Cautionary Tales of Leafs Free Agency

I think much has been said of the draft and trade markets lately, but it seems more and more Free Agency is creeping back into the conversation. Burke has stated before that the stupidest moves are made at the trade deadline, I respectfully disagree and submit July 1st as the day GMs forget to take their Brain Medicine. Somewhere in the league right now, there is someone planning on offering Frolov 5 million plus per season. It is also very likely that teams are going to be in a bidding war over Colby Armstrong. Both of these players will probably improve their current team somewhat, but neither will be paid in line with what a reasonable GM would sign them for. The teams that ultimately land Kovalchuk, Marleau, or Volchenkov will have paid a steep price, but stand a very good chance of receiving a solid return on their investment. The teams that miss out and frantically start throwing money at Plekanec or Afinogenov are going to be rolling the dice on one strong season preceeded by a horrible one.

Toronto is more or less the poster child for July 1st failure. Arguably last year was the Leafs best free agency season, and even that produced a 4.5m defenseman who played a third of the season and a 3.8m defenseman who was second last on the club in +/- (a stupid stat, but it helps me prove a point here) The post lockout free agency season has produced such solid Leafs as:

Jason Allison (not resigned)
Eric Lindros (beaten down by injuries, not resigned)
Michael Peca (same story as above)
Jason Blake (salary dump after 2 and half lousy seasons)
Pavel Kubina (salary dump)
Jeff Finger (future Toronto Marlie or favourite Leaf whipping boy for 2 more seasons)
Niklas Hagman (actually was pretty good, and was dealt for a future captain)
Colton Orr (has lived up to his billing in his limited role)

Looking at that list, I definitely stand by Burke's record compared to the others, but Komisarek and Beauchemin still need to improve before a positive verdict can be reached.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you're looking for an impact player you need to go big or go home. Lindros and Allison are the cautionary tales of why you don't sign an aging veteran (meaning no Demitra, Whitney or Kariya) Blake is the evidence that you don't want to sign the player coming off a career year or their best year in a while (meaning no Plekanec, Afinogenov, or Stempniak). Learn from the Peca situation and don't sign broken down bodies (no Tanguay, or Walker) and don't think we're the change of scenery that someone needs (no Frolov, Jokinen or Svatos).

If Burke insists on playing the middle of the road game, truly the best that are out there are Matt Lombardi and Matt Cullen for top six forwards. Neither one should make for than 3.5 million a season, and I wouldn't offer Cullen a contract over 2 years. Both Lombardi and Cullen are nothing more than band-aids on Toronto's scoring situation.That is why I'd say if they want a top six free agent it truly is a two horse race between Kovalchuk (not going to happen, give it up) and Patrick Marleau. I fully expect that Burke will place calls to both of these men on July 1st, but I also expect neither will be a Leaf due to their contract demands.

One last rant, and I'll wrap up this post, "Would it be horrible to play Marleau 7.5 million a season for 5 years?" That's one hell of a contract, but it would still fall in line with other first line centres around the league. The solution is often, well next years free agent crop is sooooo much better. Remember when we said that last June? It didn't matter who we signed, because all that mattered was next year we were going to sign Rick Nash. We can't fall into the mindset that we are looking at a free agent crop of Backes, Semin, Gagne, Thornton, Richards, and Patrice Bergeron. After many of them are re-signed, nothing is going to be left except a bidding war for Tim Connolly. This is the summer of Marleau and Kovalchuk, next summer it could at best be two of those fore mentioned players. It would be nice to be proactive and go aggressively after Marleau now, than to wait and hope that Brad Richards will sign in Toronto next summer.

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