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It has been a crazy day. As we speak the Calgary Flames are pitching a plan to Brad Richards. Yes, the Calgary Flames are apparently in the race as well. Fitting, considering it has been a day characterized by the vast overpayment of free agents. Be it the free spending Terry Pegula with his 10 year defensemen deals, or with signing Ville Leino to a six year, $27M deal. Or is the definition of crazy perhaps better applied to Florida, a team that – in reaching the cap floor and then some – signed no less than six players in two days to a total sum of 68.6 million dollars, including Thomas Fleischmann on a four year, $18M contract. Remember, that’s the guy who missed nearly 3/4 of the season because of a serious illness that almost cost him his hockey career. How about rivals signing their most hated rival players?

Don’t worry, we have that too. The Flyer signed former Penguin favorites Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot to contracts earlier in the day. Talbot signed a multi year deal (5 years, $9 million) while the ninth leading scorer in NHL history, Jaromir Jagr, signed on for one year/$3.3 million. Crazy enough? Well it’s only getting crazier with the big fish still out there.

While the Rangers and Kings seem to be getting the most mention in the Richards’ sweepstakes at the moment, with the ridiculousness of the money going around the trade route for a better contract might make increasingly more sense. Not only that, it could give the Leafs a distinct cap advantage over some of these other in-conference teams that are sloppily throwing around money today. To a certain extent though, these type of salary figures are something we’re going to have to get used to with the new heights of the cap floor and ceiling.
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Some developments for everyone to discuss;

The Leafs have reportedly met with the Richards camp and presented their offer. More teams on the way, including the LA Kings and Buffalo Sabres. The Kings have brought their entire organization by the sounds of things; President and GM Lombardi, coaches, and ownership.

In the world of bizarre news, Jaromir Jagr has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, as per McKenzie and numerous other sources.

Also, Scottie Upshall has signed with the Florida Panthers for four years at 14 million (3.5 cap hit)

Few Leafs related tidbits; they’re still in the mix for Max Talbot, and Tim Brent has just signed a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes for two years.

Per McKenzie, Ed Jovanovski signs with the Panthers on a four year deal.

And obviously worth noting, Stamkos and the Lightning  aren’t close on a deal, he can now sign an offer sheet.

Colorado have made a pretty substantial move, trading 1st and 2nd round picks to the Capitals for Semyon Varlamov. Tough break, Avalanche fans.

TSN now reporting that Richards has been meeting with Kings for over two hours. And the New York Rangers will have the chance to match or exceed any deal that’s presented throughout the day. It’s clear the Rangers are the front-runners.

Max Talbot signs in Philadelphia, five years for 9 million.

Few more updates;

Former Leafs Ponikarovsky and Giguere have signed deals with the Hurricanes and Avalanche, respectively.

Michael Ryder heads to Dallas for two years on a 3.5 mill cap hit, and Ville Leino signs a mammoth 27 million dollar deal for six years in Buffalo.

Thankfully the Leafs dodged that Leino deal, as they were expected to make a push to sign him.


More updates as they become available.

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Photo Credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images - Richie Rich?

July 1st is finally here and regardless of a limited pool of exciting free agents, expectations in Leafs Nation are once again sky high. The big fish is obviously Brad Richards, a 31 year old skilled passing center, out of Murray Harbour, P.E.I., Canada.

Obviously, the biggest and most discussed need the Leafs have is at that top line center position and that’s exactly where the majority of fans and pundits keep putting Richards. His offensive acumen, imagination and playmaking ability would surely benefit Phil Kessel and his leadership already helped the development of players like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

Brad Richards tallied 90+ points twice in the NHL (91 both times) and crossed the 70 point plateau four more times. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts during the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Stanley Cup run and was selected for the All Star game in 2010-11. Such a player would certainly help the Leafs gain instant playoff credibility around the league but would undoubtedly come with a long term price tag.

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There is little question that next season is the one Brian Burke has been working towards as the beginning of his team’s perennial contention; playoffs are no longer the hope, they’re the expectation for 2011-12.  Brian Burke enters year three at the helm of the team.  The team has improved steadily in the previous years under Burke, and with the way last season finished, fans will be expecting bigger and better things from the Leafs this year.

