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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The options still available to the Leafs of free agency

Here we are. Day Two. All the insiders are on their way to the lake. There’s just one or two guys left with the scoops and then a whole lot of reliance on the team PR accounts stepping up their game.

Once you take a bit of a closer look on at the Leafs cap situation, and realize what contracts are likely Marlies bound, the Leafs are left with about $3.8M to address one roster position at forward, assuming they won’t carry a reserve player to start the year. For the second day of free agency that’s not too bad a budget. Of course the Leafs could also trade some players to free up additional funds, but as of right now we’ll take Kyle Dubas at his word, and look at players who might fall into that price range.

James Neal

Let’s start off with a name that you immediately want to move past. Neal has a questionable track record. 2 of his past 3 seasons haven’t been ideal. He was bad enough in Calgary to get flipped for Milan Lucic. He then put together a season that earned him the moniker Real Steal. That evaporated quickly with a season that was limited to 5 goals, 10 points, and a bad bout of COVID that Neal felt he never got over.

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Given that he’s just received a sizeable payday from the Oilers, he might be willing to take a prove it deal, and the Leafs could use him as a powerplay net presence and add a bit of size to their wing. Skating will be a concern, amongst other things, but perhaps he’s a swing for the fences option if Toronto thinks they have a line that could click with him.

Tomas Tatar

A popular target for many Leafs fans on day one, Tatar blends size and finish and could be a complimentary winger on one of the top two lines. The fact that he’s still on the market likely means that there was enough interest in him that he’s not looking to take too much of a shave off him $5.3M AAV, but he could be a wait it out option.

Nick Ritchie

Personally I don’t see why anyone would wait out Tatar if they can sign Ritchie beforehand. Ritchie had a brief stint with the Soo Greyhounds, so he’s a known player to Kyle Dubas and especially Sheldon Keefe, and perhaps the fact that he wasn’t a first day acquisition like Bunting was means they don’t see a fit for him in Toronto. While I can begrudgingly accept that. Ritchie seems like a potential fit, but we also often associate tough and physical with defensive play, and I wouldn’t say defense is a calling card for Ritchie. In fact Ritchie is much more likely to be a 4th liner/ PP Specialist, though as I type powerplay specialist I again begin to see the appeal.

Alex Galchenyuk

Options aren’t as great as we thought they’d be and we’re creeping into the real possibility of the Leafs trying Ilya Mikheyev or Pierre Engvall in the top six at some point. It’s probably time to get over Galchenyuk’s one really bad pass and hope that his contract isn’t too far off of what he got last season. Getting Galchenyuk back might not be the worst thing and his versatility to fill in where needed in the line up seems to be the blue print for any left winger the Leafs add. I would have hoped for more speed, and maybe some edge, but that seems to have disappeared.

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Finally…

Brandon Saad

The Leafs might have to bite the bullet and get in on Saad to replace Hyman. Bringing Saad in means that someone else would have to move out, and there’s also the fact that Saad’s contract has the potential to be highly regrettable, but he’s also the best left wing available, and really the only one that can comfortably be slotted into the top six.

The lesson that probably should be learned is that the Leafs need to shift their focus more to the trade market.

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A quick look at the trade market

With teams like the Stars, Lightning, Blackhawks, and Golden Knights already capped out, there is some potential to make deals costing the Leafs little return. It seems unlikely that Tampa or the Leafs want to do each other any favours, and the situation around the Stars and Blackhawks makes me think they aren’t looking shed salary but work within the confines of their situation. The Golden Knights are the intriguing option. And it’s hard not to notice that Reilly Smith is a pending UFA after this season. While this is strictly me reaching, the Knights being a team that is capped out and at 48 contracts are going to be in need of some assistance and the Leafs could be the team to provide it.

The likely bet…

nothing much is gonna happen today beyond the continued focus on getting the Marlies to where they need to be.

Be patient. There’s a lot of summer left and we don’t even know who is having to deal with arbitrations yet. That’s going to change things again.

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