Toronto Maple Leafs: Potential Targets During Free Agency

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IJune 29, 2010

DALLAS - JANUARY 31:  James Neal #18 of the Dallas Stars skates onto the ice before a game against the Phoenix Coyotes at American Airlines Center on January 31, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With the National Hockey League's free agency period rapidly approaching, the Maple Leafs are getting set to make a couple changes.

Most notably, of course, is the likely addition of a top-six forward, preferably one to play with Phil Kessel. That player does not necessarily have to be a center or a playmaker.

Tyler Bozak, who is a play-making center, scored eight times and added 19 assists in just 37 games last season, playing with Phil Kessel more often than not. 

The 24-year-old showed lots of potential, only adding to the Maple Leafs' good core of young players. With that being said, the Maple Leafs do not need a top line center like Marc Savard, who has been rumored in trade talks between the Bruins and Maple Leafs.

Instead, the Maple Leafs will need to look into someone to play on the other wing. A player like Bobby Ryan would be more than ideal. But due to the money that he will be wanting, it is unlikely that Ryan will be coming to play for the Maple Leafs.

Bobby Ryan is certainly not the only player the Maple Leafs may target this offseason. Other young names include Niclas Bergfors of the Thrashers, Blake Wheeler of the Bruins, Claude Giroux of the Flyers, and David Backes of the Blues. However, none of these players is likely to be a Maple Leaf next season for a number of reasons.

For instance, Backes is a player who can put up offensive numbers, but not good enough to be a top line player, or possibly even a second line player. Giroux still has another year left on his contract.

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All of these players are right wingers, meaning that if one of them did come to Toronto, that player or Phil Kessel would have to play in a position where they are likely uncomfortable.

If any one of those four were to come to Toronto, it would most likely be Blake Wheeler. Wheeler is a big forward (6'5", 205 pounds) who is coming off of a 38 point season, and a 45 point, +36 rookie season.

The ideal player would be someone of the caliber of Zach Parise or Dustin Brown. Both youngsters know how to score and are top line players. Brown, the 25-year-old captain of the Los Angeles Kings, is often compared to Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers.

But Brian Burke would have to pull off a miracle to be able to acquire Parise or Brown without giving up another first round pick or too much of the team's future.

So who might actually be likely to be wearing the blue and white come October? A few names that come to mind are Andrew Ladd, Chris Stewart, James Neal, or Mason Raymond.

Andrew Ladd

Chicago is looking to get rid of Ladd, who is still only 24-years-old.

In 82 games last season, the left winger scored 17 goals while adding 21 assists. He has now won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, which could make him a good influence on the younger players.

The only problem with Ladd is that unless he can score more goals than 17 (his career high) and put up more points than 49 (also a career high), he will not be on the top line for very long.

Chris Stewart

Colorado Avalanche right winger Stewart does play the same position as Phil Kessel. But due to his playing ability, he could possibly play alongside the Leafs' star.

Stewart is a restricted free agent this season and at 22 years of age, he is still very young. Last season he scored 28 times while adding 36 assists for a total of 64 points in 77 games.

James Neal

Neal is a 22-year-old native of Whitby, Ontario, and has been talked about as being a great fit for the Maple Leafs by many people. I can't help but agree.

Neal, a left winger who played the last two season in Dallas with the Stars, is a restricted free agent this offseason and would fit right in with Kessel and Bozak. He scored 27 goals and had 28 assists last season in 78 games.

Mason Raymond  

Vancouver Canucks winger Raymond is only 24 and is a restricted free agent. 

He scored 25 goals last season and has blinding speed, which would go well with Kessel and Bozak's fast pace of play. A line of Kessel, Raymond, and Bozak could be very deadly a year or two from now. 

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