The Toronto Maple Leafs Top Free Agent Priority

Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports) /

Since there is no current Leafs hockey to analyze, criticize or editorialize, I guess it’s time to start pontificating on potential additions to the 2021-2022 Toronto Maple Leafs roster.

But while there may be a plethora of intriguing names available on the FA market for the Toronto Maple Leafs to explore, (Taylor Hall, Alex Ovechkin, Gabriel Landeskog, Dougie Hamilton, to name a few), the reality of the situation is that Toronto is right up against a stagnant cap and, as per the top brass, will not be moving any of the expensive ‘top 4’ core.

So that means that the free agent bar may have to be set a bit low. Cheap deals could be had for older veterans in the Jason Spezza vein from a few years back (Ryan Getzlaf, David Krejci, Eric Staal and Nick Bonino come to mind) but as we saw this year, cheap, veteran deals for players longing to play in Toronto don’t always work out and I’d rather not fill up roster spots with players who may not have enough gas left in the tank (and who also may not like being a healthy scratch).

Which leads me to a potential UFA target who is still in his prime; fits a major need on this Leafs team, and who should come in at well-bellow Zach Hyman money:

Phillip Danault

Toronto Maple Leafs, Free Agency and Phillip Danault

Stats: 28 years old (as of February), 6’1, 198lb, Centre. Shoots: Left.

53GP 5G 24P

Previous Deal: 3 years, 9.25 million

Danault is coming off of a down year, offensively speaking, but his possession numbers were simply outstanding. He had a 57 CF% and a 56.4 FF% this year despite seeing only 42.1% of offensive zone starts (all stats from He was also stifled by an absurdly-low 6.8 shooting percentage.

In his six years in Montreal Danault owns a 56.3 CF% and a FF% of 55.8 with an offensive zone starting percentage of 46.2. Those are pretty great possession numbers for a guy who sees so many starts in the defensive zone.

The traditional stats aren’t too shabby either. Danault contributed 194 points and 437 hits in his 360 career games in Montreal and his 53.8% on faceoffs over that period is just a notch below John Tavares’ numbers in Toronto (55%). He has scored at a 50-point season pace twice and a 40-point season pace twice despite never having a shooting percentage in double-digits in any of those seasons.

With Alex Kerfoot likely being the Leaf selected in the upcoming expansion draft in July, Danault would be a perfect fit on that vacated 3rd centre position. He is an analytics darling, can win faceoffs, hit, put up points at a decent rate and, at only 28, should still have a number of productive seasons left in the body.

I don’t imagine Danault costing much more (if at all) than his current 3.08 million cap hit after such a (seemingly) meagre output this season so Dubas should have no trouble fitting him in. And if Kerfoot does happen to be still in the fold for 2020-2021, Danault is a better option down the middle and Kerfoot would move to LW, another position of need and where he is a more effective player.

Matthews/Tavares/Danault would give Toronto three very strong options on the draw and allows for Pierre Engvall to work with Jason Spezza (presumably) on the 4th line in a permanent role next year with limited pressure.

Next. Leafs Top Ten Prospects. dark

Danault may not be the sexy name most fans are hoping for but he is a quality player who won’t cost a ton of money and has the capacity to thrive on a talented Leafs roster that encourages a strong puck possession and skill game.

Free agency opens July 28.