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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

4 free agent traps the Leafs need to be cautious with

The draft weekend has come and gone without anything in way of a major acquisition for the Leafs, so now we wait to see how the trade market continues to shape up and what free agency might present to the team on Saturday. Toronto was reportedly close on bringing aboard Travis Hamonic over the weekend, but was ultimately outbid by the Flames, meaning their primary target right now remains a top four right-shot defenceman. But there are other upgrades they look at for their bottom pair, and at forward – especially if they’re set on moving out James van Riemsdyk – so really it’s wide open heading into the open market on July 1st. Considering many believe Toronto could be in a bit of “go for it” mode, nothing would really be all that surprising, which is exciting and at the same time a little scary.

There are some free agents out there who sure to gather up plenty of interest, but present as major traps for teams that will almost surely regret signing in the near future. The Leafs can’t be one of those teams to get duped, so let’s look at some parts of this minefield they need to avoid. [Kris Russell may be off the board, but we’re not out of the woods yet.]

Karl Alzner

You might remember mid-way through the Leafs-Caps matchup of the opening round when Alzner left the series due to injury and Nate Schmidt stepped in to take his place. I remember it well, as it helped tip the series in Washington’s favour. That’s because, while Alzner has established this reputation as an incredible shutdown veteran, in reality he’s probably more of a replacement-level bottom pairing guy. The big problem is he’s probably going to be paid like the former, and Toronto can’t be part of that, especially considering he’ll turn 29 in September. Even at his relatively cheap current cap hit of 2.8-million AAV, Alzner is likely a negative value player, and now he’s looking for a raise.

5v5 numbers via DataRink.com

The good thing for the Leafs is that they’re sort of stacked up on the left side, especially after having Marincin left alone in the expansion draft. Marincin, Rosen, Borgman, and Dermott will all presumably fight it out for that bottom-pairing spot. There’s also the possibility Toronto brings back Matt Hunwick, likely at a similar dollar figure to his expiring contract that was paying him 1.2-million AAV.

Better alternatives to Alzner: In-house competition, Matt Hunwick, Brendan Smith

Shane Doan

No one is sure what Doan is going to do next, but we’re led to believe the breakup with the Coyotes left him sour. Now the big question surrounds whether or not he’ll retire this summer. He is 41-years-old after all.

If he doesn’t, I can guarantee you his name will start to pop up around the Leafs, for two reasons: Mainstream hockey reporters – many stationed in Toronto – live for this guy, and as the so-called face of the Coyotes for the last two decades, there’s the Auston Matthews link. Wouldn’t it be great for Matthews to play alongside his idol? I’m not so sure.

Doan isn’t even a particularly bad addition – his underlying numbers are okay, and he ran into some poor luck this past season on a disastrous team, so his boxcars were low (just 6 goals and 21 assists) – he just doesn’t fit with the Leafs. At best he’d be a third-line wing and would have to take time from someone like Kasperi Kapanen or Connor Brown, who really need the reps. Toronto already has a team dad in Matt Martin and are paying him well to fill that role, they don’t need another.

Better alternatives to Doan: Status quo

Dan Girardi

Girardi does such a poor job of suppressing shots against, that his HERO chart column for shot-suppression is empty. On a scale of 0-10, he’s at 0, according to Dominic Galimini’s model. If the Leafs want to have a right-shot who gets crushed in the defensive zone, they could just bring back Polak.

But this is another player everyone on the television networks loves to heap praise onto, even though he was just bought out of a 5.5-million AAV contract with three seasons left. Tough guy, heart and soul, blocks shots, warrior, all that stuff. Someone is going to give him another chance, and I pray it isn’t Toronto because at this point in Girardi’s career there’s absolutely nothing left in the tank. He’s sub-replacement-level and the Leafs can’t get caught up in that old school talk. If anything, they need a good upgrade on Polak, not to take a step back.

HERO Chart via OwnThePuck

Better alternatives to Girardi: A cardboard cut-out of Dan Girardi, Cody Franson

Shattenkirk with too much term

This one is interesting because Shattenkirk is a stud right-shot defenceman. We’re talking about a top-pairing player and major addition to the franchise, so Toronto should test the water here. But there’s a very real chance he’s shooting for the full seven years in free agency, and that’s not really a road the Leafs can go down with where they are in their build.

Going two, even three years with Shattenkirk is something that would make sense for the Leafs, but with Matthews and Marner set for major paydays in 2019 and Nylander already a year into his next contract by then, they have to be careful about how things look beyond that point. Shattenkirk for, say, 7×7 is probably something that will cause them problems, and it’s a deal that would take him to age 35. Based on what we know about the way players drop off with age, you’re probably looking at negative value in the final three years of a contract like that. It’s just not something that should be palatable to the Leafs to go that all-in.

Better alternatives: Overpay Shattenkirk on a higher AAV for a shorter term if possible, or find a stop-gap option like Chris Tanev

  • Stan Smith

    A few things about Alzner. As soon as he was healthy the Caps put him right back in the lineup. Second he averaged close to 20 minutes a game for the best team in the regular season. He led the team in PK time, and was 2nd in 5 on 5 minutes. He must be valuable in some ways. Fact is, if he was only looking at about $3M a year he would not be a bad signing. I understand though, that he is looking for a significant raise. I’m not sure he would be worth much more than that.

    While I don’t think Shattenkirk would improve the team defensively, if they wanted to keep playing run and gun hockey, trading quality chances, he might be their guy, just not at $7M over 7 years.

    Doan and Girardi I don’t think are even worth mentioning.

    • Capt.Jay

      Totally agree on everything you said here Steve. I think alzner would be an upgrade on either Hunwick or Polak, as unfortunately Polak might be done. I’d be ok if it was Reilly/Zeitzev. Gardiner/Shattenkirk, and alzner/Marincinor Carrick. That would be a significantly better D corps IMHO. Shattenkirk only at the right term and money of course

  • Capt.Jay

    There’s no loyalty in sports nowadays. I’d love to sign Shattenkirk on an expensive short term with the notion he’d sign another short term paying less. Both contracts ending up totalling 7 years but in sports it’s a chance you can’t take anymore.

  • Regulator Johnson

    NHL & NFL free agency have the same problem: with the hard cap it’s almost never cost effective to sign a good free agent. Where the Leafs are now, you probably can’t look much further than a ST deal for Thornton or maybe clear out some depth prospects for a 2nd pair-ish defenseman.

    I honestly wish that NHL roster construction was still more fun (look how much player movement baseball has), but at least the resulting hockey tends to be top notch & competitive.

  • Bob

    Leafs can still sign Shattenkirk for 7 years at 7 mil but just make sure to include the large signing bonuses for the last few years (3 mil should do it) so you can trade the contract. In two or three years you can decide if you want to pay for Marner or keep paying Shattenkirk.