July 1 is an expensive time for clubs to address their areas of need and for those looking to add a top four defenseman in free agency or re-sign one of their own players, the price have gone up. On Monday, the San Jose Sharks re-signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year max deal for $92 Million ($11.5 Million AAV), making him the highest paid blueliner in the NHL.
While it is fortunate for the Toronto Maple Leafs that the two-time Norris Trophy winner will not be returning to the Atlantic Division (Tampa Bay has long been rumored to be a potential destination), the Karlsson signing has eliminated the top ranked free agent defenseman from the free agent market, increasing the leverage of the second and third ranked UFA blueliners, Winnipeg’s Tyler Myers and Toronto’s Jake Gardiner.
In spite of persistent rumors that Gardiner would like to return to Toronto and that GM Kyle Dubas would like to find a way to bring back the 28-year-old, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the Leafs are loathe to make any signings until a new deal is finalized with RFA winger Mitch Marner.
Even if the Leafs were able to clear the $4.5 Million salary of Nikita Zaitsev in a trade, it would not create enough cap space even if Gardiner were willing to take a hometown discount. With clubs like Montreal and Vancouver possessing large amounts of cap space looking for defensive help, it is likely that the price tag for Gardiner will be anywhere from $6 - $7 Million per season on a long-term deal.
LeBrun believes that Myers might be a good fit for Toronto. The 29-year-old has the size on the blueline that the Leafs lack and is right handed, and may be more affordable since he averages in the 30-35 point range, while Gardiner posted seasons of 43 and 52 points before dropping to 30 points in an injury-shortened season.
Dubas being held up from making other moves if there is a contractual stalemate with Marner has to be of concern with the possibility of negotiations going into July, but the Leafs GM indicated at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo earlier this month that he may not be able to hold off if there is a chance to make upgrades.
“We’d like to get (the new contracts) all done, but at the same time I don’t think it’s fair to the remainder of the players on the team for us to put everything on hold, when we can be trying to improve the club.” Dubas said
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