The Toronto Maple Leafs saw the list of departures outweigh the arrivals in the opening days of free agency, with Zach Hyman signing with Edmonton and Nick Foligno going to Boston, but GM Kyle Dubas indicated that the club would be active during the second wave when players would be willing to take more economical deals.
On Friday, the Leafs announced the signing of former Anaheim and Boston winger Ondrej Kase to a one-year, $1.25 million deal and on Saturday, they inked winger Nick Ritchie to a two-year, $5 million deal ($2.5 million AAV).
Kaše, 25, is a former 20-goal scorer with the Ducks in 2018 who was dealt to the Bruins in 2020 and played 20 regular season and playoff games over two seasons before missing most of last season due to concussion issues, but that is highly questionable based on his ongoing issues.
The addition of Kase is what should be called a “free swing”. If healthy, the Czech winger has the skill of being capable of playing in the top six. Most of his salary could be buried in the American Hockey League if he is ineffective, or he could be placed on LTIR if his concussion issues continue.
Ritchie has been connected from the Leafs going back to being passed over in favor of William Nylander in the first round of the 2014 Draft. The Orangeville, ON native had limited success with Anaheim over five seasons before being traded for Danton Heinen in February 2020, but last year the 25-year-old set a career-high with 15 goals in 56 games.
"I chose the best team and the best fit at this time in my career. This has been a great team for a long time.” Ritchie said. “(The Leafs) haven't won the big series yet, but it's at that point where they're ready to make that next step."
Boston did not qualify Ritchie for fear of a high ask in salary arbitration after finishing fourth in goals behind Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The addition provides Toronto with size and a physical presence that can be plugged in the middle six, whether it be on the second line with John Tavares and Nylander or the third line with Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev, but the 6’3”, 220 lb left winger may not possess enough foot speed to play higher in the lineup.
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