In the NHL Free Agency, nothing comes free. In fact, most of the time it comes overpriced and doesn’t live up to the hype. One team who is looking for some change, but not looking to spend much, is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who finally shed some contracts, but at the same time, need to fill some holes this off-season.
One of the holes is on the back end, filling the position of a right-handed shooting defenseman to be exact. Meanwhile, adding a player or two who can add some physicality to the lineup or lay themselves down in front of a shot wouldn’t be a bad thing either. Toronto ranked in the bottom five when it came to hits and blocked shots last season. But with the team losing some goal scoring, they will no doubt look to replace that.
However, there are a few names to watch for within the organization next season.
One will be Justin Holl. He was called up for his first two NHL games last season and scored in both games before being sent back to the Marlies. The 26-year-old, right-handed defenseman will more than likely push for a roster spot next season.
Another name to keep an eye on is the newly signed Igor Ozhiganov. The 25-year-old has never played in North America but has been playing in the KHL with CSKA Moscow since 2012-13; so, he has the ability to play with men. His name will be one to watch come preseason, and since he is a right-handed defenseman, he becomes a candidate to start in the NHL with Toronto next season.
Just because a right-handed defenseman is what the team really needs, that doesn’t mean they will be quiet come July 1st. The goal is to make the team better, and if a player does that, whichever way they shoot, then the team will consider taking a flyer.
Here are some players who, as of now, are hitting the open market on July 1st that Toronto could or should have their eye on:
John Tavares, F, 27
When Steven Stamkos was a free agent, Toronto made an effort to bring him in. If the Islanders aren’t able to sign Tavares and he hits the market, every team in the league will most likely pick up the phone to see what it will take to sign him. A franchise player like Tavares hitting free agency doesn’t happen often; so if he actually does test the market, it’s hard to think Toronto won’t make a push.
John Carlson, D, 28
Certainly, in the prime of his career, Carlson is the biggest target when it comes to defenseman this summer. The fact that he is right-handed and a stud on the back end means he will receive a call from a majority of the teams but especially Toronto. He led all defenseman in points (68) this past season. It helps that he is the one who usually sets up Alex Ovechkin when on the power play. His price tag was going to be high, but now that he just won a Stanley Cup, expect someone to overpay.
Mike Green, D, 32
It will be interesting to see where Mike Green ends up since he played a hard bargain at the trade deadline. According to rumors, Green only wanted to be dealt to either Tampa Bay or Washington. Rumor also has it that he rejected a deal which would have sent him to Toronto. The 32-year-old does have some life left in him after three respectful years in Detroit. The right-handed defenseman should get a lot of attention if he is still available July 1, but not at the $6 million price tag he had the last three seasons in the Motor City.
Greg Pateryn, D, 27
The right-handed shooting defenseman has been on Toronto’s radar before being drafted by the Leafs in the 5th round of the 2008 draft. He spent last season with the Dallas Stars, and for the most part, had a respectful year. He is not the top pairing defenseman that the team needs, but he is a good, low-cost option when it comes to replacing Roman Polak.
Dan Hamhuis, D, 35
Hamhuis is neither right-handed, nor young. What he would bring to Toronto is good hockey sense and some needed veteran leadership on the back end.
James Neal, RW/LW, 30
It always seems like nobody wants Neal. The forward has proven that he can score goals and Toronto does need to add some goal scoring to their lineup since James van Riemsdyk is most likely moving on. If he ends up hitting the open market, it’s worth picking up the phone and having a conversation; not to mention his playoff experience, along with the fact that he is only 30-years-old.
David Perron, LW, 30
Perron is coming off the best year of his career while finishing in the top three in scoring amongst UFAs. His cap hit last year was $3.75 million, and after the season he just had, he should have no issue getting a raise.