TORONTO - A few Maple Leafs could find themselves looking for new homes by Friday, including popular forward and Bill Masterton Trophy candidate Tim Brent.
Brent is among five Leafs approaching unrestricted free agency when Friday’s National Hockey League open market begins, along with forwards Fredrik Sjostrom, Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb and Jay Rosehill. Some or all might come back in the fold later this summer pending other moves by general manager Brian Burke, but Pat Morris, the agent for Brent is concerned at the slow pace of negotiations.
“We have made it clear that Tim would like to remain in Toronto to improve upon last year’s strong season,” Morris said in an e-mail to QMI Agency Monday night. “However, as of this late date, we would expect that Tim will be a free agent on Friday to look at his alternatives.”
Brent came from nowhere to earn and keep a job with the Leafs, becoming a big part of their penalty killing and shot blocking shield.
With their strong contributions in the second half of last year, the unheralded Brent, Boyce and Crabb “made it very interesting for us,” Burke said in April. “We expected them to play most or all of the year with the Marlies. Now we have decisions to make.”
Sjostrom might be let go in favour of younger prospects. But Burke would not comment Monday on either the free agents or the larger group of restricted Leafs and Marlies who are mulling qualifying offers, which had to be delivered by 5 p.m. Monday. Players making less than $660,000 US must be offered 110% of last season’s salary, those up to $1 million must be tendered 105% and over that dollar figure, 100%.
Wade Arnott, who represents both RFA defenceman Luke Schenn and centre Tyler Bozak said that both were qualified on time.
Bozak is an interesting case. Burke gave him a nice bonus-laden contract in 2009 and Bozak had plenty of ice time on the first line to establish himself. He had 32 points in 82 games last season, but was a team-worst minus-29. In his season-ending news conference Burke cast doubt on whether Bozak would be a first liner in 2011-12, anticipating he could get an established centre by trade or signing by September.
“They’ve been up front about that, but we’ll still get a deal done and see what happens,” Arnott said Monday.
If the Leafs aren’t successful in the Brad Richards’ sweepstakes, they might re-visit Bozak in that role. Bozak enjoys a great relationship with top scorer Phil Kessel, who defended him from media and fan critics at the end of the year.
Winger and second-leading scorer Clarke MacArthur is headed for salary arbitration next month. Though there were hints of MacArthur taking a hometown discount to facilitate a deal after his career-year 62 points, the two sides could not agree on a multi-year pact. At the draft last week, Burke said he was wary of committing huge money to MacArthur after just one good year.
With the highly valued defenceman Schenn, Burke said there was no urgency to getting a deal done. Burke expected Schenn might wait and see what other blueliners in his class get paid before getting serious in talks.
The rest of the RFAs are Marlies, including goalie Ben Scrivens and forwards Christian Hanson, Fabian Brunnstrom, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Ryan Hamilton and Greg Scott. All are likely looking at two-way contracts if they re-sign, with Toronto looking to the next group of young tryouts such as centre Joe Colborne and winger Matt Frattin.
Hanson’s failure thus far to stick with the Leafs — he played six scoreless games last year — will be a factor in any future talks. His skating is still an issue. Brunnstrom won’t likely get the one-way contract he had when the Leafs acquired him from Dallas. The Toronto-born Irwin had 15 points in 45 Marlie games last year, but must use his size more effectively.
Scrivens had good reviews in his rookie season, an unexpected stint in the AHL after fellow rookie Jussi Rynnas was hurt.
Of the 16 Leafs who wore No. 34 before James Reimer, including luminaries such as Rocky Dundas and Ted Fauss, few could say they were best-sellers among fans.
But from a standing start in January, Reimer sweaters did a booming business and the goaltender is expected to be hot property entering his first full season in 2011-12.
“We had nothing stocked for him last year as we did at the start for players such as Dion Phaneuf, Kessel and Schenn,” said Jeff Budway, director of merchandising and retail operations for the Air Canada Centre. “But his sweater was a top-five seller in February, March and April.”
Reimer was heading toward No. 1 at season’s end and Budway can see Reimer at least getting in the top three to start next season.
“Phaneuf has done the best because the captain’s ‘C’ is always popular. But if Reimer has a good start to the season, that could change.”
One avenue of Reimer souvenirs the Leafs can’t control is the influx of Optimus Reim T-shirts and the like. The nickname and robotic goal mask, a take on the animated Optimus Prime character in Transformers, was adopted by Reimer, who put it on his own gear in tribute to the fans and might incorporate it on his full mask this year.
“We have to be careful, because there is no NHL license for that (logo),” Budway said. “Anyone with screening technology can make something. But we’re planning a lot of interesting things of our own around James for this year.”