Toronto Maple Leafs Should Tread Carefully in Free Agent Waters

Dave McCarthyCorrespondent IJune 29, 2008

Heard on Episode 3.43 of AFITC

Every year in the days leading up to unrestricted free agency on July 1, the top free-agent prizes are identified—and then as sure as the sun will come up in the morning, all those top free agents are said to be bound for Toronto.

However, this time around things seem to be much different.

This year’s unrestricted free agent class is a lot weaker than in previous years. Mats Sundin will be this year’s most coveted free agent and it seems like the only place he isn’t rumored to be going is Toronto.

Other top free agents include Marian Hossa, Jaromir Jagr, Kristin Huselius and Markus Naslund—none of which would I recommend general managers commit to for the long term or with significant dollars.

Many GMs turn into kids in candy stores at free agency time—eager to spend their money on as much as possible,  but in the end wishing they hadn’t when they are left with queasy feelings.

Look at Ryan Smyth, considered to be a top prize a year ago. While he had a decent year with 37 points in 55 games with the Avalanche last season, I highly doubt Colorado GM Francois Giguere is too pleased with a cap hit of $6.25 million for the next four seasons.

Mats Sundin notwithstanding, the Maple Leafs should go after none of these free agents. They will not be a good team next year, and they probably will not be a good team the following year. Burdening themselves down with large, unwieldy contracts at this stage of the game would only hamper the rebuilding process—especially when there are still several players left remaining on the roster whose contracts the Maple Leafs are trying to get rid of.

A backup netminder? Fine. One or two serviceable and inexpensive skaters? Fine. $8 million a season for four years to Marian Hossa? Forget it, Cliff. Now is certainly not the time. But hey, all that was just rigamarole.