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On the first day of free agency, the Toronto Maple Leafs were among the teams busier in the league as they worked to strengthen their roster, especially in the back end. They lost six players from the previous season, including Tyler Bertuzzi, Noah Gregor, T.J. Brodie, Joel Edmundson, Ilya Lyubushkin, and goalie Ilya Samsonov. They have signed four new players for the 2024–25 season thus far.

The Maple Leafs acquired Anthony Stolarz as a goalie to make up for Samsonov’s departure, along with three defensemen in Chris Tanev, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Jani Hakanpaa. Though opinions vary, many believe the Maple Leafs are a stronger team now than they were at the end of the 2023–24 campaign. Regretfully, that may not be true.

Tanev Is Worried About His Injuries
Chris Tanev is the addition that most excites me. For almost ten years, the 34-year-old has been among the best shutdown defensemen in the league, and he proved it again when the Dallas Stars made it to the Western Conference Final of the 2024 Playoffs.

Although Tanev is clearly an improvement for the Maple Leafs’ blue line, there are some unsettling contract terms. A $27 million, six-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.5 million was inked by him. Tanev is without a doubt one of the top four defensemen on any NHL team, so the cap hit is more than justified.

Nevertheless, considering his playing style, it is concerning that he will be bound by a contract until he turns 40. He regularly puts his body in front of pucks out of fear, and he’s very skilled at it. Though he has been able to play through many of the injuries that have unfortunately plagued him throughout his career, there are legitimate questions about how much longer he will hold up.

The Wild Card Is Ekman-Larsson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson was regarded as one of the best and most underappreciated defensemen in the NHL for a number of years in the early stages of his career. He exceeded the 40-point threshold five times and scored more than 20 goals in back-to-back seasons with the Arizona Coyotes in 2014–15 and 2015–16.

However, Ekman-Larsson’s play started to deteriorate in his final few seasons with the Coyotes, and the Vancouver Canucks acquired him. The Canucks acquired him after just two seasons due to his lackluster play above the border.

The previous offseason, Ekman-Larsson agreed to a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers, and it worked out. The 32-year-old appeared to be back to his previous form, playing solid minutes at even strength and even earning a few power play opportunities. The Maple Leafs may gain from this signing if he performs like he did the previous campaign. But it could be problematic if he starts acting like he did a few seasons ago.

Hakanpaa is a defenseman who pairs in third.
Hakanpaa was the last of the three players to sign, agreeing to a three-year, $3 million contract with an AAV of $1.5 million. Given the short term and low salary, this signing doesn’t have the potential to be a disaster, but it also won’t result in a significant improvement for the blue line.

Hakanpaa is a bottom-pairing defenceman with plenty of size (6’7″) and some physicality at his best. The question of whether he will be at his peak, though, is still open. The 32-year-old is reportedly dealing with a knee injury that has many questioning if he will be able to play in the NHL once more, according to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. If he plays at all this coming season, if the injury is that bad, he may be exposed early and often (Steve Simmons: Maple Leafs signings – The good, the bad, and the ugly, Toronto Sun, 07/01/24).

Stolarz Is Not Verified
The Maple Leafs were rumored to be pursuing both Juuse Saros and Jacob Markstrom in their pursuit of a goaltending upgrade this summer. Having failed to land any, they opted to sign Stolarz to a $5 million, two-year contract with a $2.5 million cap hit.

Impressive stats from Stolarz’s previous season included a 2.03 goals-against average (GAA) and a.925 save percentage. But those stats only came from 27 games, as he was essentially Sergei Bobrovsky’s backup. The 30-year-old has never, in actuality, appeared in more than 28 games in a season.

In his NHL career, Stolarz has played in just 109 games thus far. He has played well, but given the small sample size, it is reasonable to question whether he will be able to continue playing at that level in a much larger role. Given that he spent the majority of his NHL career with the Panthers and Anaheim Ducks, the market will also undergo significant change.

Maple Leafs’ Forward Group Is the Same
The one area up front that the Maple Leafs haven’t addressed is. Other than re-signing Max Domi, nothing has happened. Given the limited cap space he inherited, it’s difficult to hold general manager Brad Treliving accountable, but if these are the only roster adjustments made this summer, it’s difficult to see the team winning many games in the playoffs in 2024–2025.


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