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Free Agency Begins At Noon

Friday, 01.07.2011 / 8:27 AM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Free Agency Begins At Noon
 
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They say the girls and boys all look better round about closing time.

For NHL free agents closing time is noon on Friday.

That’s when the Maple Leafs and as many as  half a dozen teams are expected to make a deal for free agent centre Brad Richards, most recently of the Dallas Stars.

The Leafs will offer too much, even by the standards of this the silly season. But whoever lands Richards will likely overpay by an even grander measure.

Blame it on the rising salary cap which has inflated wages with a two pronged efficiency. On the one hand, richer clubs have more money to toss at free agents. The cap now sits at $64.3 million.

But the $48.3 million cap floor has prompted teams such as the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers to spend to reach the minimum level.  Why not then, spend big dollars on players who can help?

The Capitals paid Brooks Laich’s, a solid second liner, $4.5 million a year for six years.
Tomas Kopecky got $12 million over three years from Florida. Yes, that Tomas Kopecky, the guy whose 15 goals marked only the second time in six seasons he mustered double figures .
Based on those figures Richards, probably the only premium player in the field , is worth $8 million a season over at least five years.

Will the Leafs management be willing to pay that?  Well, with the Avalanche seemingly intent on hanging on to Paul Stastny, the Leafs have no other viable option at centre save for trading for Florida’s Stephen Weiss.

Richards is a former Conn Smythe winner who scored 28 goals and recorded 77 points to finish 10th in scoring last season. He was seventh the season before.

It would be difficult to sketch a better fit for the Leafs. Richard’  biggest gift is his on-ice vision, a faculty Phil Kessel would no doubt benefit from. He is a good skater, strong in the faceoff circle, a marvelous passer and he slides back to the blueline to run the power play.

The Leafs are considered front runners in the hunt for depth player Maxime Talbot.

Talbot, a native of Lemoyne, Quebec, is best known for scoring both goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Stanley Cup winning 2-1 victory over Detroit in the seventh game of the 2009 Finals.

An accomplished scorer in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Talbot fashioned a pro career despite a precipitous dip in his statistics when he turned pro.

In fact, Talbot spent a year and a half in the minors sharpening the kind of game that would get him in the NHL. He quickly became an effective penalty killer and energy player for the Penguins who selected him in the eighth round of the 2002 entry draft.

Talbot was one of the key elements of the Penguins penalty kill and he brought an infectious intensity to the Penguins third line.

He scored eight goals, 13 assists for 21 points in 82 games this season.  He was minus three with 66 PIMs.

In 388 games, all with Pittsburgh, Talbot scored 52 goals and recorded 108 points. He was -24 with 324 penalty minutes but a poor plus/minus rating is standard for checkers who are tasked with limiting, not outscoring, opposing gunners.

The Leafs have sought to inject more toughness on their third line and beef up their 28th ranked penalty
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