The Maple Leafs’ Top “Free Agent” Addition

The Maple Leafs’ Top “Free Agent” Addition

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Photo Credit: sportsnet.ca

In a lacklustre free agent market where a James Wisniewski can get $33 million dollars, it can sometimes be advantageous to be extremely deliberate when it comes to throwing around the dollars.  The only truly worthwhile UFA offensive option was of course Christian Hanson Brad Richards but looking back it almost appears obvious why the Toronto Maple Leafs were among the “final four” teams in the ‘B-Rich’ derby – to drive up the price for the New York Rangers.

Brian Burke in particular has taken a bit of heat for not being physically present during the “pitch” for Brad Richards.  It is hard to fault the man for taking such a noble once in a lifetime trip (along with stud defenseman Luke Schenn) and it appears the writing was on the wall from the jump – Brad Richards was never going to don the blue and white.

Many opinions have already been made on this site and others and I will keep mine relatively short.  To invest six (or more) years in a player who has already won a cup, been through the gruelling battles that take a toll on the professional athlete’s body and who is on the downswing of a fairly impressive career is not prudent.

Would I have taken the risk at signing Brad Richards to a nine year contract at a cap hit of 6+ million dollars?  My answer is a definitive yes, if we were getting the aged 23-31 version of the player. But those are certainly, most definitely, not the ages the New York Rangers have invested in.

There just isn’t enough left for him to prove. Even if he is the ultimate professional and plays hard, the fact cannot be changed that he will not give the same effort/production over the course of his thirties that he did in his twenties.  The Toronto Maple Leafs did well to avoid the contract that will eventually be widely panned as overpaid and burdensome.

All is not lost this offseason and I think the Leafs can potentially add someone to their 2011-12 line-up that can be nearly as productive as Brad Richards either this season or next.

This player was a top ten draft choice, and although he hasn’t played up to his vast potential, the skill level has never been questioned.  He scored 35 goals and had an impressive 93 points in his final year of junior hockey and was a point-per-gamer in a short stint in the American Hockey League.  This is a player with untapped ability and will be given every opportunity this coming season to prove any doubters wrong.

I am of course speaking of Nazem Kadri, potentially the best “free agent” the Leafs can add to their roster this upcoming season.  I know, he wasn’t technically added via the free agent market, and he played for the Maple Leafs last season (29 games, 3 goals and 12 points), but the shifty forward will be entering his first full season with the team and is another year older and wiser.

Kadri, 21, has had a mountain of expectation since Brian Burke selected him in front of a shell shocked Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray at the 2009 Entry Draft.  He has experienced almost a lifetime of scrutiny only a prospect of the Maple Leafs could endure by age 21.  He put his maturing body through hell last season in an attempt to “bulk up,” with dreadful results.  He was slower, less agile and nowhere near the exciting playmaker fans and scouts drooled over during his junior career.

Kadri took his licks and went down to the AHL and eventually thrived after a slow start.  Despite playing only 44 total games for the Toronto Marlies he led the team with 17 goals and strengthened his all around play.  He was impressive upon being recalled in March by the big club, scoring two goals and adding three assists in eight games in a bottom six forward role.

This kid has the potential to be a serious game breaker on the power play and in the dreaded shootout (just as Tim Thomas) that has dogged the Maple Leafs since its inception in the league.  He doesn’t have the pedigree of a Brad Richards yet but he does something a younger Richards used to possess – a massive chip on his shoulder.

More importantly, he is a talented kid who still has that burning desire to prove he can be an impact player on the biggest stage in sports.  I think Nazem Kadri will go a long way this season in making Maple Leafs fans quickly forget we didn’t secure the services of the aging, overpaid Brad Richards.  The move to the wing will do wonders for his overall game and confidence and allow him to focus on being a creative offensive hockey player.

The future appears bright for the kid from London, Ontario.

Other links of interest:

Jose Bautista Is Not The AL MVP?

Toronto Raptors Still In Good Hands

Brett Lawrie Making Adjustments (prior to injury – doh!)

Leafs Link:

Rick Dudley A Solid Free Agent Signing

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