Week one of free agency is coming to a close. The money is gone, but so are the most critical holes in the roster. The path to cap compliance is there, and there generally seems to be a sense of excitement around the Leafs to traditionally comes with the luxury of just looking at the team on paper, but how do we really feel about them? Some of our writers have weighed in on how free agency has gone so far for the Leafs…
Michael Mazzei (@theleafsimo)
Overall, I’m pleased with how the Leafs have done so far in free agency. After Alex Pietrangelo, TJ Brodie was the best defenceman available and adding him was critical in solidifying the depth on the blue line. Kyle Dubas talked about wanting to make the Leafs tougher to play against, and the additions of both Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian should provide just that and add some valuable veteran leadership in the locker room. I also thought the Leafs did well on their depth signings, with Jimmy Vesey being the most intriguing of the bunch. And the addition of Aaron Dell will help improve the goaltending depth. I still believe they need to sign a few more players (Joe Thortnon maybe?), but the Leafs are off to a good start in Free Agency.
Mark Norman (@mnorman87)
The Free Agency period of the NHL calendar is where most teams make their biggest mistakes, so for the Leafs to come away from it having improved their team without signing any boat anchor contracts is a win in my books. Obviously the big get for Kyle Dubas was TJ Brodie at $5M per year for the next 4 years. Brodie has all the tools to be the best partner Morgan Rielly has ever had, and comes in at $3.8M less than what the Golden Knights paid up for Alex Pietrangelo. That additional money, in addition to other expiring contracts, will come in handy as the Leafs navigate raises to Zach Hyman next summer and Morgan Rielly the summer afterwards. Brodie was always the most sensible play for the Leafs in free agency, and should easily make good on his price tag for the next four seasons in blue and white.
One thing I spoke about last month in our team toughness roundtable was how I felt opponents were “unafraid” of the Leafs, treating matches against us as free skates because of a lack of physicality or push-back from our players. To this effect, Kyle Dubas has also talked about becoming harder to play against and developing that mindset from within. The additions of Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian should help with that, not only for the pugnacity they will bring on the ice, but for teasing out a more physical mindset from our core players. Joey Anderson seems to have some Zach Hyman qualities that should make him a bulldog of a forechecker, and Jimmy Vesey also adds some size and scoring touch to the lineup. I’m excited to see where this goes. I think this is a team we will be more proud of than we were last season.
Scott Maxwell (@scotmaxw)
I’m honestly quite satisfied with the free agency period. Brodie was honestly my ideal pick for the blue line based on skill and cap space, and they’ve also gotten good returns for our cap dumps. Dubas also addressed the team toughness aspect quite well, although I think both deals were slight overpayments when the team is as close to the cap as they are. Dell and Vesey are both fine signings as well, although they don’t move me one way or the other.
At this point, I hope we can address the bottom six a tad bit more without having to deal anybody from the roster, but that’s going to be very hard to do with the cap.
I’m really pleased so far with what they’ve accomplished. I definitely expected major defensive upgrades. I’m not sure we’re at major, but we are at big. This is the one area I think they still might have some work to do, but the blue line is significantly better today than it was last week. I love the additions of Simmonds and Dell, and I’m pretty positive about Bogosian too. Brodie absolutely makes me happy. I’m a bit ambivalent on Vesey thus far, but we’ll see what he does. I am impressed at what we’ve added given that we haven’t let go of that much (sorry Johnsson and Kapanen.) I would give Kyle and co. an A- so far.
Jon Steitzer (@steitzerjon)
While I generally agree with the sentiment of everyone else, I feel the need to offer a slightly different answer. When it comes to addressing the things that needed to be addressed, Kyle Dubas has addressed concerns in meaningful way. Barrie, Ceci, and Clifford were certainly replaced and upgraded on in the form of Brodie, Bogosian, and Simmonds, and they should help give the roster a different feel. Between Joey Anderson and Jimmy Vesey there is solid competition to fill the holes left by Kapanen and Johnsson, and considering there is a chance that Robertson, Korshkov, or Barabanov take those jobs as well, I’m not particularly worried about what happens on the wing. Aaron Dell is a steal as a third string goaltender, and Travis Boyd provides decent Gauthier style depth. It’s all been good.
Now, looking beyond that, the Leafs haven’t exactly done anything that has wowed me (outside the Kapanen trade) this offseason, and while the Leafs are improved and have players that can push for bigger roles and exciting European wild cards like Lehtonen and Barabanov, there isn’t a move that makes me say this is unquestionably a top team in the league. Maybe I’m setting the bar too high, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a dare to be great move from Kyle Dubas this summer. We’ve seen him make those moves in the past by bringing in Muzzin, but the cap situation likely limits what can be done. Still, I’m craving that one big move that drives the narrative for the 2021 season.