Even the most optimistic of Leafs fans would have a hard time believing the roster as currently constituted is a playoff lock. There’s work to be done this summer once Burke finishes vacationing in Afghanistan (that’s a joke). With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of players who may be on the Maple Leafs radar.  It’s important to note I’ve included only UFAs, and the course the Leafs take in free agency will be altered in many different ways, by many different decisions.  Let’s take a look at a few names that could help the Leafs move forward.

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From Renaud Lavoie of RDS:

The rights of Maxim Talbot were traded to the Maple Leafs. They have until noon july first to make a deal.

There you have it, from a legit source. Bob McKenzie is now reporting that Talbot has not been dealt to the Leafs, and that his agent is free to talk to numerous teams.

McKenzie adds:

OK, my turn for a correction. PIT granted permission for Talbot’s rep to talk only to TOR for 48 hours commencing Sunday.

The two possibilities stemming from this most recent development is that the Leafs are going to take their chances in unrestricted free agency, or Burke didn’t like the going rate and Talbot is out of the picture. Essentially, after all this, we know nothing.

We’ll keep updating as more becomes available. In other news, there is some talk unsigned forward Tim Brent, who gained a lot of fans as the season progressed and seemed like a fit at fourth line center, will not be returning next season. Brent told TheRecord.com:

“As much as I would love for it to be Toronto, unfortunately, by the looks of it, it’s not going to be,”

“To be honest, I haven’t heard from them,” Brent said.

“The disappointing thing is I gave everything I could to playing for the Maple Leafs.”

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Photo Credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

It looks that way. And perhaps even ahead of time, as we’re only a few days away from July 1st and free agency.

From Nick Kypreos at Sportsnet;

I hear #Leafs are working on trading for #Penguins Max Talbot rights prior to waiting July 1st when he becomes a UFA.

To which Darren Dreger at TSN responded;

Leafs talked earlier with Pens about Talbot’s neg rights, but I’m told they’re now out of the mix. Good player. Will make next team better

Which, to me, basically translates into the Leafs making a real effort to sign this guy on Friday. Perhaps they end up negotiating to land his rights before then, but if not you can still be sure Burke is looking to fill out a potential third line of Bozak, Armstrong and Talbot.

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Back by popular demand is the MLHS Free Agency Contest. DLB is our defending champ after a 13-way hat draw revealed last year’s winner. The prize up for grabs this year, in addition to site bragging rights, is a Half Clapper Top Cheddar t-shirt courtesy of SportsChirps.com.

The rules are the same as last time:

Pick three signings (not including re-signings) you think Brian Burke will make this off-season and include a prediction for both the length and the salary figure of the contracts. List the salary per annum. Should the contract be front or back loaded, we will use the pro-rated cap hit figure as the correct salary (in any cases where the salary and cap hit differ, we will use the cap hit). The winner will be decided via a points-system:

Points System Per Prediction
1 Point
– Correct player
1 Point – # of contract years predicted is correct
1 Point – Predicted salary is within 500k of actual salary
Bonus Point – Predicted Salary is within 100k of actual salary

Best of luck MLHS’ers.

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Photo Credit: sportsnet.ca

What a terrible title, no? I don’t care, I’m going with it.

With the NHL free agency period finally arriving this coming Friday, the list of needs for the Maple Leafs isn’t too extensive. But the routes available almost seem endless.

While we anxiously await Brian Burke’s solution to the team’s top line problem, it may be smart to explore some contingency plans. One of which is simply upgrading at the forward position in any way shape or form.

Something that Burke made clear upon his arrival in the hockey mecca, is that he likes to put forward a team formed with top six, bottom six group of players up front. What this basically translates into is a team with skill on the top two lines, and pugnacity (or whatever the hell Burke is talking about) on the bottom two lines.

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Part 1 can be found here.

