NHL Free Agency 2011: Bieksa or Ehrhoff? Who Should the Maple Leafs Go After?

Jeff LangridgeCorrespondent IIIMay 3, 2011

CHICAGO - MAY 09: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck under pressure from Christian Ehrhoff #5 and Kevin Bieksa #3 of the Vancouver Canucks in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 9, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It is no secret that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke will be targeting a defenseman when free agency open. The question is: Who will he target?

Well, there are two defensemen currently playing for one Burke’s former stomping grounds that may be of particular interest to the Leafs now.

The Canucks are currently fighting their way toward the Stanley Cup but if they’re not careful, they might end up being next years Chicago Blackhawks. They have eight players that will be unrestricted free agents come July 1st. Half of them are depth forwards, while the other half is are defensemen that Vancouver will be looking to hang onto.

Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts, Kevin Bieksa, and Christian Ehrhoff will all be coveted by other teams if they are not signed by Vancouver. The two that will be of the most interest to the Leafs are Bieksa and Ehrhoff.

Since the departure of Tomas Kaberle, it has been evident that the Leafs need a new play-making D-man.

Ehrhoff would definitely fill that role. In 79 games this past season, he scored 14 goals and added 36 assists for 50 points. Ehrhoff has been improving every year and there is no reason to believe that it won’t continue next season.

In Bieksa’s case, if the Leafs were to somehow rid themselves of Mike Komisarek’s contract, he would not only replace Komisarek, he would be an improvement.

Bieksa scored six goals and added 16 assists for 22 points in 66 games. Bieksa’s most telling stat is a plus-32, meaning he would definitely help the Leafs defense.

Since the Leafs most pressing need on defense is a play-maker, they should definitely go after Ehrhoff first. The question is if he’ll make it to free agency.

Other than Bieksa, Ehrhoff, Salo, and Alberts, the Canucks unrestrictd free agents are Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass, and Jeff Tambellini. Added to that are the Canucks restricted free agents, Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, and Lea Sweatt.

Complicating matters further is that Mason Raymond, Mikhail Samuelsson and Aaron Rome are unrestricted free agents and Cory Schnieder is a restricted free agent after next season. Manny Malholtra, Alex Edler and Alex Burrows’ contracts are up the year after.

If the Canucks are to keep most of their core and depth together they will probably have to let one of their best defensemen go, if not both.

Out of Bieksa and Ehrhoff, if the Canucks were to re-sign only one of them, I’m pretty sure it would be Ehrhoff. Bieksa has been mentioned in trade talks because of the Canucks cap problems this year, so out of the two, he might be more expendable.

Now even though I said that Ehrhoff should be the Leafs’ first target, if he’s not available, then by all means they should go after Bieksa. With James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson currently looking like they will be the number one and two goalies, they will need a good defense in front of them.

If there is any chance that the Leafs can sign both of them, then they should explore it.

If they were to sign them, the Leafs top six would consist of Dion Phaneuf, Bieksa, Ehrhoff, Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie, and Carl Gunnarson. The reason I don’t list Komisarek is that he will most likely have to be moved if the Leafs were to sign both of them.

Who would you guys like more? Bieksa or Ehrhoff?