We’re already ten days into free agency and, not totally unsurprisingly, there are a number of interesting and quality hockey players still without a contract.
Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, Johnny Oduya… There’s lots of decent defencemen still on the market, along with a number of options at forward like Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty, Curtis Glencross, Sean Bergenheim, Brad Boyes. The list goes on.
Should this impact the Leafs in any way, though? Should Toronto still be in the market for another free agent or two, despite already adding P.A. Parenteau, Shawn Matthias, Daniel Winnik, Mark Arcobello and Matt Hunwick? Would money be better spent elsewhere?
These are big questions with complex answers, so we called in our expert roundtable to set things straight…
There are so many (somewhat) useful free agents left that it’s difficult to pinpoint one the Leafs should target. I think they’re about at the point now where they need to send someone out the door, like Lupul or Bozak, or even Phaneuf, before adding, but there are still interesting options out there. If they can move Phaneuf – which seems quite unlikely now – I’d be okay with bringing in Franson, but in that case they should drive up his cap hit through the roof to secure him on a shorter term. As for forwards, it’s interesting because the market seems so flushed that players like Boyes, Weiss, Roy, and others might go unsigned until they get camp invites. For that reason it seems nearly impossible for the Leafs to unload one of Lupul or Bozak. If they can, however, I wouldn’t mind them taking a chance on Derek Roy. He’s useful, can still put up a few points, and would likely cost a million bucks on a one-year contract. At this point we probably need to accept the Leafs will be able to roll out one offensive line – whichever one Kadri and van Riemsdyk are on – and then three fairly equal grinding lines. Roy fits that model. He’s also been dealt at the deadline twice before, and draft picks are always fun.
Nah, pass on all of them. The Leafs will pretty much be at the 50 SPC limit once Bernier inks his extension, so bringing these guys on is only possible with ELC slides – and I’m not sold on any of the remaining free agents being valuable enough to take up one of the few potentially available roster spots.
Make no mistake – I think that quite a few of the remaining free agents still hold value. Derek Roy is a totally serviceable third line centre, and Cody Franson really should have found a home by now. Even Alexander Semin would likely do some damage on a team that deploys him in a role with less pressure on his shoulders. When it comes to ‘serviceable veterans’, though, I think the Leafs have picked up enough depth pieces that adding these would be just for the sake of adding players. That seems like an insane reason to waste roster spots for a team that’s already crowding up to the 50-player contract limit. Adding Roy would mean moving either Spaling, Arcobello, or Holland to the wing – and that’s with one of them already likely being shifted over at the start of the season anyway – and Franson adds yet another bottom-four pairing defenseman to a team that’s pretty much overflowing with those right now. The team needs to avoid falling prey to the idea that if a depth veteran can still produce, a team would be remiss to pass on them – otherwise you end up with four lines stuffed with mediocre depth talent and no room for your youth to come up. Hard pass on the New Jersey offense model.
Once Jonathan Bernier is signed the Leafs are in the less than ideal situation of having all 50 of their standard player contracts committed, so barring a trade signing an additional player requires moving someone out. That being said, Bernier arbitration case also opens up a second buyout window for the Leafs, and if someone like Cody Franson is still available it’s not a bad time to revisit it and consider cheaper buyouts like Frattin or Devane in order to make additional SPCs available.
Given the number of players that are still available I find myself already leaning towards the idea of training camp invites as a means to adding to the roster. A player like Stephen Weiss comes to mind, and he at one time was held in some regard by Mike Babcock. Bringing in an additional players at that time is a bit more feasible as Cody Donaghey all still have his entry level contract slide rule which could make an additional space available, but I’d prefer the Leafs avoid being at the 50 contract maximum at the start of the season as flexibility is in making transactions is essential to speeding up the rebuild process, so I guess my answer is probably don’t bring in additional free agents unless an ideal situation presents itself.