As the first week of the NHL’s free agency period closes, the Leafs have made slight upgrades to their defence and bottom-six forward positions. While the current roster still doesn’t instill fear into the hearts of their Eastern Conference rivals, general manager Dave Nonis has the leverage of about $13.2 million in salary cap space with which to work.
Proving the adage that sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make, Nonis allowed his Florida Panthers counterpart to outbid him for the services of Dave Bolland. While Bolland was a serviceable player during his injury-riddled time in Toronto, the Leafs rightfully passed on the exorbitant sum of $27.5 million over five years that the centre will earn in the Sunshine State.
Instead, the Leafs invested in gritty forward Leo Komarov, who returns to the Blue and White after spending last season the KHL. Komarov brings an element of sandpaper that has been lacking on an often lethargic Toronto squad. A bronze medalist with Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics, Komarov had a strong penalty-killing presence with the Leafs in 2012-13. His acquisition made Nik Kulemin expendable with the Russian leaving for Long Island. On the downside, the Leafs lost their bargain free agent from last summer when Mason Raymond and his 19 goals that were had for $1-million signed in Calgary for over three times that annual amount.
Toronto also traded for one its former players – Matt Frattin, while also signing Mike Santorelli from the Vancouver Canucks and Petri Kontiola from the Kontinental Hockey League. When training camp arrives, there will be strong competition for the bottom-six forward spots, particularly once restricted free agents Peter Holland and Carter Ashton come to terms.
On the blueline, the Leafs made their biggest free agent splash signing Stephane Robidas to a three-year, $3 million annual deal. Despite coming off a pair of leg injuries last year, Robidas’ veteran presence in the dressing room should go a long way to stabilizing an often jittery unit. The Leafs also traded for another right-handed shot, landing Roman Polak from St. Louis in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson in an effort to elevate the physical element of their defense corps.
Nonis needs to use a portion of the Leafs’ remaining cap space to sign restricted free agent Jake Gardiner in addition to Holland and Ashton, plus defenseman Cody Franson if he returns to the club. After that, the team’s biggest wild card is RFA James Reimer. The goaltender, unhappy about losing his starting job to Jonathan Bernier, will be expected to report to camp if fair market value can’t be obtained for him in a trade, according to Nonis.
On paper, the Leafs are better today than they were on Canada Day. A playoff berth remains a question mark, depending on what else Nonis may have up his sleeve.
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