And now, after five shopping days of free-agent hysteria, the cupboards are almost bare.
There is a Ziggy Palffy here, a Roman Hamrlik there, but after that it has almost become fill in the blanks when it comes to roster building.
That is how quickly the quality has been spoken for -- and at surprisingly high prices -- in the new National Hockey League. The new market, in many ways, looks an awful lot like the old market, with too many general managers paying too much for too little.
Almost anyone who can score a goal or 20 is suddenly worth $3 million US or more a year. Any reasonable defenceman of quality has a starting price of about $4 million per year.
The best goalie available in the open market, Nikolai Khabibulin was plucked for $6.75 million a year, which is only $1.3 more than Martin Brodeur will get paid in New Jersey, or $2.2 million more than Ed Belfour will make with the Maple Leafs.
Exactly what happened on the way to establishing new prices for old players got lost in the spirit of competition -- and the Leafs, bless them, took the high road and all but got buried by the process.
How aggressive and far off have the Leafs been?
* They offered winger Glen Murray a two-year contract for $3 million a year. He wound up re-signing in Boston for four years and $4.16 million a year. They were only about two years and $10 million apart in the end.
* They offered defenceman Adam Foote a two-year arrangement at $3 million per season. Columbus signed Foote for three years and $13.8 million.
* They offered centre Cory Stillman a two-year contract at $1 million per year. Carolina signed him for three years and $1.75 million a season and tossed in a no-trade clause, just to be safe.
The one free agent they came away with yesterday - Jason Allison -- after having to step up to keep Tie Domi at home, is far closer to being a gamble than a sure thing.
Maybe he can play again. Maybe he can't. When it comes to head injuries, who ever knows and how many ever come back? Allison was a terrific player, albeit never popular with his own teammates.
Which leaves what for the Leafs?
Toronto still needs at least three forwards and one defenceman to complete its roster and the pickings are getting mighty slim.
The best centres left in free agency: 1. Eric Lindros; 2. Jozef Stumpel; 3. Andrew Cassels. After that, you can go old with Vinny Damphousse or Mark Messier. And that's about it. The Leafs need at least one centre. Lindros wants to play here. The Leafs have yet to say they want him.
The best right wingers available: 1. Palffy; 2. Teemu Selanne; 3. Vladimir Orszagh (little known but a decent player). Palffy is way beyond Toronto's meagre cap position but Selanne might be a perfect fit to play with Mats Sundin.
The best left winger available, now that Paul Kariya has signed in Nashville, is is Ray Whitney, and there is not much after that. Whitney is small but skilled. And if you want, you can go old and slow with Dave Andreychuk or John LeClair or the forever injured Brian Savage, but where does that get you?
The best defenceman left on the board is Roman Hamrlik, who will get $4 million a year somewhere, just not here. After that, who can tell a Murray Baron from a Stephane Quintal from a Don Sweeney from a Jason York? Question worth asking, though: Is there still life in 41-year-old Scott Stevens and would he have any interest in coming home after 13 years in New Jersey?
"Our goals have not changed," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "Our strategy hasn't changed. We have a plan and we're sticking to it."