If you live in Leafland, the day before Canada Day is usually when every fan of the Blue and White plays “armchair GM” and tells you what Lou and Shanny should do to ‘better’ the team the following day.
Well, to save yourself some time from extensive Leafs bro-talks in the next 24 hours trying to figure out “what the hell are the Leafs actually going to do?” we made this article explaining our insight and predictions on Who The Leafs Will Pick Up In 2017 Free Agency Opening Day.
SIGN A BACKUP GOALIE: MIKE CONDON.
After putting his name on the map over the last couple NHL seasons as a reliable backup, Condon might be looking for a big raise and a potential spot as a team’s starter in net. However, most teams in the NHL today already have a number-one goalie, so Condon must just settle for 15-20 starts next year with a team that can give him decent money and term on a two or three-year contract. The Leafs are a team that fit that criteria perfectly, as they are most likely looking for a No. 2 upgrade over Curtis McElhinney (yes, he made that one great save against Crosby in a crucial game. Allow me to present the two-finger clap).
Leafs’ management could look at either Garrett Sparks or Antoine Bibeau as “Plan C” if they can’t sign a decent NHL backup in today’s market and don’t want to re-sign McElhinney. The only problem is neither one of those 23-year-old RFAs have proven themselves to be consistent, reliable goalies even in the AHL.
GET A TOP-FOUR, RIGHT-HANDED D-MAN: MICHAEL STONE.
They don’t need Kevin Shattenkirk. Sure, Shattenkirk is a power-play specialist that can make plays on the blueline. But what’s his weaknesses? Playing defence. What is the weakness with the Leafs’ current blueline squad that currently needs to be addressed? Playing defence. Dropping big bucks and giving a David Clarkson-type contract to a guy like that wouldn’t make sense.
You also have to consider some more affordable alternatives that could still benefit the Leafs’ top-four, which has that fourth hole that needs to be filled with the likes of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev. Michael Stone is a physical defensive defensemen that could bring a more competitive edge to the blueline and shove some bodies around, especially in front of the net. So signing someone like Stone would be a big help come next season.
ADD SOME VETERAN PRESENCE: SIGN JOE THORNTON OR MIKE FISHER OR (RE-SIGN) BRIAN BOYLE.
With a promising, young team like the Maple Leafs, it was great to see them accomplish all they did last season, with most fans predicting a last-place finish and the team actually making the playoffs and taking the Capitals to six games. But there is no question that this young team will need some veteran leadership – whether it be a forward or D-man – to help them take the next step in the playoffs and potentially win their first playoff round since 2004. And with the future of Tyler Bozak in question as he enters the final year of his contract whilst making $4.2 million on the third line, the Leafs have a few veteran-leader options they can look at acquiring on July 1st.
Joe Thornton is the biggest name on the Free Agency list that the Leafs can sign on a short-term deal that will have an immediate impact on the roster, both on and off the ice. Sure, he’s not the same player that used to score 60-70 points a year but he’s still a reliable scorer, a natural competitor, and overall a great leader by example to have for the young guys. He also played under coach Mike Babcock for a ton of tournaments and trophies in the past, too. If the Leafs can get a decent right-handed defenseman for Bozak in the offseason, I don’t see why not. Mike Fisher and Brian Boyle aren’t exactly clones of Joe Thornton – Joe is considered one of the best players in this league to never win anything – but Fisher or Boyle could be good backup plans as a third-line centre if another team snags Joe first.
Honestly guys, who knows what will really happen? There are some bold predictions out there and some made in this article, but at the end of the day, we’re all going to wake up at noon and tune into TSN’s or Sportsnet’s “Free Agency Frenzy” program to see how everything actually boils down. But it’s safe to say that this July 1st will be a much more interesting and eventful one than last year’s July 1st for the Leafs. That’s it for now. Ciao.