By the time a player becomes a UFA, their abilities have usually been on display for long enough for the team that was paying them to be able to make a decision on them. For the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I think they would love to have more time with a couple of their UFA's, and a lot less with others.
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To start off the list, Nikolai Kulemin. Kulemin has been a solid player for the Blue & White since heading over from Russia, growing into fine form while playing his third year with the Leafs, but has taken a step in a new direction over the last couple of years, turning in to a more reliable defensive forward. While the Leafs brass I'm sure would welcome a return of Kulemin's scoring touch, we likely aren't going to see another 30 goal season from him unless he actually does head on over to the Pens to play with long-time friend Evgeni Malkin. This should make Kulemin a more cost effective signing, as his last contract only saw him tally 16 goals and 27 assists (granted one of those seasons was shortened). Kulemin has the potential to put a roster from a pretender to a contender, so my guess is that if the Pens fall short of the cup by a series or two, you could see them throw some money Nikolai's way. Otherwise, I think he's happy in T.O., carving out a niche for himself in this roster as a solid penalty killer, 2nd/3rd line winger who can play against the best. Leafs will most likely sign him to another 2.5-3 mil a year contract for another 2-3 years.
Secondly, we come to curious case of Mason Raymond. Ousted by the Canucks due to injury and limited room, I think the Canucks are regretting letting him walk after he posted a 19 goal, 45 point season, playing in every single game. Talk about a bounce back year, am I right? Well this bounce back year is most likely Raymond benefitting from a lack of depth in Toronto where he saw both PP and PK time, playing a largely 2nd line role for the club. Having a year like this will help our agent get you some dough, and for that reason I think the leafs let MayRay walk. Although a good player, he will likely end up somewhere in need of a speedy winger who can play the PK. (Edmonton seems to like Toronto scraps, my guess is he ends up there making around 3-3.5 mil a year for around 2 years).
Moving on, we come to the Paul Ranger experiment. This one was a real headscratcher for me, as on one hand he had brutal re-entry to the NHL full of giveaways and soft, sloppy play; while on the other hand he is likely to be a cost effective singing for any team and really simplified his play near the end of the season. All in all, I believe the Leafs will not re-sign Ranger, as their defensive woes were most notable throughout the season, and although Carlyle did like using the 7th defenceman system, I still think that job will go to a Marlies grad. Ranger will likely end up on another roster, (unless Toronto was his only desired option and he would be willing to play at the Ricoh again) making under 2 mil for another one year tryout contract.
Up next is the biggest decision for the leafs in my humble opinion, Dave Bolland. Although the 2 time Stanley Cup winner was limited in his role in Toronto due to a severe ankle tendon laceration, he brings the pedigree and attitude of a winner which is something I think Toronto needs. Bolland brings a mix of speed, strength, skill and versatility that makes him a possibility to play on any of Toronto's lines, but what I like the most is his hockey IQ. Bolland can see the play happening before it actually does, and seems to find himself in the right place int he right time. His junior scoring numbers are outrageous (although on a phenomenal team) and his NHL career, although not as glorious as others, has been extremely successful, which leaves him and his agent reportedly asking for a max length contract in the neighbourhood of 5 mil a season. That's a steep increase form the 3.375 he was making the last 5 years. Personally, I think he deserves it. But do the Leafs have the room? I think with the expected "roster changes" coming to T.O., the Leafs will spring for Bolland, but will try their best to keep his contract under 5 mil per. I'm thinking somewhere around 4.875 for 6 years or so.
While some players can "dangle through raindrops", others rely on hard work and hockey IQ, and the latter definitely sums up our next UFA Jay McClement. Coming off of a very cost effective 1.5 mil contract for 2 years I think Jay will ask for right around the exact same, possibly a little more as he has grown in to a leadership role here in Toronto. If you look as his previous contracts, he has generally stayed in a certain ballpark, as have his point totals. However, McClement is not valuable for his point totals, but rather his PK and leadership roles on the team. When he arrived in Toronto, the team was in dire need of PK help, and boy did he ever deliver. One of the top PK's in the league, McClement plays hard and has the fitness level to compete with the NHL's best. I think Toronto would be taking a page out of JFJ's books if they didn't resign him. Most likely around 2 mil for the next 3 years.
Next we have a couple of Marlie/Maple Leafs, starting with Troy Bodie. Bodie's family connections may have allegedly got him the contract, but sticking with the Maple Leafs was all his hard work. Not gifted with skill, Bodie uses his hands and body in a different way than the NHL's elite, he uses them to crush his opponents. A bruising forward listed at 6'4" 220 Lbs, the former 9th round selection of the Oilers tallied only 10 points in 47 games but physically took it to his opponents on a nightly basis. As a fourth liner who only has to play tough minutes and be responsible with the puck, I like Bodie, and costing the team under a mil per gives them more than enough reason to keep him around. I see him as a 4th liner, seeing some time in the AHL still, but playing most nights for the parent club. 2 years at 800,000 per.
Finally, we come to the captain of the Marlies, Trevor Smith. A very cost effective player, having never made more than 700,000 a year, Smith split time with both the Marlies and Leafs despite being named the captain of the Marlies. His numbers at the NHL level aren't staggering (9 pts in 28 gms), but his numbers at the AHL level (27 pts in 24 gms) show he reads the game well and knows how to adjust to any role. A journeyman in the league, Smith is a veteran who knows who to live the pro life, a great role model for a young Marlies team. I think it would be good for both sides to re-sign here, as Smith has enjoyed great success with the Marlies as a leader and mentor, while still playing an important role with the parents club. Smith should be back in blue and white, making around a mil for 2-3 more years.
I know I've already finished off, but I thought I'd throw MacIntrye in here as well since he did end up suiting up for the Leafs at the end of the season. A true journeyman, and a man who respects and loves the game, MacIntyre was one of the best and now is currently the best (in the Calder Cup playoffs) in the AHL. Although he will never be an NHL goalie in my opinion, he brings character and veteran savvy to a young group of Marlies, and he should be a mainstay to help develop younger goalies in the system such as Garret Sparks and eventually Atoine Bibeau. I think he should be re-signed to an AHL contract for about 750,000 for another 2 years.
Hope you enjoyed the read, and I welcome any and all criticisms!
Let's Go Marlies!
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