There was one free agent signing that people in Toronto have literally been waiting years for. Everyone knows his name. But there are also three new Toronto Maple Leafs whose names are a little less known. The Maple Leafs also re-signed one of their RFAs on a busy and productive first day of free agency in Toronto. Here’s the rundown on the newest Maple Leafs.
New Toronto Maple Leafs A Diverse Group
John Tavares was the crown jewel of the 2018 free agent group. The New York Islanders did their best to sign him. They brought in Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz to convince Tavares they’re series about competing for a Stanley Cup. But the draw to play for his hometown and childhood favourite team was too strong. Tavares signed a seven-year $77 million dollar deal with the Maple Leafs.
Not everyday you can live a childhood dream pic.twitter.com/YUTKdfMALl
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018
Tavares will probably see his time split with Auston Matthews. The Maple Leafs will run with two first lines. However, the talk of which centre is the team’s top centre will likely rage for years to come.
Where Will Tavares Play?
The bigger question is which one of the two will play on a line with Mitch Marner? Early depth charts show Tavares with Marner. That may only be because the Zach Hyman, Matthews, William Nylander line was together more consistently than other lines last season. Expectations are Mike Babcock will keep it together next season. But Matthews allegedly told Babcock this off-season he wanted to play with Marner. Assuming part of the pitch for Tavares was the opportunity to play with Marner, Babcock could appease both centres by putting Marner with one of them at even strength and the other on the power play.
No matter how the lines shake down in the end, adding Tavares makes the Maple Leafs a nightmare matchup for the opposition. With 30 goal scorer Nazem Kadri centring the third line, it gets even tougher for other team’s coaches.
Tavares Will Help Defence
The Maple Leaf’s glaring weakness is on the blue line, so the question immediately comes up, how does this signing make the Leafs better defensively? Defence is a team game. While the Maple Leafs are still in desperate need of a top four right side defenseman, Tavares will help with the team’s overall defence. He finished eighth in Selke voting two years ago and 26th last year. He’s made a concerted effort to improve his defence, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. To say the least, it’s a monumental improvement over Tyler Bozak, whom the Leafs lost to the St. Louis Blues.
Josh Jooris is a depth centre the Maple Leafs signed for one-year at $650,000. Part of Kyle Dubas’ plan to afford two $11 million centermen, assuming Matthews signs for something along those lines, requires value deals to fill out the roster. That’s what Jooris is.
He’s a journeyman that’s played in 213 NHL games for five different teams over four years. He’s scored 55 points in his career. Jooris isn’t a defensive gem. His career Corsi For is 46.7 percent with a relative Corsi For of -1.6. He’s here for depth and to keep the battle for the fourth line center role honest. With Miro Aaltonen returning to the KHL, the Maple Leafs options for fourth line center were limited. Par Lindholm will be up for the position, as well as Frederik Gauthier. Jooris adds a little more competition.
At $650,000, signing Jooris to a one-year deal is a low-risk depth move. The Maple Leafs are top heavy with centers. One of the best 1-2-3 group in the league, but after that, there is a sharp drop off in talent.
Adam Cracknell signed the same contract as Jooris. One-year at $650,000. He’s another player with a lot of experience. He’s played 208 career games, scoring 43 points. The Maple Leafs will be his seventh team in eight years.
Cracknell is another depth player, this time on the wing. The Maple Leafs don’t have a lot of room at wing assuming everyone is healthy. Cracknell was signed to provide depth, but also to replenish a depleted Toronto Marlies roster that will see at least one forward, Andreas Johnsson, move up to the big club.
Probably not the Subban brother Maple Leafs fans long for, but like his brother P.K. Subban, Jordan Subban is at least a right-handed defenseman. He has yet to play a game in the NHL and is already on his third NHL club. After being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, he was traded to the Los Angels Kings last season. The Kings didn’t offer him a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Subban’s contract is a two-way contract at $650,000. He’ll play for the Marlies, another area the AHL club needs reinforcements. Travis Dermott will make the jump to the NHL next season. And there are other long shots like Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren hoping to spend at least some time in the NHL next season.
Subban is a right-handed shot. That’s the type of defensemen the Maple Leafs sorely need. But don’t expect Subban to make an impact at the NHL level anytime soon.
Martin Marincin re-signed with the Maple Leafs for one-year at $800,000. After playing 90 games in his first two seasons with the Maple Leafs, he played just two games last season and another 54 for the Marlies.
The Maple Leafs know exactly what they have in Marincin by now. He plays on the left side, which is already stacked with Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Dermott. Even Calle Rosen is likely ahead of Marincin on the depth chart. Still, the depth is valuable, and it’s a positive that they know the player well. He was also a valuable piece in the Marlies Calder Cup Championship this season. The Maple Leafs want to breed winning at all levels. They’re willing to spend the money to keep the Marlies competitive so that when players move up to the Maple Leafs they’re already used to a winning culture. That’s what Marincin helps provide the organization.
The Maple Leafs have little interest in any of the remaining bigger name free agents. Although they may still find a value defensemen to add for additional depth. The Maple Leafs free agency philosophy is to not overspend on older free agents, outside of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like 27-year old Tavares.
The Maple Leafs still need to improve the backend. They’ll be looking at the trade market to address that. But don’t expect them to be quick to move an asset like Nylander. They have a lot of cap space left even after signing Tavares. If they can find the right trade partner, the Maple Leafs will use that available cap space for blueline help.