NHL Free Agency 2012: Ryan Suter and 12 Free Agents the Leafs Should Pursue
The Leafs are looking more and more like a team destined for the southern U.S. during the playoffs, not actually competing in them.
So that leaves the offseason as yet another chance for the Leafs to rebuild, or as some would say, re-tool their franchise.
With marked holes at center and goaltending, and with only a limited amount of cap space, the Leafs are sort of hog-tied when it comes to the free-agent market.
Judging by the way they overpaid to retain Mikhail Grabovski's services, mostly caused by the massive $4.5 million per year contract handed out to the Canes Tuomu Ruutu, the Leafs will need to trade a few of their high-priced players. Players like Matt Lombardi, Tim Connolly, Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek and Clarke MacArthur could be jettisoned out of town to make room for some free agents.
Here's a list of some free agents that could fit the mold of the Brian Burke and the Leafs organization.
Retain Restricted Free Agents
The Leafs don't have a lot of free agents, but to me, the most important are the restricted free agents that need to be re-signed. Matt Frattin, Nikolai Kulemin and Cody Franson are all in need of new contracts.
All of them, at the proper price, are worth keeping.
Frattin has top six potential, Kulemin is a good two-way forward with offensive upside and Franson has top four defenseman written all over him when he can make progress towards defending better.
I look for Frattin and Franson to get anywhere between $1-1.5 million, and Kulemin anywhere between $1.5-2.5 million a season.
Bryan Allen might come as a surprise to some, but to me, his game fits perfectly into the Leafs mold they're going for.
Allen is a tough defender, hits hard and takes care of in front of the net. He's a veteran, and with a Leafs team that really lacks experience, Allen brings that in spades.
He'll likely be going for anywhere between $3-4 million a season, so again, the Leafs will need to unload a bad contract to make room for him.
The Leafs should bring center John Madden home for his swan swag in his hometown. Madden is a tenacious forward who excels defensively, is very good on the penalty kill and is yet another good faceoff man.
Madden will come at a nice, cheap price tag so he would easily be attainable, even with the Leafs roster as it is now.
I've always liked Ryan Smyth's game, and at this point in his career, I think he fits the needs of a veteran forward with experience for the Leafs.
Smyth is the modern day Gary Roberts. 90 percent of his goals are in front of the net, and he's always been a pest for the oppositions goalie.
While he will not be asking for $6.5 million like he has now, I can see $1-2 million being a manageable cost for Smyth for one season.
Another player who fits the style Randy Carlyle and Brian Burke are working towards: a tough, hard-to-play team, who doesn't back down.
The NHL free-agent market is rather bare this year, and Jokinen is likely one of the best unrestricted free agents available. With Jokinen's size at 6'3" and over 200 pounds, he poses an ideal linemate for winger Phil Kessel.
Jokinen will likely command at least $5.5 million, so the Leafs would likely have to move two players for draft picks to make room for Jokinen.
Would I do it however, extremely unlikely.
A player very familiar with both Randy Carlyle and Brian Burke, Travis Moen is another ideal option for the Leafs.
While paired with Sami Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer, Moen formed one of the most feared checking lines in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks in their Stanley Cup year.
Moen landing in Toronto could mean a very good checking line of David Steckel with Mike Brown and Travis Moen possibly in the cards. That's one line I'd have confidence in with regard to keeping the puck out of the net.
Both Travis Moen and Sami Pahlsson will likely be on the Leafs radar this summer. As a team marred by bad defensive habits, bringing in two players that are great defensively would only help the Leafs bottom six, and likely improve their penalty kill.
It would not surprise me to see the Leafs sign both Pahlsson and Moen to one or two-year contracts each.
The first goalie of the list, Harding is likely one of the best goaltenders available during free agency. There's some speculation that he may not be worth the risk because he's never been a No. 1 goalie, but needless to say, the Leafs may just have to take that risk to help.
Harding brings with him solid, but unspectacular stats. But he's a solid goalie, and one you can put out there nightly and get a consistent result. With the other Leaf goalies, that may not be the case.
Despite letting in that goal, Evgeni Nabokov has been rock solid this season for the Islanders. With a GAA of roughly 2.41 and an SV percentage over .920, Nabokov has returned to his pre-KHL form after a rough tenure back in Russia.
Nabokov is not in the long-term plans of the Islanders, so I don't expect a contract extension anytime soon.
What Nabokov gives the Leafs is a legit No. 1 goalie with playoff experience, and also a good guy for James Reimer to battle with. I don't expect Jonas Gustavsson to be re-signed, so getting a solid veteran with experience is paramount if the Leafs hope they can rekindle Reimer's game.
The best free-agent defenseman available, going after Suter may be a longshot, but it's one of those moves you need to explore as a GM.
Suter would instantly become the team's best defenseman, and would instantly make the Leafs a better defensive team in all facets of the game. I'd like to think of Suter much like Carl Gunnarsson, but with better hands, more physicality and more offensive ability.
Gunnarsson has been one of the Leafs most consistent defenders this year, so do the math.
Look for Suter to demand anywhere between $6.5-7.5 million a season, a price tag the Predators may not want to pay, and a price that may be out of the Leafs reach.
Captain Coyote, Shane Doan will hit the free-agent market this summer and will likely have a slough of suitors. His game screams playoff hockey. A tough, hard-hitting power forward with hands don't come cheap, so I expect a pay day in the range of $5.5-6.5 million.
While I expect a team like the Red Wings to eventually snatch him up, Doan should at least be explored by Burke and company. His veteran leadership would be immensely valuable on the young Leafs squad.
Thought I was going to say Zach Parise didn't you?
I opted to go another route. Parise will likely be commanding $7-9 million on the open market, a price that may be too rich for the Leafs blood.
Vokoun on the other hand is a veteran goalie, again with playoff experience, who would be a perfect fit in blue and white.
This season he has a 2.52 GAA and a .917 SV percentage, perfectly respectable numbers for a No. 1 goalie. How much he'd improve the Leafs would remain to be seen.
His asking price will likely be in the $4-5.5 million dollar range, unless he randomly chooses to go to Toronto, or any other NHL club at another discount like he did last offseason when he signed for $1.5 million in Washington.
All I can say is, let the speculation begin!
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