Go look at TSN’s Top 75 list of unrestricted free agents and tell me you’re excited for July 1st? It can’t be done. That list is terrible, and the only hope of something interesting happening is that John Tavares comes to the Leafs and/or GMs finally remember they are allowed to make trades to improve their teams.
As bad as the free agent market is, the Leafs definitely will be players in it, because, well, every team is, so we probably need to look at what might be salvageable from this wreckage. Who could make the Leafs marginally better? Who won’t interfere with the fact that the Leafs have some really good players that are about to get paid?
Here are five bargain free agents worth considering…
Tobias Rieder is 25 and has four years of NHL experience to his name. He’s coming off a season where he earned $2.45M, but the fact that he wasn’t qualified should establish that he’s probably not getting that again.
Rieder has excelled in bottom six wing roles, seeing significant usage on the penalty kill, and has managed to put up 12 or more goals a season every year he’s played. He’d very easily fit in with a Mike Babcock bottom six group, and could inherit Leo Komarov’s role minus the edge.
|Tobias Rieder 2015-18|
His numbers haven’t been great, largely because he’s been on the Coyotes, but his relative numbers speak to the value he can hopefully provide.
Matt Read has fallen off a damn cliff. He had one goal for the Flyers last season in the 19 games he played, and was a lot better in the AHL. He’s also 32 years old and the Leafs have plenty of depth on wing that they don’t need to crowd the competition with guys like Matt Read.
That being said, if Matt Read is wanting one more kick at the NHL, and would take a cheap depth 13th forward role and salary, he might be worth a look.
|Matt Read 2015-18|
It’s probably worth noting that Matt Read would have been very sheltered.
I’m sure Mike Babcock would be very pleased to have a Holmstrom/Franzen type presence to drop into his roster, and that would be what Maroon brings, not a lot of anything else.
Maroon has had a couple of years of being the guy who Connor McDavid banks pucks in off of and even with that situation he didn’t hit 20 goals last year. He’s not going to be worth betting the farm on, but he’ll probably get a raise over the $2M he earned last season. He could easily find a home in the Leafs middle six forward group at that price.
|Patrick Maroon 2015-18|
Probably not the answer to the Leafs right handed defensive needs, but possibly a good Marlie/callup option.
Sproul is someone that Dubas and Keefe will be very familiar with and could possibly see as someone they can get on track. The 6’4, former 2nd round pick seems like he’s worth a look, even if he is 25 and the clock is ticking on him.
|Ryan Sproul 2015-18|
Okay, so I really wish I hadn’t said five bargain UFAs, because I don’t really think there are too many players I’d be excited about adding to the Leafs. If anything this only confirms that a Leafs branded Brinks truck needs to follow John Tavares around for the rest of the week so he knows he’ll get paid here.
I promised a 5th name, but I have to say I’m skeptical about Derek Ryan, Riley Nash, and others who are about to get paid off the strength of their last season.
Instead for my 5 name, I’m going with Nail Yakupov. He’ll be 25 shortly after the season starts and hasn’t come anywhere near repeating his 17 goal in 48 game rookie season. He was a 10 minute a night player last year for the Avs, and had his third season in a row where he failed to crack 10 goals.
As much as the writing is clearly on the wall for Nail, I’m falling victim to my eyes and fall back in love with how dynamic he can be when he’s on his game. I don’t think we’re in an danger of Yakupov becoming a reality for the Leafs, but if there’s any upside left, I’m intrigued by it.
|Nail Yakupov 2015-18|
The interesting part of exploring the unrestricted free agency options that are out there is I’ve learned three things that seem to be very important for the Leafs
A) There aren’t many players out there that its worth making it difficult to re-sign Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Gardiner. The list is probably just Tavares.
B) The options for bottom six center are either expensive, risky, or bad. It’s better to find a trade.
C) As bad as the center market is, the defense market seems to worse. TSN ranked Jack Johnson, and John Moore the second and third best defensemen available. Once again the road to salvation is through trades.
D) As much as these are the 5 names I could come up with, I think I’d still prefer the Leafs didn’t (except maybe on Rieder.)
E) There really needs to be some consideration given to moving either Nylander or Marleau to center this season if Tavares isn’t coming, but I get the feeling an under performing veteran UFA center like Brodziak, Vermette, or Letestu will be something that happens July 1st.
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