In the Hunt

Montreal Canadiens (10%)

What a dagger in the heart of Leafs Nation it would be if Brad Richards decided to sign with the slightly off-the-board selection Montreal Canadiens. When the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs this year, there was rumors and discussion about the possibility of the team buying out the contract Scott Gomez. His underwhelming play has dragged on for two seasons now, and while he had some heartfelt things to say about wanting to get back to a high standard on the ice, management may have already lost their patience. Whether Gomez is on the roster or not though, the Habs have the cap space to chase a big name like Brad Richards. They have among the fewest players in the league signed for next season, and some have speculated that it is because of the design of GM Pierre Gauthier. On the surface, the Habs appear closer to a championship than some of the other options out there. That said, the thought of Richards wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge is too painful to think about. Suffice to say there is a decent chance he lands there.

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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

His free agent destination is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Brad Richards has given so many clues for so many different teams, it is impossible to say with any certainty where he will end up. We can only rule out one team without any doubt, and that is his current club, the Dallas Stars. Joe Nieuwendyk has openly admitted the Stars will not be able to offer Brad a contract extension. He is definitely leaving the Lone Star State but what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Still, there is something to be said for an educated guess. Richards and his agent have done enough talking of late to lend support to some teams over others. They’ve talked about numerous factors which will play a role in the decision. Money, ownership and lifestyle have all been mentioned in the conversation. Using the quotes we have from Richards and his agent, media sources from around the league, a little common sense, and some personal speculation, the following are the teams with the best shot at landing the big prize on July 1st.

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James Reimer (photo credit: Reuters)

James Reimer (photo credit: Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

Clever title, eh? In all seriousness, it was refreshing to have something Leaf-related to discuss after weeks of playoff, suspensions and Winnipeg talk.

The Leafs made it official by signing James Reimer to a multi-year contract extension worth $1.8 million per season, not including bonuses. In half a season as a 22-year old rookie, Reimer posted outstanding numbers and showed signs of becoming the Leafs’ legitimate number one goalie of the future. To be fair, that can’t be determined by 37 games at the NHL level (the salary figure takes that into account), but the Leafs could be sitting on a potential steal for the next three seasons and at a $1.8 million  cap hit they bear pretty minimal risk should the unthinkable happen (i.e. Reimer’s rookie season ends up being an anomaly).

With a .921, Reimer is tenth in save percentage among goalies who played thirty games or more last season. The nine goalies ahead of him ranged in salary from 2.8 million (Rinne) to 10 million (Luongo) and average $5.5 million/season. If Reimer posts a SV% in the neighbourhood of what he did last season, the Leafs are sitting on a veritable bargain at the most important position on the ice. The unshakable quality about Reimer’s mental game combined with a grounded, grateful attitude certainly gives hope he won’t fall victim to a sophomore slip. Reimer seems like an unlikely candidate to forget what got him here in the first place.

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Would look good as a Leaf. His wallet would too.

The Leafs need a first line center. Misconception or truth? Watching this team throughout the season I’d say it’s need is right. But, if the golden goose in the form of Brad Richards lands in a city not named Toronto, how do we get that top end skill at center? Is there a free agent out there that could help this team without having that top end offensive skills?

Seemingly, Kessel always needed that first line center. I say seemingly because he preformed at his best playing with a legitimate No1 skilled passing center in Marc Savard. While that may be the case, what’s also undoubtedly true is that Kessel is still a developing player, even more so when playing in Boston. A sniper like Kessel does indeed need a more skilled center than Bozak but I think that skill is more likely to come from the draft or inside the organization (Kadri, Colborne) than via this year’s free agency. What I’m aiming for in this article is looking at a more balanced approach.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Call it patchwork, a desperation move, whatever you like. But there’s a very real chance that over this summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be able to acquire Brad Richards, Jeff Carter, Paul Stastny, Steve Stamkos, Zach Parise, or any other name people decide to throw out there in the next few weeks.

Of course they could nab one of the names above, who knows? But it’s not far-fetched to think that Burke may have to employ a “Plan B” if he doesn’t land a prized free agent or trade target.

