The Toronto Maple Leafs made the biggest splash in free agency two years ago with the signing center John Tavares, but the news this week of the NHL and Player’s Association getting close on a new collective bargaining agreement may not be greeted with enthusiasm by the Leafs and other clubs, with the likelihood of the salary cap staying flat at $81.5 Million for the next two years.
Part of GM Kyle Dubas plan hinged on the cap going up to keep a strong supporting cast around John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, but with the cap staying flat, the Leafs will have to either consider trading the likes of Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson to make room for the salaries of players to replace Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci or find short term fixes in free agency willing to take less and compete for a Stanley Cup similar to the signings of Tyler Ennis and Jason Spezza the last two summers.
Today will take a look at five free-agent blueliners that Dubas could target after this season:
Chris Tanev - The Toronto native has long been rumored to be a subject of interest to the Leafs, going back to 2016 when he was paired with Morgan Rielly on Team Canada at the 2016 World Championships. Tanev is a stay-at-home blueliner who has had trouble with durability through his 10-year NHL career but can keep up with the pace of the league and might be a good fit with the more offensive-minded Rielly.
The 30-year-old is a right-hand shooter which would make him a good fit to take the place of Barrie or Ceci in Toronto’s top four. Vancouver may not be in a position to re-sign Tanev after extending Alex Edler, adding free agent Tyler Myers last summer and with rookie Quinn Hughes eligible to be extended after the season.
The question is whether he will take a shorter-term more economical deal to play for his hometown team.
Ron Hainsey - The former Leaf was signed to a one-year, $3.5 Million deal by Ottawa to be an on-ice tutor to some of their young defenseman. Hainsey can play both the left and right side and on the penalty kill, which would make him ideal as a bottom-pairing partner for youngsters Timothy Liljegren or Rasmus Sandin.
The 39-year-old likely went to the Sens in part because of former Leaf assistant DJ Smith, but also because Ottawa paid him more than any other club would just to get the cap floor. A return to Toronto would depend on what interest there still is for him on the open market and how willing he would be to take less money to keep playing.
Radko Gudas - Some would call the bruising blueliner Roman Polak 2.0, but unlike the former Leafs, Gudas has some fans among analytics aficionados. The 30-year-old has played for Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Washington and is known for playing a bruising style and a bit on the edge. With the exception of Jake Muzzin, those are traits that are virtually non-existent on the Toronto blueline.
Gudas is mostly a 5 or 6, so price and term would be big factors to whether Dubas would have any interest at all.
Mark Pysyk - The former Sabres first-round pick has spent four seasons in Florida, but under new head coach Joel Quenneville was shifted back and forth from defense to the wing. The 28-year-old would be a good fit in a depth role and might be amenable to a one-to-two year deal at a lower salary.
Zach Bogosian - The oft-injured former third overall pick had his contract terminated by Buffalo in March and signed on with Tampa Bay for the stretch run. The 29-year-old reportedly drew some interest from Toronto before the trade deadline when both Rielly and Muzzin were injured and depending on how he plays with the Lightning in the playoffs, could be someone that the Leafs look at again if he is willing to take a one-year, “prove it” deal.
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