The Toronto Maple Leafs made the biggest splash on the first day of NHL free agency on this day two years ago by signing center John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 Million contract, but with the league shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual free-agent frenzy on Canada Day and the official beginning of the 2020-21 season has been postponed until after the completion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Blueliners Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci are unlikely to return, due in part to the salary cap staying flat at $81.5 Million next season. Barrie should be one of the more sought after free-agent defensemen on the market with his puck-moving ability and as a power-play quarterback, while Ceci may have to take a one-year deal at significantly less than $4.5 Million to prove his doubters wrong.
There continue to be rumors that the Leafs would like to sign Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Alex Pietrangelo if he chooses not to re-sign with St. Louis, but his price tag on the open market could be in excess of Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s $8.25 Million salary, which would necessitate moving out a big forward contract like William Nylander and his nearly $7 Million cap hit or Mitch Marner’s nearly $11 Million AAV to make it possible.
The most likely scenario for GM Kyle Dubas is to seek out veteran players (either forwards or defensemen )coming off a bad season or an injury willing to sign a short-term deal for a league-minimum salary as Tyler Ennis did two years ago and Jason Spezza did last July.
Ennis had a bounce-back season with the Leafs, scoring 12 goals as a fourth-liner and earning another NHL contract with Ottawa last summer, while Spezza responded to increased usage under Sheldon Keefe and played effectively in a depth role.
The Leafs approach to free agency could depend on what happens in the upcoming playoffs against Columbus. If Toronto is unable to beat a tough defensive-minded Blue Jackets squad under John Tortorella, Dubas may look to go in a different direction and make a bold move involving a prominent forward to improve the club’s defense, but if they have some success in the postseason, it may be fairly easy to find players willing to take less and compete for a Stanley Cup in the Blue and White.
We will take a look at a number of potential free agent targets that Dubas may be interested in over the next couple days.
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