NHL Free Agency: Toronto Maple Leafs Should Sign These 4 Players

Jeff Langridge@@JeffLangridge1Correspondent IIIApril 20, 2011

NHL Free Agency: Toronto Maple Leafs Should Sign These 4 Players

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Toronto Maple Leafs made great strides to becoming a contender late in the season, but we all know that they have more than a few needs before anyone considers them a serious Cup contender.

    As we all know, the most serious need is a first line center, seconded by a offensive defenseman to replace Tomas Kaberle. We also need a player that can help improve one of the league's worst penalty kills last season.

    The Leafs' website lists Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, Tim Brent, Nazem Kadri as the centers on the Leafs roster. While Nazem Kadri can develop into a top center somewhere down the road, as of now he has been far too inconsistent in his young career to depend on him on the first line next year. He could also be moved to the wing.

    Grabovski has won the second line center from his play last year. Bozak and Brent could be useful on the third and fourth line centers respectively

    Since the departure of Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs have needed a suitable replacement. When you're giving Brett Lebda additional ice-time to see if he can help with offense, you know you need help. Carl Gunnarsson could very well be the replacement long-term, but along with Kadri, those days won't come for a while.

    The Leafs penalty kill ranked 28th in the NHL with 77.4 percent. Fredrik Sjostrom was supposed to help the PK but has done nothing so he will most likely be let go. Bozak was also used with a man down, which could help explain his minus-29 rating.

    The Leafs desperately need to find a player who will anchor our penalty kill and drastically improve it.

    Here are five players that the Leafs need to target and hopefully sign.

Brad Richards, Center

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    I'll get the most obvious one out of the way first. The Leafs need to throw a pretty good offer at him. Forget what has been said about that he doesn't want to come here.

    Forget that the common thought is that he'll reunite with John Tortorella in New York. When July 1st hits, all bets are off.

    The only true first line center on the market this year is Richards. A general manager is never sure if he'll be able to complete a trade and even with Brian Burke's experience, he might not acquire the center he needs through trade. So unless a trade is completed at the draft, Burke will throw a lot of money at Richards.

    At 30 years old, Richards is still young enough to lead this team for as much as five years, possibly more. He has had two almost injury-free seasons in a row, so his injury-risk is rather low.

    Contract Offer: Seven years, $50 million

Christian Ehrhoff, Defenseman

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    ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 06:  Christian Ehrhoff #5 of the Vancouver Canucks plays against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on March 6, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Christian Ehrhoff is one of two Canucks defensemen that are becoming unrestricted free agents, Kevin Bieksa being the other.

    While I would like to see Bieksa in a Leafs uniform as well, Ehrhoff is what the Leafs need right now.

    In 79 games with the Canucks this season, Ehrhoff tallied 14 goals and 36 assists for 50 points.

    He would definitely be a stalwart on the powerplay, six of his goals came with the man advantage, and would look real good beside Dion Phaneuf.

    Contract Offer: Three years, $10.5 million

Brooks Laich, Left Wing/Center

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 18: Brooks Laich #21 of the Washington Capitals skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 18, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Capitals shut out the Devils 3-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    With the uncertainty concerning Clarke MacArthur's contract, the Leafs might need a replacement.

    Well, Brooks Laich would do a lot more than replace MacArthur because he can do so much more. Hey, even if MacArthur stays, which I think he will, Laich would be a welcome addition to the Leafs team.

    Laich scored 16 goals and added 32 assists for 48 points, playing in all 82 games for Washington. If Tyler Bozak rebounds from his horrible sophomore season, Laich would look real good on the third line with Bozak and Colby Armstrong.

    If MacArthur leaves for whatever reason, then Laich could very easily be moved up to the second line.

    Contract Offer: Four years, $11 million

Ty Conklin, Goaltender

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    SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 8: Goaltender Ty Conklin #29 of the St. Louis Blues warms up prior to the NHL game against the Florida Panthers on February 8, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Blues defeated the Panthers 2-1. (Photo by Joel
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    In my and many others opinion, James Reimer has earned the starting job to begin next season.

    While I once said Jonas Gustavsson could be a capable back-up, if he's ever going to get over his heart problems, he deserves a chance to be a starter somewhere else.

    He signed here because he said he'd have the biggest chance of starting. They should give him that chance somewhere else.

    Now, trading Gustavsson would leave us without a backup goaltender. While there are a few quality goaltenders in the free agency market, I think that the Leafs should go after Ty Conklin.

    In 25 games, he posted an 8-4-4 record and .881 GAA, his worst statistical season in the NHL. He should come cheaper in that regard. His career has been rather up-and-down, so I'm to believe that this year should be better for him.

    Contract Offer: Two years, $2 million