Yesterday, the deadline for qualifying restricted free agents came and went, and with that comes some younger, cheaper options in free agency. The Leafs qualified all of their RFAs, so we didn’t need to worry about any of them joining another team and ruining us.
But, with the Leafs losing some pieces in terms of UFAs, there are several options that the Leafs could look at for some cheap help to increase their depth.
One issue the Leafs have had the last couple of seasons is starting off the year with a good fourth line center. They’ve managed to address the need at the trade deadline the last couple of years with Brian Boyle and Tomas Plekanec, but they start the season with Ben Smith and Dominic Moore. Nick Shore could be a potential option.
He bounced around the league this season, getting traded from the Kings to the Senators, and then the Sens to the Flames. He doesn’t put up a ton of points (his career high was 18 in this season, and his 5v5 P160 over the last three seasons is 0.63), but he’s excellent in terms of possession and driving play, with a 54.55% CF% and a 55.04% xGF%. He’s had the advantage of playing for the Kings for the last few seasons, but he hasn’t exactly been playing with the Kings best players either (his most common linemates were Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, and Jordan Nolan).
In terms of what for Mike Babcock looks for in a fourth line center, he also has experience playing on the penalty kill, and is 49.9% in the faceoff dot. Add the fact that he’ll be insanely cheap, and he could be a very good option for the Leafs.
Duclair has also traveled around a bit in his career, going from the Rangers to the Coyotes to the Blackhawks. He had an excellent sophomore season with 20 goals and 44 points in 2015-16, he hasn’t been able to reach that again, and has started to tail off. While that 44 point season saw him shoot 19% that season, his next two seasons saw him shoot 6.6% and 11.34%, which suggests that his most recent season of 11 goals and 23 points might be more of what to expect.
However, he’d work well with the Leafs because it would give them an option on the wing for next season in case some of their replacements that we’ve already penciled into the lineup don’t make the jump next season. He’d be a solid winger to put on a fourth line meant for skill and speed to help improve depth. Also, he could have potential to be able to move up the lineup if injury’s occur (I’d imagine he could regain his scoring touch a bit playing alongside Matthews/Nylander or Kadri/Marner).
This might seem like a weird option to put in this list, but hear me out. The Leafs have their issues on defense, particularly on the right side, and adding someone like Adam Clendening could make a bit of a difference. First off, he’s a right handed shot, something the Leafs are really lacking. Secondly, he’s about break even possession wise, with a 50.59% 5v5 CF%, but that’s about what you’d expect from a defenseman on your bottom pair, and it’d be an improvement over Roman Polak. Finally, he can put up some points as well. In his limited experience of 86 games, he has 24 points, and a 1.3 P/60 over the last three seasons. A 20ish point defenseman wouldn’t be bad production for a bottom pairing defenseman, although err on the side of caution, as a lot of them are secondary points (although that matters less for defensemen).
While his name doesn’t jump out at you, and the fact that he’s played for six teams in the last four years should cause some concern, he’s certainly a better (and cheaper) option for them than a good chunk of the right handed UFA defensemen this season (except maybe Mike Green and Cody Franson).
I’ll make this one a bit quicker because in all reality, the Leafs don’t really need another goalie next season, as they already have four waiver-eligible goalies next season. But, what was one of the Leafs biggest issues last season, aside from defense? They overworked Freddy. Obviously, Babcock just runs with Andersen because he doesn’t expect McElhinney to play more than back to backs, and Sparks or Pickard haven’t won him over yet (although that may have changed with the Calder Cup run). Basically, he might not trust anyone to take some of Freddy’s workload. But, you know who he might trust? The goalie he turned to come playoff time three years ago in Detroit against Tampa Bay. Since then, it’s been a bit of a downward spiral and he’s had some reported attitude issues, but Babcock might be able to fix it.
Obviously, you only make this signing if it comes cheap, and that’s assuming he wants to come here as a backup, and not with a team that needs a starting goalie. But, if the Leafs aren’t confident that any of their other three goalies can ease Freddy’s workload, while keeping them competitive, Mrazek could be an option.
In three years in the NHL, DeMelo has shown to be a solid NHL defenseman, who, by the looks of it, fell out of favour with the Sharks because right now they’re trying to keep cap space to get both Tavares and Thornton, and with less than $19 million, every penny matters.
DeMelo is coming off a breakout year with the Sharks, where in 63 games, he put up 20 points (all assists), and he was break even possession wise, with a 50.29% 5v5 CF%. Much like Clendening, not amazing, but not bad by any means, and for a team that is severely lacking in not bad right handed defensemen, DeMelo could be a nice addition for cheap, and at 25 years old, he’s still got plenty of good years left in him.
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