and second lines. If need be, he could simply be moved down to the third line and play with Colby Armstrong. That would give the Leafs a line that, depending on who the centreman is, could score and grind it out.
There have been multiple reports about Burke showing interest in Upshall, who, at $2.5 to $3 million, would likely be a good investment.
Joel Ward – Nashville Predators
Joel Ward is a player who impressed just about everybody in the 2008-2009 season when he scored 35 points in 79 games. He continued with that success during the following season before dropping off slightly last season.
The 30-year-old stands at 6’1″ and weighs in at 218 pounds. He earned $1.5 million in each of the last two seasons, and probably wouldn’t cost much more than that next season.
And for what it’s worth, he was born in Ontario.
Raffi Torres – Vancouver Canucks
There were many reports before the 2010-2011 season stating that Raffi Torres had signed with the Maple Leafs. Those reports turned out to be false, as he went on to score 14 goals and 29 points in 80 games for the Vancouver Canucks.
Torres, who was born in Toronto, plays with the gritty edge that Burke likes to see out of his third and fourth lines. He is just about as close as it comes to a “Brian Burke type player.”
There is no doubt Torres will be looking for a raise, however. He earned just $1 million last season and could fetch as much as $1.5 million in the open market.
Ville Leino – Philadelphia Flyers
Ville Leino surprised a lot of people last season when he put up 19 goals and 53 points to go along with a plus-14 rating in 81 games.
Like Upshall, he would be able to rotate among multiple lines, giving the Maple Leafs an extremely useful utility player. The 27-year-old would also be a welcomed addition to the Leafs’ penalty killing group, as the Buds killed off just 77.4 percent of the
penalties they committed.
Unfortunately for any team looking to sign Leino, they will have to pay him much more than he made last season. With a cap hit of just $800,000, Leino was a bargain for the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
Anthony Stewart – Winnipeg Jets
Anthony Stewart had an impressive 2010-2011 campaign. In 80 games with the Atlanta Thrashers, Stewart scored 14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points. Winnipeg’s decision to not qualify Stewart came as a surprise to many, as he is a great asset to have in your bottom-six forwards.
The 26-year-old had a cap hit of $632,500 last season, and it is unlikely he will earn much more than $1 million next season.