The 5 Worst Toronto Maple Leafs Free Agent Signings in the Auston Matthews Era

Which players did the Leafs acquire through free agency since 2016 that didn’t end up panning out?
Jan 12, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nick Ritchie (20) against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 12, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nick Ritchie (20) against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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Nick Ritchie

With the Leafs unable to afford to bring back fan favourite Zach Hyman following the 2020-21 season, the team searched for his ideal replacement during free agency that offseason.

After seeing Nick Ritchie put up a career-high 15 goals with the Boston Bruins just the previous year, the Leafs decided to give the former first-rounder a chance to play with Matthews and Marner on the top line for 2021-22 by signing him to a two-year, $5 million contract. At 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds, Ritchie was certainly bigger and stronger than Hyman and was excepted to be a more dominant force than his predecessor..

However, once the regular season rolled around, the Leafs quickly found out Ritchie was nothing close to what Hyman was during his time with the blue and white.

Very often, Ritchie seemed out of position and failed to use his size to dominate the opposition. Even worse was the fact that he had practically no chemistry with Matthews and Marner, which was kind of hard to comprehend, considering the tremendous skills and abilities of the dynamic duo. Ritchie ended up registering just 2 goals and 7 assists in 33 games as a Leaf, and was ultimately traded in-season to the Arizona Coyotes for Ryan Dzingel and Ilya Lyubuskin.

Consequently,, the Ritchie signing had turned into a complete bust as he couldn’t even survive the season. But given that Lyubuskin did play a more major role on the Leafs defense for the rest of the 2021-22 season, at least Toronto managed to recoup a useful asset for their failed experiment.

But if the Leafs had the chance to do it over again, perhaps they should have done everything they could to re-sign Hyman instead, given the successful prolific scorer that he has now evolved into with the Edmonton Oilers.