Free Agent Frenzy: Four Centers the Maple Leafs Should Consider This Offseason
So you're the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. You've got money to spend, players to trade, and a packed offseason to convince various free agents that your team is the best option for them.
Oh, and you have an entire nation of diehard fans losing their minds with every move you make, while breathing down your neck to push this new generation of Leafs back into the playoffs —a place they haven't been since 2004.
Not to mention a certain anticipation brewing for the future of the club that hasn't seen much of that since Pat Quinn walked the halls of the ACC.
Yes, as exciting as it seems to be Brian Burke right now —the offseason as your oyster and a slew of fans just begging for a parade down Yonge Street —it certainly isn't easy to have that sort of pressure weighing on your shoulders.
But nonetheless, it's Burke's job to right this ship that is the Maple Leafs, and one of the most important avenues he could do so, would be to dip into the free agent pool this summer.
It's not one of the deepest pools we've seen in recent years, but there is plenty of talent to go around.
So let's dive right into the proverbial pool of free agents, and see which ones might fit on the roster for next season. We'll start up the middle with four free agent centers that would fit right in each of the Leafs four lines next season.
Tomas Plekanec, C
The 26-year-old Plekanec had a breakout season with the Montreal Canadiens in 2009-2010 after a lackluster performance the previous year. He appeared in all 82 games, recording 25 goals, 45 assists for 70 points.
His superior passing skills could be the perfect ingredient added to the top line with Phil Kessel, who would most assuredly benefit from the odd tape-to-tape pass in front of the net.
The issue with signing Plekanec will be the money, which seems to be a common theme with free agents these days. He made $2.75 million last year, but will be looking for a salary more in the $4-5 million range most likely, which might be difficult for the Leafs to fit in.
And by difficult I mean most likely impossible.
But if the money can be figured out and Burke can get rid of some of the contracts that are hurting the Leafs more than helping (see Jeff Finger), the price could be right for Plekanec to start next season on the other side of the classic rivalry.
And Kessel would score 30+ goals in his sleep with that kind of talent in the middle.
Matthew Lombardi, C
Though he's certainly not first line center material, Matthew Lombardi would add some much needed North American grit and skill up the middle for the Leafs.
The 28-year-old Montreal native is coming off the best season of his career in with the Phoenix Coyotes, and is the type of player Burke loves on his team.
In 78 games he had 19 goals and 53 points, and added six more in the first round, seven-game series against the Detroit Red Wings earlier in the post-season.
Though he's still young by normal standards, he'd be somewhat of a veteran presence on the Leafs with the core of inexperienced players —especially at the center position.
He made $2.35 million on the final year of his contract this season, which is approximately what the Leafs are paying Mikhail Grabovski right now.
If the Leafs can move Grabo and bring in Lombardi, they'd have a more consistent, more experienced, and more tenacious player up the middle on their second line.
He's never quite been the player offensively that some thought at the start of his career, but Lombardi's determination is what has teams continuing to bring him back.
A fresh start in Toronto under the bright lights might be just what he needs to have an even better break out year as a legitimate second line center for the Leafs.
Adam Burish, C
It's no secret that the Leafs need to get tougher and harder to play against, and what better way to do so then pluck some gritty forwards from this year's potential Stanley Cup Champions.
Adam Burish, though injured for most of this year's regular season, can step in at any time, in any game, and have an immediate impact physically while shifting momentum with a single hit.
What better describes a Burke-type player than that?
He would be a cheap addition to the Leafs (only making $725,000 this season) but would add so much to the third or fourth line —and would be an instant fan favourite in Toronto.
He gets under the other team's skin, is an absolute chore to play against, and can bring a crowd from silent to ecstatic in seconds. Not to mention he's only 26.
He’s not a player who demands a ton of ice time —he simply takes what he gets and makes the most of it. If Burke could find more players with that attitude, the Leafs would be headed to the playoffs sooner than anyone expected.
Time to bring that Stanley Cup experience to Toronto, Adam.
Ryan Johnson. C
The Leafs had a better chance at blocking the sun than they did any shots last season, so what better way to fix the problem than bring in one of the leagues best in Ryan Johnson.
Johnson doesn't take blocking shots lightly either —to him it's a lifestyle. He's been doing it since 1997 when he played his first NHL game, and has the bruises and broken bones to prove it.
The 33-year-old was said to be the most-liked player in the room in Vancouver this season, and there is no doubt why.
When you lay yourself in front of the hardest shooters in the league time and time again for the good of the team, it's safe to say you don't often get stuck with the bill at team dinners.
Or any dinner for that matter.
Though his style of play has him prone to injuries, it's a risk worth taking for the Leafs who are in desperate need of a player who can kill penalties —something that Johnson takes to a whole new level.
This is the type of player that a team gets more bang for their buck with (he made $1.2 million this season) and Burke would be crazy not to shoot a contract offer his way.
Let's just hope he doesn't block that too.
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