As everyone is obviously aware, the Stamkos Sweeptakes are over, and they ended in the most boring fashion possible. There won’t be a bidding war, we won’t be glued to Twitter like we were when Babcock was hired, none of that. It’s no doubt a bit of a letdown for Leafs fans, but really nothing in the division has changed, so that’s good. He didn’t go to Detroit or Buffalo or Montreal, so no harm no foul really.
But Toronto still has to get ready for the free agency period, which gets rolling tomorrow. Like I mentioned here a couple days ago, it’s difficult to imagine them going after any marquee names like Lucic, Eriksson, or whoever as a backup plan to Stamkos, but there are still some guys out there who can probably chip in and help in what will be another important development year for plenty of the roster.
Last year the Leafs managed to bring on some veteran pieces to fill in gaps, and it worked out well. Parenteau was as good as anyone could have expected, and though Boyes appeared to have an underwhelming season, he wasn’t a boat anchor by any means, and definitely didn’t hurt the team on the ice or monetarily.
This summer, however, given the flat cap and teams feeling they need to step away from decent RFAs, we have a free agent crop with a number of young names out there who can probably help fill out a roster nicely. Here are some who might make sense for Toronto.
A few years back, Vey was seen as a solid prospect in the Kings’ system for a while as he ripped up the AHL, but not long after making his debut for the big club he was sent to Vancouver in 2014 for a second-rounder due to concerns over him being claimed on waivers (like Corrado was). He started off fine with the Canucks, pouring in 24 points in 75 games during his first full season in 2014-15, but then things got off the rails this past year. The guy has had a rough go of things on a personal level since 2013, dealing with his parents being involved in an alleged murder conspiracy which is supposed to have some closure with a trial this summer. Wherever he goes, hopefully he can start to get his game moving in the right direction again. At just 24-years-old, he probably wouldn’t be a bad pickup on a cheap one-year or even just a camp tryout.
Like Vey, Connolly is 24-years-old, but he likely presents with more upside. He’s considered a draft bust since he’s never come close to living up to being selected sixth overall, but it’s difficult to argue he’s a legit NHLer and can contribute.
Connolly had 25 points in 71 games for the Bruins this past season, and his underlying numbers look fine. Again, if he’s attainable on a cheap short term contract, it’s probably worth giving him a shot over someone on the wrong side of thirty.
Pirri is probably the most intriguing option on this list, as he’s easily been the most productive. It was just two years ago he poured in 22 goals in 49 games for the Panthers (albeit riding 15.7% shooting). But it’s worth noting Pirri has been a strong shooter to date, going 13.6% for his career of 166 games so far.
In terms of boxcars, he’s produced at 0.48 points-per-game and just turned 25 this past April. His production projects to a top nine forward while his possession numbers paint him as a bottom nine guy. Essentially he’s a middle of the lineup forward with a scoring touch.
Considering his age with much of his prime likely still in the tank, he’d be as good an option as any for a year or two.
IS THERE A FIT?
None of these players are going to make or break the Leafs by any stretch, but when it comes to players left out in the cold with no qualifying offers, they’d be fine targets for a few teams. And the reason I wanted to focus on them here is because they’re younger players who probably still have a tiny bit of upside to achieve, as opposed to looking for more washouts and hoping they have something left. Either option would be fine, but Toronto should be looking at both.
As far as the Leafs current roster goes, it would obviously be difficult to slot any of these guys in right now, since Toronto has some mediocre-to-bad forwards clogging up the lines, as well as AHL players that could very well make the jump in September. But there is likely some maneuvering still to be done, and Lou has made it clear the roster could undergo plenty of turnover this summer. We should remember it’s still early.
Bringing aboard a player like the ones mentioned above would likely signify something else is on the burner in the form of shedding more expensive players like Greening, Lupul, or Michalek. Or it might also point out to us that Leafs management feels some minor league talents aren’t quite as ready as we think they are.