Free agency is less than a month away, which means the most exciting time for hockey enthusiast is approaching rapidly. While hockey fans look for July 1 to arrive as fast as it can once their team has been eliminated from the postseason, front offices hope the tearing off of June 30 from their desktop calendar won’t come too quickly. The closer free agency is, the more anxiety there is for General Managers to get deals done, resign their unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and make qualifying offers to their restricted free agents (RFAs). Otherwise, they lose them to the waves of free agency.
For Brendan Shanahan, the new president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, July 1 can take its time arriving to the party- maybe even come fashionably late- considering he has just 12 players on the projected roster for next season, the least of any team in the league. The Leafs have over $22 million of cap space to work with, and Shanahan can use that space in a number of different ways.
There are four restricted free agents (Carter Ashton, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, and James Reimer) for Shanahan to possibly make qualifying offers to. Lucky for him, none of those RFAs are expected a raise. If he were to make offers to just two of the four (Gardiner and Franson, preferably) it would cost Shanahan just under $4 million.
As for the other two, the Leafs can allow other teams to offer them a contract in exchange for compensation draft picks, per the new CBA. Draft picks are highly coveted, but if there is no offer sheet made to these players, the Leafs still get rid of an investment and make room to sign UFAs.
Whether to make an offer to a RFA or let them go is a tough decision to make because they are usually still young and raw and may or may not have reached their summit of production.
The decision on which UFAs to try and keep or let go is much simpler. Most of them Shanahan will let test the free agency waters, but there are a few that he will have to spend some money to keep around.
Maple Leafs: Who should stay?
Maple Leafs: Who should go?
Whether they like it or not, Shanahan and GM Dave Nonis are going to have to give Dave Bolland a long-term contract worth $5 million a year, there is no way around it. Bolland has said he wants to stay in Toronto for the rest of his career but he needs to be compensated, and $5 million is his asking price. They will likely have to give up $2-3 million for Mason Raymond as well. His production this year (19 goals, 26 assists) has earned him a raise.
That still leaves Shanahan plenty of room to go out and sign a veteran defenseman like Dan Boyle and/or a productive bottom-six forward like Brian Boyle. But Bolland and Raymond have priority over anything else Shanahan does before July 1 rears its beautiful head.