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The Leafs free agency situation is a blessing not a curse

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
So I’ll start by admitting it’s way too early to be talking about free agency. The reality is for half the league free agency is an emerging topic and due to the number of Leafs free agents this summer, we’re going to get pulled into that topic.
Yesterday, Frank Seravalli released a list of his top 50 unrestricted free agents. At the number one spot is Michael Bunting. At number four is Ryan O’Reilly. There were 5 other Leafs (Kerfoot, Kampf, Holl, Schenn, and Gustafsson) that rounded out the top fifty. The Leafs are well represented, but also as Frank mentions, a list that leads off with Michael Bunting is about as underwhelming as it gets for a free agency situation.
So with Bunting at the top of the list, the idea of Michael Bunting taking a discount to play out his years in Toronto probably gets thrown out the window. It’s been great having a Scarborough kid play for the Leafs and excel at it, but with low end prices starting at $4M AAV and there being a very good chance of offers being well north of that due to the limited options, we probably need to prepare for the Leafs agitator moving on. We should also be okay with that as he’s been a strong complementary player but doesn’t really deserve a play driving forwards payday.
Ryan O’Reilly and the idea of a deep discount to remain a Leaf is another bit of wishful thinking that might need to disappear. When options are limited a bona fide top six center is going to have options. Toronto should make sure they are still one of them as being three centers deep is important, but there is a strong possibility we see some truly ridiculous contract offers this summer.
As for Kerfoot, Holl, and Kampf, I’m not sure there is much concern about the Leafs moving on. If Kampf can stay at a good price point, he could return, but the next cheap under the radar center is probably the better option than paying the one they have.
Gustafsson and Schenn if they remain cheap options could very well still be Leafs, but in Gustafsson’s situation, I’m not even sure he’s had a positive enough experience (yet) in Toronto that he’d want to come back regardless.
The problem with walking from everyone on the Leafs UFA list is that you need to replace them still and in an underwhelming free agency year the Leafs are just as impacted by the limited options. Of course the Leafs are at their best when they’ve gone the unconventional route in free agency and reclamation projects like Drouin, Zucker, or Monahan offer a better upside than being the team that pays through the nose for Garnet Hathaway or Tyler Bertuzzi.
There is the other advantage in heading into free agency with a ton of cash and no intention to spend it on free agents and that is waiting for teams to make trades to free up cap space. Last season Carolina picked up Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns for pennies on the dollar. They had the money to take salary in trade and were really only down a 3rd round pick to get a top six forward and top pairing defender. Be like Carolina. And to some extent, the Leafs were with being paid to acquire Matt Murray.
The Leafs are in interesting situation that gives them a lot of flexibility. Couple that with the fact that Ilya Samsonov’s RFA status could work to their advantage, Jake Muzzin’s likely return to the LTIR, and Matt Murray having a reasonable buyout, Toronto can do some interesting things this summer.
Of course there is still some very important hockey that needs to be played which is going to establish a lot of direction between now and then.

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