Obviously the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a bit of a cap dilemma at the moment. With RFA Mitch Marner still unsigned, and that leaving the team in a bit of a state of limbo without knowing for sure what his caphit will be, and subsequently how much space they’ll have, it’s tough to know who else they can sign or if they can sign anybody else at all.
What we do know is the depth of the team to start the year might look a little suspect considering Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott should start the year on LTIR. With players such as Kenny Agostino, Ilya Mikheyev, Nick Shore, and Martin Marincin under contract, there may be enough pro experience to coast along until the team is healthy, but none of those players should be expected to fill in any higher in the lineup than the 4th line, outside of Mikheyev, who is a wild card.
The question is if a team is ever really healthy, and does this team want to coast along and wait for their regular players to return, or try to take steps forward?
My answer would be to move forward at all costs, even if that means taking risks by signing players you only have room for because Hyman and Dermott are hurt. Essentially it would mean moving the problem of becoming cap compliant through moving or waiving players down the road a couple of months, but by then it’s possible that another player or two could be injured, thus leaving room for added (and needed) depth.
A game of IR musical chairs if you would.
With this in mind the PTO route seems like a perfect solution. It appears that negotiations on Marners new contract will drag right through the summer, so signing a player outright might be ill advised, but inviting players to camp on a PTO in case the aforementioned depth pieces, and/or Marlies, don’t impress might be a great idea.
So with that, here are a few players that I think could be around towards the end of the summer, and could be had at, or near, the league minimum salary.
C/LW, 6’3″, 214lbs
Sheahan is a St. Catharines, Ontario native, and a player that can add depth at both the centre and wing positions. He amassed just 9 goals and 19 points in 82 games last season, a year split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers. However, 4 of the 5 years before that he produced anywhere between 24 and 36 points and logged heavy minutes on the penalty kill.
It’s probably his penalty kill ability that would interest me the most, as I have doubts about the ability of the current group to kill off penalties adequately. On top of that it never hurts to have another big body in the corners digging for pucks. I think the team that signs Sheahan and gives him a simple, straight forward role, will be very pleased.
LW, 6’1″, 202lbs
Lindberg split last season between the Vegas Golden Knights and Ottawa Senators. A former 2nd round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, Lindberg is more of a grinder than a top end skill player. In a 4th line role he could get some exposure on the Leafs, and could set himself up for a bit of a payday next season and that’s exactly what the Leafs are looking for.
C, 6’1″, 202lbs
If you had asked me in late June if I would have ever thought Brassard would be a PTO possibility I would have thought you were off your rocker.
However, it seems that teams aren’t sold on Brassards ability to bounce back after the worst statistical season of his career.
With just 14 goals and 23 points in 70 games, split between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, and Colorado Avalanche, Brassard just couldn’t seem to thrive in any situation last year. He’s still just 31 years old though, and has produced point totals in the high 30s and above since breaking into the league over a decade ago.
If this is a player that’s willing to follow Jason Spezzas lead by signing for cheap to chase a cup, then the added centre depth could be amazing for the Leafs.
RD, 6’4″, 210lbs
At the moment, if you don’t include youngsters Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, the players most likely to play on the 3rd pair to start the year are Justin Holl, Ben Harpur and/or Martin Marincin. Kevin Gravel, Andreas Borgman, and Teemu Kivihalme would also be in the mix, but all of that leaves much to be desired. There are no proven NHLers there, so bringing in one of two on PTOs almost seems inevitable.
With the addition of Ben Harpur there may be enough muscle for the 3rd pairing already, but if the Leafs don’t plan to play Harpur in a prominent role then it’s possible that McQuaid could be a good depth addition. A veteran of nearly 600 NHL games, McQuaid can help keep bodies away from goaltender Frederik Andersen, and can also log some minutes on the penalty kill.
RD, 6’1″, 212lbs
With over 1000 NHL games to his name, this Welland, Ontario native would be a veteran presence in the room as well as a good soldier for the PK. Girardi has always been more of a defensive minded player, and less about offense, which sounds like what the Leafs might need at the moment. With the departure of Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev to the Ottawa Senators, the Leafs are lacking prototypical “stay at home” defenders.
At 35 years old, Girardi is nearing the end of his career and is still without a Stanley Cup to his name. Perhaps he’d like another swing at it after his season with the Tampa Bay Lightning ended so abruptly last season.
RD, 6’1″, 205lbs
Another player that would help the PK more than anything, Ben “The Reverend” Lovejoy logged nearly 4 minutes a game shorthanded with the Devils last season before being traded to the Dallas Stars. He featured prominently on their PK as well, and featured in all 13 of their post season games.
Here you have a player that knows what it takes to win it all, having won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins a few short years ago.
He’s a role player, and a good one at that!!
I started this article before Michael Neuvirth let the world know that he has signed a PTO with the Maple Leafs. To be honest I probably wouldn’t have put him on the list, even though there are just 5 UFA goalies that played in the NHL last season. The other four are Cam Ward, Chad Johnson, Mike McKenna, and Scott Darling. None of which are all that enticing either, so it’s possible that Neuvirth is the best of the group.
One thing he does have going for him is that he knows the role of a backup. He’s done it his entire career, and that should be a big help for Frederik Andersen as he needs some extra rest during the season if he wants to stay healthy, and ready, for playoff time.
With fellow goalies Michael Hutchinson, Garret Sparks, Ian Scott, Joseph Woll, and Kasimir Kaskusio also signed, if they do hand Neuvirth an NHL deal it will be interesting to see what they do with everybody going forward. There just isn’t that much playing time to go around for all these goaltenders.
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) July 22, 2019
He added that he was promised a fair camp with chance for spot: "I believe I can make the team. For me, Toronto out of all teams made the most sense. Andersen is there. Great goalie who is their starter. They want to play him less and they don't have anybody stable as backup."
— Samuel Tirpák (@SammyT_51) July 22, 2019