After coming extremely close to knocking off the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs this past season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are sure to be active in the trade and free-agent market. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that there is plenty of chatter surrounding the Leafs already.
In fact, the Leafs have made two big moves since the end of the season, as they acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings and picked up center Dave Bolland from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Toronto is far from done when it comes to reshaping the roster, though.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding the Maple Leafs as they look at free agents both inside and outside the organization, as well as explore potential trades.
In a free-agent class that isn't considered to be particularly deep, New Jersey Devils winger David Clarkson is easily one of the best players available. Perhaps he wouldn't receive as much interest among a stronger crop of free agents, but several teams figure to be bidding on Clarkson's services. Chief among them could be the Maple Leafs. Rumors have swirled for quite some time that Toronto is interested, and Howard Berger of FAN 590 believes that Toronto will ultimately sign him.
Clarkson is the prototypical player for this era of NHL hockey as he is tough, willing to go to the dirty areas and able to cash in his opportunities when he gets them. Clarkson scored 30 goals two seasons ago and he was a huge reason for New Jersey's march to the Stanley Cup Final. Clarkson had 12 points in 24 playoff games for the Devils that season, but his true impact was intangible, as his girt, leadership and never-say-die attitude were huge for the psyche of the team.
While Clarkson wasn't quite as good this past season, he did light the lamp 15 times in 48 games, so he was well on pace to near the 30-goal mark once again. The Leafs have some talent up front with players like Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, James Van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul, but they lack a player who brings both offensive acumen and toughness to the table. Clarkson possesses both of those traits, and he could very well help Toronto reach the next level.
Tyler Bozak served as the Maple Leafs' No. 1 center for a few years due more to necessity than desire, but he was finally surpassed on the depth chart this past season by Kadri. Even so, a team needs at least two solid centers to succeed in the NHL. Bozak certainly has his merits, however, it remains to be seen if he is truly deserving of serving in a top-six center role. If reports are accurate, the Maple Leafs' brass apparently believe that he is.
Bozak is set to hit unrestricted free agency, but the Leafs seem intent on keeping him in the fold. Bozak played under a contract that only saddled the Leafs with a $1.5 million cap hit over the past couple years, so he was an absolute bargain. If the Leafs are truly considering giving him an eight-year deal approaching $5 million per season as TSN's Darren Dreger suggests, though, they should really reconsider their thought process.
Bozak had his career year to this point in 2011-12, as he put up 18 goals and 47 points in 73 games. Those numbers would be fantastic for a third-line center, but they are barely passable on the second line. Bozak's pace this season was a bit better as he racked up 28 points in 46 games, however, that still doesn't seem to jive with the monster contract he stands to receive. Bozak is a solid playmaker who does a lot of things well, but he excels at nothing. If it takes an eight-year deal to lock up Bozak, the Leafs might be better off looking elsewhere.
Forward Mikhail Grabovski's contract is proof positive that the Leafs shouldn't leap before they look when it comes to Bozak. Toronto has been starved for centers for the longest time, so it rewarded Grabovski with a huge contract after a couple productive seasons. Grabovski's current deal runs through the 2016-17 season and it provides a cap hit of $5.5 million per season, which is the highest on the team among forwards. Grabovski has proven to be a solid player in the past, but he dropped off considerably this past season.
After consecutive 20-goal and 50-point seasons, Grabovski was a shell of his former self this year. He put up just 16 points in 48 games and he seemed to fall out of favor with the coaching staff. This year's free-agent class may not be great, but there are certainly players out there who can bring more to the table than Grabovski. The Leafs seem to agree as they are currently shopping Grabovski around the league, according to TheFourthPeriod.com.
When you take his cap number into account as well as the fact that he has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to reject a trade to as many as 10 teams, it could be difficult for the Leafs to move him. In fact, Toronto would almost certainly need to eat a chunk of his contract in order to get rid of him. Using a compliance buyout is another option, although that isn't something that has been discussed. It seems obvious that the Leafs are ready to move on, so it will be interesting to see if they're able to dump him.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter