NHL Free Agents 2011: 7 Centers the Maple Leafs Should Consider This Offseason
Brad Richards, Brad Richards, Brad Richards.
The hope that Leaf nation has put in this one player is reminiscent of superstars past. The Sedins and Rick Nash were three previous players that had the titles of Saviors in Leafland ...except, they didn't end up signing in Toronto and all hope was lost.
Let's learn from our mistakes and consider some other options, shall we?
The hole that Richards would fill (a top-line center) isn't exclusive to him. There are other, more economic options available that people seem to forget.
Here's a reminder.
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It is possible that Brooks Laich will end up being one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason.
While notching 48 points this past season (16,32), 2009-10 saw Laich reach the 25-goal mark and almost reach the 60-point plateau as well.
But his offense isn't what makes him so valuable.
It is Laich's two-way game, grit and versatility that makes him an attractive commodity for the Leafs. He can fill the third-line wing spot, or move up into a top-six center or wing role as well.
Expect Laich to command salary in the $4 million-$4.5 million range.
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Before being diagnosed with a season-ending injury, Fleischmann was one of the hottest players in the league. In the 22 games he played with the Avalanche after getting traded from Washington, he amassed 21 points (8,13).
Although Fleischmann was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli, he should be fully recovered by the time free agency roles around.
Much like Laich, the 27-year-old has the ability to play both left wing and center.
Expect Fleischmann to fetch $3 million-$4 million per season.
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At 6'4", Handzus is one of the bigger centers in the league, making him an attractive free agent to a team looking to get bigger up the middle.
Despite his size, Handzus has not put up more than 45 points since the 2004-05 season.
At 34 years of age, Handzus would add veteran leadership and could fit in on both the second and third lines.
Don't expect Handzus to get a raise on his $4 million per season he was receiving with Los Angeles. He is likely to end up with a deal that puts him in the $2.5 million-$3.5 million range.
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There is little argument that Tim Connolly is a top six center with great hands when he is healthy. The problem is, injuries have plagued him for a good portion of his career.
That said, Connolly is at an age (30) where he still fits in with the youth of the Leafs and can also provide veteran leadership.
It could be argued that Connolly has the most skill out of any free agent this year not named Brad Richards.
Connolly made $4.5 million per year with his last deal in Buffalo, and you can expect him to get around the same this offseason, despite his health issues.
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Jason Arnott could fit just about anywhere on the Leafs roster. He could be put on the top line as a big body to open up space for Phil Kessel, or he could slide down to the bottom six as a gritty forechecker who can win faceoffs.
At 36, Arnott would bring veteran knowledge and experience, and would give prospects like Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne time to develop.
Arnott made $4.5 million per year on his last contract, but don't expect him to get anywhere near that this offseason. He will be signed in the $1.5 million-$2.5 million range.
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While the previous five centers are all Unrestricted Free Agents, there are two notable and attainable Restricted Free Agents whom the Leafs should target.
First is St. Louis Blues center T.J. Oshie. There are already rumors of teams inquiring about his availability, mainly because of a locker room dispute when Oshie missed practice. And while not shopping him, Doug Armstrong would listen to legitimate offers.
At 24, Oshie is just starting to reach his potential, and he fits in with the youth of the Leafs. It is also known how much Burke loves his Americans.
St. Louis has a great young core but could use some help on defense, especially after the departure of Erik Johnson.
A deal that included Jake Gardiner or Jesse Blacker as a starting piece may get Armstrong's attention.
Expect Oshie to get a contract anywhere from the $3.5 million-$5 million range.
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Another American RFA that I am sure interests Burke, Dubinsky may need to be traded to open up cap room for Brad Richards, if Glen Sather hopes to keep most of his team together.
At 25, Dubinsky is not only starting to reach his potential (he has eclipsed 20 goals in the past two seasons), but was also a physical leader for the Rangers.
He plays a sound two-way game that makes him even more valuable next to an offensively-minded Phil Kessel.
Cap space is of value for the Rangers, so a deal including picks and prospects would most likely be a solid starting point.
Much like Oshie, expect Dubinsky's next contract to be anywhere from $3.5 million-$5 million per year.