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Buyouts provide a trio of interesting options for the Maple Leafs to consider

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Photo credit:Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
The buyout window as now passed and Matt Murray is astonishingly still a Toronto Maple Leaf. I’m assuming the Leafs are either confident that he’ll be a LTIR candidate, that they can potentially move him to a team like Anaheim later this summer or they could simply buy him out in the second buyout window later this summer. There is also the chance that Toronto will simply bury him in the minors for a minimal $1.15M of cap relief and keep him as a third string option next season and hope to move him for deadline space later on.
This isn’t about Murray however. It’s about the trio of buyouts that occurred on Friday that have yielded three new interesting options in free agency for the Maple Leafs to consider.

Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene certainly headlines this group as he potentially meets the Leafs biggest need which is providing additional center depth and another capable top six forward. At 32 years old, Duchene’s contract forced him out of Nashville’s plans as they seem full committed to an aggressive rebuild.
Duchene wasn’t a bad player last year as he put up 22 goals and 56 points. It was just a bit of a down year from his career best the year before where he put up 43 goals and 86 points. The 22 and 56 is far more in line with what Duchene has done throughout his career, but at 32 a bit of drop off needs to be factored into what comes next for him.
Duchene should not be considered at the $8M AAV price tag he previously held but given that he’s largely getting paid from Nashville over the next few seasons he might be willing to take a friendly deal to play alongside John Tavares.
Duchene wouldn’t be a traditional fit as a 3C, but having Matthews, Tavares, Duchene, Kampf, and Holmberg all as options is solid depth that allows for interesting deployments across the top nine.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler checks off a lot of intangibles for the Leafs. Leader, strong personality, size. If he was born in Ontario he’d be a no-brainer. Wheeler’s point totals are very much along the lines of what Duchene does as well, but Wheeler, of course, is a winger. His skill set definitely keeps him in offensive situations rather than being a strong all situations guy, but given that he’s older and not a center, he might be a cheaper option than Duchene. Plus a premium might be put on adding that size to the top six.
Wheeler isn’t a punishing physical presence but his benefit is that he won’t be pushed around either. He might not require the term and dollar commitment that someone like Duchene costs and might be the best blend of size and skill.
Wheeler seems to be connected to the Dallas Stars and it might not be worth getting in a bidding war over him.

Kailer Yamamoto

Yamamoto represents the cheapest of the options but potentially the best fit. Yamamoto has the potential to be a cheaper, better alternative to Alex Kerfoot. Yamamoto is capable of some secondary offence when put with the right linemates, he’s also sound on puck control and retrieval. The biggest challenge is staying healthy enough for Yamamoto to put all the best parts of his game together and his size doesn’t lend itself to playing the game with little regard for what happens to him.
Perhaps between Nick Robertson and Kailer Yamamoto the Leafs could get a combined 82 games of aggressive water bugs in the middle  six.
The sense is that if Yamamoto has a choice he’s going to choose a team on the West Coast of the US, but that doesn’t mean that checking in isn’t a good idea. He might be a good alternative to a team that is considering Connor Brown but wants a cheaper option.
Thankfully we are nearing the end of the “here’s a guy” period of free agency and while these three players seem like viable options for Toronto, we’ll soon know the direction they’ve gone in.
Then, check out The Leafs Morning Take at 4pm EST where Nick Alberga and Jay Rosehill will break down the frenzy of Free Agency.

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