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Veteran Clifford heading to free agency

September 16, 2020, 5:20 PM ET [705 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs roster is expected to go through a number of changes before the start of next season. It is unknown if GM Kyle Dubas will be able to find that elusive top-four righty defenseman in the trade or free-agent market or will move Frederik Andersen in favor of another starting goaltender, but with a limited amount of available cap space, the club is unlikely to be bringing back any of their players heading to unrestricted free agency.

Defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci are expected to not return to Toronto after a subpar showing last season, and on Wednesday the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan reported that veteran winger Kyle Clifford will be exploring the open market, since the Leafs do not have the cap space to re-sign him.

The 29-year-old winger was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings along with goalie Jack Campbell for a pair of draft picks and winger Trevor Moore in early February, and played mostly fourth line in 16 regular-season games and the qualifying round series vs. Columbus. Clifford fulfilled the role he was brought in for, providing a physical presence and some sandpaper for a club sorely lacking in both areas.

The likelihood of the Ayr, ON native returning to Toronto was slim, since the Leafs would have to give up a 2021 second-round pick to the Kings as a condition if they had re-signed him, but also because Clifford would expect to get a pay increase from his $1.6 million AAV on a new deal and that will not be possible for Toronto to do with the salary cap staying flat at $81.5 million next season.

Clifford’s crash and bang style is something that Dubas needs to add to provide support to his highly skilled core group for next season, but with a free agent market affected by the league’s limited revenue, it is possible that the Leafs can find similar players willing to take a lower guaranteed salary on a short-term deal.

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