Just two rounds remain in the 2012 NHL playoffs, and Toronto Maple Leaf fans continue to watch without the ability to cheer on their favorite team. The Maple Leafs will require some help in several areas next year and fans are hoping Brian Burke and his masterful front office are putting in the effort to obtain said help.
The free-agent market may not be as expansive as we’ve seen in past seasons, but there still remain some gems that could be waiting for the Leafs to uncover them. I really believe the best way for the Leafs to find help this offseason will be via the trade market. But should that fail, here are five free agents the Maple Leafs should hotly pursue this summer.
He is a veteran centre man who has been in the game for seven consecutive seasons. While he has never been able to repeat the success of his breakout 2005-06 season (22 G, 46 A, 68 P), he has been a steady presence for the L.A. Kings. While Stoll's point totals were down this year, he has shown the ability to have bounce-back years over his career.
He will be 30 years old at the beginning of next season, and placing him on either of the top two lines will give the Leafs a guy who can put the puck on the net and make things happen.
By the end of this season's playoffs, Stoll will have appeared in over 50 playoff games and that is something that can only benefit a young Leafs team trying to make it there.
This is a guy who could really help them, to say the least. Captain of the New Jersey Devils, Parise is a left winger who can also play centre. He has been with the Devils for his entire eight-year career and has been an impact player every season when healthy.
He also has plenty of playoff experience, having appeared in what will be over 50 games by the end of this postseason.
Parise is always a threat to score 30 goals and put up 30 assists, which will fit in nicely on either the top line between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul or on the Leafs' second on the left side of Mikhail Grabovski. Parise is currently at a cap hit of $6 million, and depending on what happens as the playoffs continue, he could be in for a nice raise.
He might even not want to leave the Devils, and I’m sure they will do everything they can to retain him. If that should fail, the Leafs should move in and make every effort to persuade him to come to Toronto. Also, he is from Minneapolis, so he fits into Burke’s mold of the Toronto American Leafs.
He’s not what he used to be when he was with the Nashville Predators. But Vokoun has been around the game long enough to know how to be an effective goalie—something that James Reimer does not yet seem to have a grasp on.
While Vokoun wouldn’t be a superstar goaltender and the answer to all the problems in the Leafs' net, he would provide a more solid backup than the flip-flopping roles both Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson played at the end of the year.
This is assuming the Leafs don’t re-sign Gustavsson which, judging by Burke's year-end conference, won’t be happening.
Vokoun could be the guy Reimer needs to teach him how to steal away games when your defense is falling apart. He could teach Reimer all the goalie success secrets that nobody has yet taught him.
Most importantly, in the event of more injuries, Vokoun would provide a solid go-to guy if the call came.
Another veteran centre that would have to be purchased for the right price. While Langkow has tons of experience and his past accomplishments will open some eyes, it is his age that will raise the eyebrows.
Langkow will be 36 at the start of next season. It is an age that usually signals the ending of a career. Some players are able to keep up with the speed of the game at this age, but most can’t. I don’t know if the Leafs can afford to take a gamble on an aging player like this, but it could be worth a shot.
If Langkow can show he is the player who consistently put up 50 points a year for several seasons, then the Leafs will have a great asset on their hands.
If Langkow starts to skate like his age and sees his production continue to decrease, it would be another mistake added to the long list the Leafs already have.
Hudler may be the biggest sleeper on the free-agent market this year. When he is on his game, he can be a threat. He has reached the 50-point plateau twice during his NHL career, and at 28 years old, he may be the perfect age to step into a leadership role.
As a left winger, he could provide some competition to Nikolai Kulemin, who played lousy this past season. Signing Hudler would provide the Leafs with, again, a player who has been to the postseason and has something no one else has on this list does: a Stanley Cup ring.
He would provide scoring depth on a team that lacked it at times last year. Hudler may not be the flashiest player, but he is a guy who can do his job every night.