Leafs cannot rely solely on free agents signing as a path to improvement
June 15, 2017, 1:56 PM ET [109 Comments]
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have been down the road more than a few times of looking for a missing piece or even a savior in free agency.
The pursuit of a #1 center took them hat in hand to the offices of Newport Sports in 2011 to try to get Brad Richards to sign in Toronto and the year-long speculation about wooing Steven Stamkos back to the GTA resulted in the Markham native re-signing with Tampa Bay for eight years.
The selection of Auston Matthews appears to have remedied the need for a top line center for the next 10-15 years, but now the Leafs have to address the hole in their lineup on the blueline. The 2017 free agent class is rather thin after Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner, so that has teams like Toronto, Buffalo and Edmonton looking to the trade market or to the next two free agent classes for defensive help.
In July 2018, Cam Fowler, Mark-Edouard Vlasic, Mike Green and John Carlson could conceivably reach free agency. The following summer, the contracts of Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan McDonagh expire.
The problem is that between now and then, those big names could potentially get locked up to extensions or dealt to teams that have the resources to sign them, so the odds of getting to the open market are remote and even if they reach free agency, there is no guarantee that they will want to sign with Toronto or that the Leafs will have enough cap space to sign them.
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While the lure of playing for the up-and-coming Leafs may help break down some barriers, there are hurdles that they still need to clear to make Toronto a preferred destination.
“I think all of us Southern Ontario players, we secretly want to play for the Leafs. We have that kind of soft spot.” Doughty said on TSN’s Leafs Lunch. “We would all want to play here, especially with the team getting better and stuff like that, but I think it just always comes down to how hard it would be to live in a city being that big of a celebrity.
I’m spoiled in L.A.,where I walk anywhere I want and not one person’s going to recognize me. If, say, I did for some reason play for the Leafs, I don’t know if I could get used to (the attention) or not. I think that’s the problem why guys don’t sign here.”
It will be the task of Shanahan, head coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello to sell
Toronto to players who have control over their destiny the next few years. Adding a couple key players and complementary pieces could be the difference between being a playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender, otherwise the Leafs will have to rely mostly on developing their own players and acquiring via trade to improve.
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