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Five Free Agent Targets for the Toronto Maple Leafs

A year ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally made it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in two decades, and their postseason fortunes appeared to have turned. However, after once again falling to the Boston Bruins in a winner-take-all all-game seven, it was essentially the same story for the Maple Leafs. The team's core four group of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares failed to deliver, leading them to lose to their bitter divisional rival for the fourth time since 2013.

So what is next for Toronto? After choosing to move on from head coach Sheldon Keefe following five years, wholesale changes appear to be coming for the franchise on the heels of team president Brendan Shanahan proclaiming, "Everything is on the table" in his season-ending media availability. Needing to upgrade both on defense and in-between the pipes, here are five options for the Leafs once free agency opens.

Nikita Zadorov

Still looking for stability on the back end, the Maple Leafs have five defensemen under contract for next season. They also have multiple free agents, including T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Joel Edmundson, and Ilya Lyubushkin. GM Brad Teliving will likely have to fill three spots on the back end. A reported trade deadline interest of Toronto before he was shipped to the Vancouver Canucks, Zadorov offers substantial size at 6'6 240 while bringing physicality and the ability to play both on the left and right side. Playing a crucial role for the Pacific Division champions down the stretch, he recorded 14 points in 54 games, averaging over 17 minutes of ice time per night.

Brandon Montour

A former second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Montour has quickly blossomed into one of the game's best blue-liners. He recorded a career-high 16 goals and 57 assists a year ago, leading him to finish 12th in Norris Trophy voting. Additionally, after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, the 30-year-old still posted 33 points over 66 contests. That point total would have put him second among Toronto's defensemen. Likely to command north of $6.5 million on the open market, the Brantford, Ontario native would provide the perfect right-handed shot compliment to Morgan Rielly on the top pair. Furthermore, he would also give the ability to quarterback and improve the Maple Leaf's power play. The team went just 1/24 on the man advantage in the postseason.  

Alex Nedeljkovic

Illya Samsonov is a pending unrestricted free agent likely to experience a change of scenery after an up-and-down campaign. He was waived by the team in January and sent down to the AHL after a disappointing beginning to the season. Overall, he posted a .890 save percentage and a 3.13 goals-against-average across 40 starts. Simultaneously, while Joseph Woll has shown glimpses of being the Maple Leafs starting netminder of the future, the 25-year-old has battled multiple injuries during the last two years. He suffered a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss 35 games. Furthermore, the former third-round pick was held out of Game 7 of Toronto's first-round series against the Bruins after suffering a sprained back.

Formerly a second-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2014, Nedeljkovic earned All-Rookie honors after a stellar 2020-2021 campaign. However, he would struggle during his next two seasons after being traded to the Detroit Red Wings. The 28-year-old posted a 25-31-11 record over 74 games while moving up and down between the NHL and AHL. Ultimately, choosing to sign a one-year %1.5 million prove-it deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ohio native enjoyed a resurgence. He went 18-7-7 while finishing 31st in the NHL in save percentage (.902) and goals against average (2.97). While Treliving could look to acquire a netminder with a more proven track record, Nedeljkovic could give Toronto a low-cost option to compete with Woll for the starter's crease. 

Anthony Stolarz

Following his arrival in South Beach, Stolarzhelpedo form one of the NHL's best tandems behind star netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Appearing in 27 games this season, the 30-year-old led all qualified goaltenders with a 2.03 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. This includes a 45-save shutout against the Buffalo Sabres in February. He also had 20.1 goals saved above expected, the third-highest mark behind Vezina Trophy finalists Connor Hellebuyck and Thatcher Demko. While Stolarz has never taken on a complete starter's load during his NHL career, the New Jersey native would be an ideal backup candidate for Woll and will likely command around $3.5 million on the open market.

Brett Pesce

Pressed up against the salary cap heading into the league's free agency period in July, Carolina is projected to have between $26-$31 million in space. However, the team has Jake Guentzel and Seth Jarvis on expiring contracts, who are projected to command significant raises. Reportedly a Maple Leafs front office targete, Pesce, is looking for a contract that pays him north of $5 million. An ideal fit on Toronto's top pair beside Rielly, the 29-year-old racked up three goals and ten assists in 70 games this season. He has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time a night in his last eight seasons. Furthermore, the University of New Hampshire product is also a strong penalty killer who could help shore up Toronto's special teams.

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