With the prospects of an NHL season looking gloomier and gloomier as each day passes, it's time for NHL teams and their fans to look ahead to this year's NHL entry draft and free agency period.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are certainly a team that should be looking towards free agency with plans to improve their roster.
With a good chunk of money coming off the books this offseason, it looks like the Leafs will be active, thanks to the expiring contracts of Joffrey Lupul, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Clarke MacArthur and David Steckel.
While the Leafs will probably bring one or two of those players back, those departing salaries combine to relieve the Maple Leafs of $16.75 million in cap space.
With that much money, the Leafs can afford to sign at least one big name, perhaps even two.
With that in mind, here are five free agents the Maple Leafs should take a run at signing this offseason.
Let's begin with the obvious.
Ryan Getzlaf is probably the most popular target among members of Leafs Nation in terms of 2013 NHL free agents.
And why not?
He's a true No. 1 center (despite having a bit of a rough start to last season), and he's a big guy, something GM Brian Burke covets.
With the Leafs having the money to sign Getzlaf and a team around him that is ready to compete should he sign, Toronto could be the perfect destination for the 27-year-old center.
By no means is Ryan Getzlaf to Toronto a guarantee, but Brian Burke should be doing everything in his power to acquire the Regina natives services once the free agency window opens.
Imagine the Leafs were able to bring in Ryan Getzlaf.
If his cap hit were to average out at around $7 million per season, the Leafs would still have money left to play with and also a need on the left wing vacated by soon-to-be free agent Joffrey Lupul.
Enter Corey Perry.
He would slot in beautifully alongside both Ryan Getzlaf and Phil Kessel.
Not to mention, he'd come to Toronto for about $7.5 million per season.
Perry would provide more value than Lupul, who will be looking for a raise this offseason, despite the fact that he's only had one standout season and has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.
While Perry is going to be even tougher to lure to Toronto than Getzlaf, picking up both players would make the Leafs instant contenders.
It would be the hockey equivalent to the Toronto Blue Jays blockbuster deal that took place a few weeks ago.
After overpaying this offseason for Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster made it clear that his Flames club would not be going through the long overdue re-build that the team needs.
Those signings, however, don't necessarily mean the team is ready to compete, and if Iginla agrees, he may look elsewhere.
With a young, skilled team that desperately needs a leader and in addition has the money to sign him, the Leafs could end up being an appealing destination for the veteran winger.
Should the Leafs land a top-of-the-line center to play on the top line, the prospect of joining the Leafs may even be more enticing for Iginla.
If other options on the wing don't work out, then the Leafs should take the risk of re-signing Joffrey Lupul.
Here's the caveat, though.
They shouldn't, under any circumstances give Lupul more than $5 million per season. Lupul proved that he cannot be relied upon to stay healthy or produce over a lengthy period when he is healthy, after he was handed his last contract.
With all of the mistakes the Leafs have made in past years in free agency (Tim Connolly, I'm looking at you), the Leafs do not need to weigh down their roster with another toxic contract, especially in a year where they're finally lifting themselves out from under the ones they do have.
I know he's a fan favorite, but if another team offered Lupul a four or five year contract worth $5.5 million per season, the Leafs would be smart to let him walk.
My final pick was down to two New Jersey centers.
On one hand, there was Patrik Elias, while on the other, the younger Travis Zajac.
For a first line caliber guy, I chose Patrik Elias.
While he is older and won't play more than one or two more seasons at a high level, Zajac just hasn't been productive in recent years, while Elias has topped 75 points in two of the last four seasons and 60 points in three of his last four.
Even on a short one or two year deal, Elias would be a great fit on the top line, especially if the Leafs draft a center with first line potential in this year's draft.
Elias would be a solid option to man the first line, while the Leafs give their draftee time to develop.