Free agency. For the players, it is often like hitting the lottery; for NHL general managers, it often spells the difference between making the playoffs and finding yourself in the unemployment line.
While most free-agent signings work out for both parties, there are plenty of examples of big-money signings gone wrong.
For Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, the summer of 2011 might just be the most important of his career, as he must identify organizational needs and decide which ones he intends on filling from within, while filling the other holes with potential free-agent signings.
Most fans will agree that the Maple Leafs are still at least three or four players from becoming a legitimate playoff team.
Some of the holes on the current roster include question marks between the pipes, a lack of power-play scoring, a legitimate need for a front-line centre, the need for another puck-moving defenseman and a glaring need for a penalty kill specialist.
While it is impossible to believe that Burke will be able to address all of his via free agency, there is the sense that given his considerable cap space this summer (believed to be upwards of $23 million), Burke will be a major player this summer.
Some of that $23 million will be used to re-sign the likes of James Reimer, Clarke MacArthur, Luke Schenn, Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson (all of whom are restricted free agents this summer) and perhaps a guy like Tim Brent, who will be a UFA this summer.
After everything is said and done and the anticipated increase in salary cap is accounted for, Burke should be left with upwards of $12 million with which to go free-agent shopping.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the top six unrestricted free agent players Burke may target and why they fit into the current club’s plan.