The Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason began on April 13th. As with the 13 other NHL clubs to fail to make the postseason, the Leafs have had a lot of time since then to sit back and contemplate where it all went wrong.
The Leafs looked primed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second year in a row, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 2003-04 season. An entertaining first round series in which they took the eventual Stanley Cup runner-up Boston Bruins to seven games left Leafs fans optimistic for the 2013-14 season. But, something went wrong, and it’s their newly hired president Brendan Shanahan’s job to figure out what that something was.
With just 12 guys signed for next season, the Leafs have plenty of holes to fill in free agency. It will be a chance to restructure and get the team back to the postseason.
Their top-six forwards are all signed for the 2014-15 season, although, according to Ryan Dadoun of prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com, Nazem Kadri may be trade bait for a higher draft pick. Whether Shanahan is looking to move up for a Sam Bennett or Sam Reinhart remains to be seen at this point. If they do move up to the 1st or 5th overall pick (both Florida and the New York Islanders have expressed interest in trading their picks) they should select a forward, for which the depth in the farm system is shallow.
Since David Clarkson is more suited and more comfortable being on the third-line, and with Kadri’s potential departure, the Leafs can shop for a couple top six forwards. There are plenty to choose from this year, with the likes of Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, and Paul Stastny available, but they will be asking for hefty contracts. A Mike Cammalleri or Steve Ott would be formidable skaters to contribute.
Capable bottom-six forwards will be a necessity during the free agency period, even if Shanahan does decides to resign guys like Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond, and Jay McClement. There are some unrestricted free agents out their that have made their living as bottom-six players, and will come fairly cheap.
Adding a veteran defenseman would truly help their somewhat young blueline, especially one with postseason experience. Just a few of the current group of D-men played in the playoffs last season, so a polished defenseman with years of postseason experience will prove valuable if the Leafs intend to make a run in the next couple years.
I’ve said previously that I thought Shanahan should let backup goaltender James Reimer go, which means a goaltender could be sought out.
What Shanahan’s intentions are with the goaltending situation is unclear, but it is obvious that it is a hole that needs to be filled. Both Reimer and Jonathan Bernier are young and have shown flashes of being viable #1 netminders, but the Leafs could get draft compensation from a team that signs Reimer, since he is a restricted free agent, which is never a bad move. The Leafs are not in the running for Ryan Miller, but they could go out and sign a veteran backup goaltender for a year to relieve Bernier.
With all of these holes to fill it should be an exciting free agency period. July 1 can’t come soon enough.