Free Agency Offers Little For Toronto Maple Leafs

February 4th, 2011 4 Comments

When the 2010-11 season began, there was hope that the Toronto Maple Leafs would make the playoffs for the first time in what seems like a decade.

Failing that, many Maple Leaf fans held out hope that general manager Brian Burke would be able to bolster the lineup with a unrestricted free agent or two up front this summer, which, at this point, doesn’t seem like a smart option.

Dallas Stars centre Brad Richards has always been the apple of the Leafs Nation eyes, but with the Stars looking like a playoff team and Richards’ contributions being a big reason for that, it is looking more and more like Richards will re-sign in Dallas.

Alexander Semin garnered some interest from some fans, but he recently signed a one-year $6.7 million deal with the Washington Capitals, stifling any delusions the Leafs Nation had of seeing Semin in the Blue and White.

When you glaze over the current UFA list, what you will find is, outside of Richards, there really isn’t a “sure thing” on the list.

Oft-injured Simon Gagne, the enigmatic Alex Kovalev,  and the always leaving you wanting more Tim Connolly now headline a UFA list that, to be blunt, is less than stellar.

To be fair, there are a number of role players available such as Brooks Laich, Scottie Upshall and Mike Knuble, but the Maple Leafs already have their fill of those and are unlikely to pursue any more.

The off-season acquisition of Kris Versteeg serves as a reminder that third line players rarely put on the Blue and White and become superstars—although many Leaf fans would have you believe that.

Suffice to say, Brooks Laich is a nice player, but he would not be able to address the Maple Leafs’ biggest need—a first line centre.

Fast forward to the 2012 UFA list and the landscape doesn’t get any better.

Alexander Semin (26) may return to the UFA list, while the likes of Dustin Penner (28), Ryan Smyth (34), Shane Doan (34), Ales Hemsky (27), Brad Boyes (28) and Patrick Sharp (29) may find themselves looking for work.

Of those listed, Sharp and Doan are likely to re-sign with their clubs, while Semin, Hemsky, Smyth, Boyes and Penner would be wild cards to make it to free agency.

Semin, Penner, Smyth and Hemsky could bolster the Maple Leafs’ wings, but none of them are natural centres.

Given his age and the average age of the Maple Leafs roster (youngest in the NHL), signing Doan, while attractive on the surface, would not make much sense and it’s hard to believe he would want to leave Phoenix.

That leaves former Maple Leafs’ draft pick Brad Boyes as the only reasonable option— a player who is on pace to score about 16 goals and 50-55 points this season with the St. Louis Blues.

Boyes scored 43 goals in 2007-08, followed by a 33 goal season which saw him post a brutal minus -20 rating.

In 2009-10 Boyes lit the lamp a total of 14 times, registering 42 points on the season.

What Toronto really needs is a centre that can distribute the puck, not a sniper who has had trouble finding the back of the net the last season and looks to be on pace for another mediocre season.

Where are the Maple Leafs going to find this missing link, you ask?

Well, Leafs’ prospect Nazem Kadri is an option, but it remains to be seen if he is the real deal or just another Maple Leafs’ prospect that will fall well short of expectations.

The trade market is a great way to bolster your roster, but with little in the way of roster players and draft picks to offer up for a number one centre, Brain Burke likely won’t be able to pull that one off. (and sorry— sending over a few “prospects” will not get you a number one centre in return!)

There are a few other options in the minors. At 6’5”, 210 pounds, Brayden Irwin has the size to be a force in the NHL someday, but with just 15 points in 45 games with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate (Toronto Marlies) the 23-year old looks a few years away from competing for the number one centre’s role, if ever.

Gregg McKegg has a 34 goal season going in the OHL with the Erie Otters, but at just 19-years of age, he will likely require a significant amount of seasoning before he cracks the Maple Leafs lineup, let along emerges as the number one centre.

Besides, McKegg is a natural winger, as are some of the Maple Leafs best prospects, such as Brad Ross, Jerry D’Amigo, Marcel Mueller, Kenny Ryan and Fabian Brunnstrom.

While it’s easy to say that improvement will have to come from within, it appears as if most of the Maple Leafs’ young prospects are between two and five seasons away from being able to lead the club.

Whether or not Burke pulls off a trade, finds a diamond in the rough in the system or elects to take a run at a player via free agency, the reality is Burke’s got his work cut out for him—and nobody envies his position.

Until next time,


  1. Jeff says:

    I think you are wrong about there being little for the Maple leafs having little to offer to them in the offseason. Parise and Richards for starters would fit well with the Leafs. Read the rest at my website.

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Well of course there are plenty of players out there that could help the Maple Leafs. What I meant was that the Maple Leafs do not have what it will take to get a player like Richards or Parise (as you pointed out) in return.

    And, if we wait to see who emerges as a free agent there is no guarantee that Burke is able to sign the likes of Richards (who I think re-signs in Dallas anyways).

    Sure, we need a franchise player, but teams do not trade them often, and when they do, there os often baggage attached. You spoeak about RFA’s in your article, they too are extremely hard to pry away from teams. Most players re-sign and most of the better UFA’s have already signed with their respective clubs (Chara, Semin, Thorton, etc, etc.).

    What we are left to ponder are the “what if’s” and, as it stands now, Burke is running out of those options too…

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Chante Zynda says:

    Someone I work with visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read too. The writing style is excellent and the content is interesting. Thanks for the insight you provide the readers!

  4. MarkRitter says:

    Thanks for the props- appreciated!

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