Finding a right side partner for Jake Gardiner via UFA

James Mirtle came out with his list of 35 unrestricted free agent defencemen at the Globe’s website on Wednesday afternoon, and after a bit of perusing, I’ve found a couple of names worth going after. The list was shortened as the Calgary Flames traded for, and signed, Dennis Wideman to a pretty sizeable contract, 5 years, $26M.

Goes to show just how badly teams will overpay for top free agents, and while Wideman was the best of the “second-tier” defencemen in this class, he will be remarkably overpaid. Suffice to say, you can’t get a good free agent without looking for a bit of value.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a little over $57M committed to next season. Factor in the Nikolai Kulemin contract, plus one or two depth free agents, there isn’t a lot of room, maybe $3M or $4M, to sign a guy and hold onto some cap space, especially if the team is going to go after a goaltender at all this offseason.

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The Leafs can’t afford Dennis Wideman and his 11 goals and his 45 points.

Scouring James’ list of UFAs, I put together three names of potential top four defencemen. There’s no use in going after a guy who will be a 5, 6, 7 or 8 guy—the Leafs have those in spades—what they really need is somebody to play with Jake Gardiner on the second pairing, preferably somebody who plays on the right side.

One theory is Jason Garrison. Unfortunately with the Wideman deal, I have a feeling that his contract will be massive and closing in on $6M. I left him off this list.

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Michal Rozsival:

Rozsival made $5M for the last four seasons, and I highly doubt that he’s going to be after the huge payday on July 1. Though he’ll be 34 next season, he played over 16 minutes of 5-on-5 per game with Phoenix this past season, and was closing in on 20 in all situations. He didn’t see top-pairing competition, but had the fourth highest on the team, at .359. He also tended to start on the defensive side of the ice, but still put up a positive possession number to his teammates, with a Relative Corsi of 2.8.

His 2011 numbers look decent enough as well, and this is a guy who can push play forward playing second-level minutes, and plays the right side. I have a feeling he ought to be what Brian Burke is looking for. He played a lot of his minutes with Oliver Ekman-Larsson this season, but the WOWY split isn’t huge: OEL has a .513 Corsi rate with Rozsival and .514 without. 

Brett Clark:

The caveat with Clark is that he’s getting up there in age. He turns 36 on December 23rd. The other issue is his -7.5 Relative Corsi, obtained after playing a lot of tough minutes with Victor Hedman, who is a much better player with Clark than without. He’s the guy you want teaching the young defenceman like Gardiner and has experience playing the tough minutes and that veteran wisdom. He can still play you about 18 minutes a night, and I’d keep him at even strength.

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How much will he cost? He made $1.5M in the last two seasons, so he’s a guy who could come cheap and fit into that top four. I don’t seem him as good of an option at Rozsival.

Adrian Aucoin:

Another guy from the Phoenix Coyotes that they may not be able to re-sign. Aucoin has been, throughout his career, a steady top four guy, but is now 38, so I can’t see him sticking around for more than one or two years. He still played over 20 minutes a night last season, as he has for every year in his career.

His underlyings have generally been pretty strong and he doesn’t exactly see easy minutes. I reckon there’s still a bit left in his old tank, but his offensive game has detereoirated and he’s pretty much a one-way guy at this point. But that should be the kind of player the Leafs need, a stay-at-home Dad for Jake Gardiner. He fits the bill decently enough and can be a stop-gap until Jesse Blacker or Stuart Percy are ready to make the NHL in a large capacity.

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  Age Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC Ozone%
Michal Rozsival 33 2.8 0.359 46.2%
Brett Clark 36 -7.5 0.432 45.7%
Adrian Aucoin 38 3.1 0.483 48.8%

Those are the three that I’ve identified. Top-four, right-side guys who won’t break the Leafs’ bank. The pickings look slim because, well, they are. Hopefully the Leafs get a little more creative than this when finding a guy, but if they do it through free agency, these are our men.

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