Leafs unlikely to make free agency splash

Though he wouldn't be a game-changer, pugnacious winger Brandon Prust would look good in a Maple...

Though he wouldn't be a game-changer, pugnacious winger Brandon Prust would look good in a Maple Leafs uniform, says Toronto Sun columnist Terry Koshan. (Getty Images/AFP Files)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:11 AM ET

Don’t expect the Maple Leafs to make a big splash on Sunday during free agency.

Shut out Saturday of the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, along with any other team in the running that was not the Edmonton Oilers, the Leafs are not lining up to take a run at either of the big-name free agents — winger Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter.

General manager Brian Burke has made that clear in recent days and nothing has changed. If the GM is able to make a true improvement on the roster, he plans on doing it via trade, not free agency.

The Leafs might take a long, hard look at a pest such as New York Rangers winger Brandon Prust — and wouldn’t his pugnacious style, one that has helped make him an effective penalty killer, look good in a Toronto uniform — but we’re not talking about a game-changer here.

There has been a suggestion the Leafs like Shane Doan, but the Phoenix Coyotes captain doesn’t have much interest in leaving the desert.

Goalie Martin Brodeur? Of course he could help the Leafs, even at the age of 40. But that doesn’t seem overly realistic, does it? It’s hard to believe Brodeur leaves New Jersey.

If the Leafs have a true interest in any free agent, they aren’t the kind of players that would be signed quick out of the gate when free agency opens at noon.

There’s lots out there, but not a lot to it.

Burke could get around to signing a player or two, but he reiterated during the draft last weekend that he might be looking only at players who would add depth to the bottom six forwards. A few hours later, he backed those words by trading for James van Riemsdyk.

And Leafs executive David Nonis in the days following the draft said the Leafs could sign a free agent or two who would start with the Marlies, with an eye toward helping the Leafs down the road.

The van Riemsdyk deal, one that cost the Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, got the ball rolling on Burke’s oft-stated off-season plan, to reshape the roster by way of trades.

But that can’t be the extent of Burke’s summer chores, and though it might represent a step in the right direction toward a group that coach Randy Carlyle would like, there has to be more coming.

Roberto Luongo, maybe. Rick Nash, no. Bobby Ryan or another young star, you never know.

With the salary cap of $70.2 million slated to be in place for the 2012-13 season (though that could change), the Leafs have used approximately $57 million of that on salaries, including a $1-million buyout payment to Darcy Tucker, and once he clears waivers, a $1-million buyout payment to Colby Armstrong.

The Leafs still have to re-sign at least five restricted free agents — Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Frattin, Cody Franson, Ben Scrivens and Korbinian Holzer. There are just two Leafs headed for unrestricted free agency — forwards Joey Crabb and Jay Rosehill — and there was no indication either would be signed by Toronto prior to noon Sunday.

As for Schultz, the Leafs gave it their best shot but it appears the young defenceman might have had the Oilers on his mind as long as a week ago. A source indicated that the Leafs wanted to talk to Schultz to the point that they were going to send a second-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks had they been able to sign the 22-year-old University of Wisconsin star.

With nothing big on the horizon waving a free-agency flag, Burke’s challenge remains the same — to reconstruct the roster by coming to trade agreements with some of his fellow GMs. That has not changed.


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