July 1 is only one day away and while the prevailing wisdom says that the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be active on the free agent market, they do have a couple of holes that could be filled by young UFA's.
Don't expect the Leafs to seek expensive, older free agents in an attempt to improve the line-up. That directly clashes with the idea of rebuilding and the Leafs can't afford any more bad contracts.
Cliff Fletcher said recently that he would pursue young free agents who are willing to stay in Toronto for the long haul. I'm not sure if I agree with long-term deals for anyone at this point, but if it can be done at a reasonable rate, I can live with it.
Toronto should be targeting young, second-tier free agents who won't break the bank and who will play significant roles in the team's future.
So, without further tomfoolery, here's a look at who the Leafs could be after.
With the departure of both Andrew Raycroft and Scott Clemmensen, the Leafs are in need of a number two goalie, since it looks like Justin Pogge will play another full year with the Toronto Marlies. There aren't a ton of goalies on the market, but there are a few the Leafs might be interested in.
1. Curtis Sanford, 28, Vancouver
Sanford has been a reliable backup during his time with the Blues and Canucks. He played 34 and 31 games, respectively, during his two full seasons in St. Louis, which is similar to his probable workload in Toronto. Fletcher says Toskala will play around 60 games, but that's if he stays healthy and that's no sure thing.
Likely salary: $700,000
2. Curtis Joseph, 41, Calgary
I know, I know, Cujo's name is thrown out every time the Leafs need a goalie. And I know he's 41 years old, but he showed last season with the Flames that he's well-suited to a backup role and he could surely handle 20-30 games with Toronto. Besides, it wouldn't surprise me to see Pogge called up near the end of the season and take a few of those games.
Likely salary: $1.2 million
3. David LeNeveu, 25, NY Rangers (RFA)
LeNeveu has been touted as a top goalie prospect for quite a while, but hasn't been able to establish himself at the NHL level. He's got 21 career games to his credit, all with Phoenix. He's got the size and temperament to be a solid backup.
The Leafs could probably nab him for under a million without the Rangers matching, since they have a couple of other goalies pushing for time. The Leafs would give up a third round pick for anything over $843,000.
Likely salary: $843,000
True, the Leafs got a great deal for Hal Gill, but it does leave them without a stay-at-home guy. With either Bryan McCabe or Pavel Kubina likely to be shipped out, the Leafs will be in need of a blueliner, as no one on the Marlies appears ready to make the jump. Staffan Kronwall can play full-time, but the Leafs still need to have seven guys to cover for Carlo Colaiacovo's annual injury parade.
1. Brooks Orpik, 27, Pittsburgh
I sense that Orpik will stay put in Pennsylvania, but if he does test the market, the Leafs should take a serious run at him. It will take some convincing to bring Orpik to a bottom-rung team, but if he's attracted by the challenge and if they can match the money he'll get elsewhere, it's certainly possible.
Likely salary: $2.5-3 million
2. Dmitri Kalinin, 27, Buffalo
He's not strictly a stay-at-home guy, but Kalinin is sound defensively and soaks up minutes like a sponge. He's a good hitter and has some offense as well. Somewhat injury prone, but that's not a big deal for a team like the Leafs, since they can treat injuries as an opportunity to audition their prospects.
Likely salary: $2-2.5 million
3. Jim Vandermeer, 28, Calgary
If there's one phrase that describes Jim Vandermeer, it's "tough as nails". He's made an NHL career out of being downright nasty. Loves to hit, which is something the Leafs' blueline currently lacks, except when Colaiacovo is in the line-up. Vandermeer tends to take bad penalties, though, so that could scare the Leafs off.
Likely salary: $1.1 million
1. Jason Williams, 27, Chicago
Williams is coming off an injury-plagued season, which may drop his market value. He still managed to put up 36 goals in 43 games. Plays a solid offensive game and is great on the PP. Williams might be a good fit alongside Alex Steen or Matt Stajan (or both) on the second line.
Likely salary: $2 million
2. Michael Ryder, 28, Montreal
Yeah, I know he had a terrible season, but you don't just forget how to score goals. Ryder is a sniper who could really bounce back with a guy like Nik Antropov setting him up. Signing him to a relatively cheap one-year deal wouldn't be much of a risk, but it could yield a big reward. Besides, I'm sick of him burning the Leafs on Saturday nights.
Likely salary: $2 million
3. Valtteri Filppula, 24, Detroit (RFA)
The Leafs are limited in what they can offer restricted free agents ($1.3 million, to be precise) because they don't have a second rounder next year and the first rounder is off limits. It would be worth their while to offer this gifted all-around player a long-term deal at $1.3 million. Odds are Detroit would match, but on the off-chance that they don't, Filppula would be a major coup for the Leafs.
Likely salary: $1.3 million
There are lots of other RFA options the Leafs could take a look at, including Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Nystrom, and David Backes, to name a few. There's no guarantee that any of them would work their way onto the top two lines, but all three would likely be available for $1.3 million or less.
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