None of the recent Toronto Maple Leafs signings may be as exciting as what might come after July 1st. But with little Maple Leafs news to look forward to until the NHL Entry Draft, here is an early look at where these players came from and why the Maple Leafs signed them. The four players, Pierre Engvall, Jesper Lindgren, Igor Ozhiganov and Par Lindholm, all have diverse expectations. Two of the players are recent Maple Leaf draft picks and two are experienced free agents from European professional leagues.
Recent Toronto Maple Leafs Signings Have Diverse Expectations
All four players signed on May 17th. It was Kyle Dubas’ first notable move since taking over as general manager a few days prior. None of the signings were unexpected. Nor will any of them become household names any time soon. They are the first step towards restocking a roster that is set to lose Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Leo Komarov, Tomas Plekanec, Dominic Moore, Roman Polak, and most likely a few from the Toronto Marlies.
Lindholm is a 26-year old centre that played in the SHL for Skelleftea AIK for the past four seasons. He had 47 points in 49 games last season including 18 goals. He signed a one-year deal worth $925,000.
With the probable departures of three centres, Bozak, Plekanec, and Moore, the Maple Leafs needed to add some depth. Lindholm will challenge for the Maple Leafs fourth line centre role. Miro Aaltonen, a pending RFA, will challenge for the same role. Expect to see former first-round pick Frederik Gauthier also take part in that battle. The Maple Leafs may still look to add veteran centre depth as well, depending if they plan to move William Nylander to centre or not.
As it stands now, the Maple Leafs have only Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri signed as centres for next season. Signing an experienced player such as Lindholm to an inexpensive, one-way contract gives the Maple Leafs options. They may have a depth player that can fill a regular role with the NHL club. Or at the very least, they’ll have some additional depth for the Toronto Marlies and a regular season call-up in case of injury.
The Maple Leafs will need to sign Nylander, Matthews, and Mitch Marner to hefty contracts between this year and next. Managing cap space by looking for cheap, experienced depth is key to them icing a roster that can compete for the Stanley Cup now and in the future.
Ozhiganov is another European signing the Maple Leafs hope will bring experience and stability without breaking the bank. Ozhiganov’s contact matched Lindholm as a one-year deal worth $925,000. Ozhignaov played defence for CSKA Moscow in the KHL for the past three seasons. He isn’t an offensive-minded defenseman, which the Maple Leafs already have in Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. Ozhiganov had 12 points in 42 games last season and only 12 penalty minutes.
He’ll challenge for a bottom pairing role as a player that can kill penalties and play a physical style of hockey. He is also a right-handed shot. The Maple Leafs are weak on the right side with only Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev signed for next season.
Both Ozhiganov and Lindholm signed for the maximum money on one-year, entry-level deals. The Maple Leafs will have this season to judge their worth and decide to re-sign them to longer term deals or not. Zaitsev joined the Maple Leafs in similar fashion in 2016. His rookie season earned him a seven-year deal with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million.
Lindgren signed a standard three-year entry level contract after being drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fourth round at 95th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The 21-year old defenseman played in four games for the Toronto Marlies this season chipping in one assist.
Lindgren has yet to play a playoff game for the Marlies, who have won their first three rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Marlies are waiting to see if they will play Texas Stars or the Rockford IceHogs in the Calder Cup Final.
Dermott will play for the Maple Leafs next season. And Timothy Liljegren may make the Maple Leafs roster at some point as well. That will leave open spots on the Marlies’ roster for Lindgren. Martin Marincin and Justin Holl are two other Marlies defensemen that may at some point be promoted to the Maple Leafs, or used in a trade. Both are pending RFAs.
Engvall signed a two-year deal worth $925,000 a season. The 21-year old left winger appeared in nine regular season games for the Marlies, scoring eight points. He replaced Jeremy Bracco on the Marlies’ third line for their playoff run. He has seven points in 13 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs this season.
Engvall was drafted in the seventh round of the in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at 188 overall. The Maple Leafs will need depth wingers with the departures of van Riemsdyk, Komarov, and potentially Matt Martin. Martin could be traded once the Maple Leafs pay his $1.5 million signing bonus that kicks in on July 1st.
Engvall will have plenty of competition at the Maple Leafs’ training camp with Lindholm, Carl Grundstrom, Adam Brooks, Dmytro Timashov, and Bracco all vying to be the next Maple Leaf rookie sensation. Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen are both already expected to make the Maple Leafs roster next season.
Dubas Era Begins
None of these signings are huge unto themselves. They all fit well into the Maple Leafs master plan. Promote from within without depleting the farm team and complement youthful talent with cheap experienced players. None of these players may work out in the long run, but the deals have little risk, and they don’t need all of them to work out.
The other option, to Lindholm and Ozhiganov specifically, might be to overpay on the free agent market for similar players. But the Maple Leafs will need players playing significant roles that are inexpensive to both keep all their star players and ice a complete roster that can compete for the Stanley Cup every year. That’s not something they can get from the free agent market if they’re using it for depth players.