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Showing Boyce's face would make this NSFW

All three have notched career highs in games played and points scored in 2010 – 2011, and all three are pending Unrestricted Free Agents in July.  Between the ages of 26 and 28 all three have had breakthrough years.  Yet they aren’t looking to cash in on the open market.  They’re fighting just to make the Leafs 2011 – 2012 roster.

They’ve had to earn every NHL pay cheque they’ve cashed, but who among Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent and Joey Crabb will be back next season in blue and white?

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AP Photo

Though I’m quite aware of the upcoming contract negotiations between Brian Burke and recent overachiever Clarke MacArthur, I’ve yet to give it too much thought until now.

MacArthur is one of five of the team’s restricted free agents, including Luke Schenn, Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson and James Reimer.

Usually when the conversation arose about his pending new deal I just passed it off with “Yeah, he’ll get a raise like Kulemin’s or something.”

What was I thinking? Clearly I’m an idiot.

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Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press

Any Leafs fan with a pulse knows that the number one priority for the summer of 2011 is to find a number one center. The team simply cannot afford to waste another year of Phil Kessel’s talent by pairing him with inadequate and inexperienced pivots. In no way should that read as a shot at Tyler Bozak, who is a talented player with an above average hockey IQ. However, he is not ready to be the man, front stage center, for the most scrutinized team in the sport.

Naturally, a lot of attention has been drawn to the various options at center ice that might be pursued by manager Brian Burke. It could not be any clearer that the plan is to offer Brad Richards an enormous chunk of change to sign with the blue and white on July 1st. However, Burke is obviously already working on a backup plan as rumors of Jeff Carter and Paul Stastny are running rampant. Fans are right to be concerned with the acquisition of what will be such a huge piece of the puzzle, but the excitement has drawn attention away from the back end, where Burke has traditionally upgraded in each off-season.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

By now we’ve all jostled with the idea of the Leafs landing Brad Richards in some way or other. These things tend to happen when it’s basically been talked about for over a year prior to his upcoming free agency period.

Much like Rick Nash in the past, Leafs fans have plotted their potential line combinations with Richards’ name embedded on the top unit for some time now.

For me, the Richards idea sort of fell by the wayside a while ago as I came to grips with the fact that he’d likely become a Ranger in the off-season. Returning to the free agency list, a few people began to throw around Brooks Laich’s name – which, I think, is a great thing. But the Richards situation has sort of resurfaced for me over the past week or so, and I think I’ve had a change of heart (or hope).

The speculation after the Matt Lashoff trade a few days back was that it was a precursor to another move for the Leafs. Sure enough, Clarke MacArthur was announced as the newest Maple Leaf. At a cap friendly $1.1 million, MacArthur is being paid like a 3rd liner. Burke has other things in mind, recently stating to the Toronto Star that MacArthur will spend “significant time” on the top two lines this coming season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the kind of role we can expect from MacArthur. All stats not specifically referenced are borrowed from BehindtheNet.ca.

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According to LeafsTV, the Maple Leafs have signed unrestricted free agent forward Clark MacArthur to a 1-year contract worth $1.1 million. MacArthur has been a relatively productive second/third line “tweener”  over the past couple seasons, posting 17 and 16 goal seasons. The Sabres dealt the diminutive winger to the Thrashers at the trade deadline, but Atlanta decided to walk away from Clark’s $2.4 million arbitration award, thus enabling the 25 year old to become an unrestricted free agent. Seems like a nice, low-risk move though it could mean a roster spot being taken away from a younger player.

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A former Leaf is about to sign with Los Angeles, as Alexei Ponikarovsky has agreed to join the Kings (although a deal has not yet been signed).  This ends some speculation that “Poni” would have to take his games overseas, as this summers UFA market has seen a lot of viable NHL players still without a job.  Ponikarovsky was shipped to the Penguins by Toronto at this year’s trade deadline, bringing back Luca Caputi in what was a very fair exchange of players.  However, Pittsburgh was expecting the Ukrainian to contribute at the level that saw him pour out 61 points for the Leafs in 2008-2009.  With a disappointing 9 points down the stretch for the recent champs and an awful showing in the playoffs, teams weren’t exactly lining up to sign the 30-year old.