13 former Leafs that Toronto could bring back in free agency this summer

May 21 2023, 6:13 pm

While the season came to a bitter end for the Toronto Maple Leafs this past season (and most of the ones before it), there is some solace in looking ahead.

Sure, the team is without a general manager after the shock departure of Kyle Dubas — but that doesn’t mean the Leafs will have any intention of just throwing their hands up and giving up when it comes to improving the roster for next season.

Toronto will look remarkably different come next year, although there’s the possibility of signing more than a few familiar faces for another go-around with the team.

With players from several different eras available on the market next summer, here are 13 former Toronto players the team could target in free agency this summer:

1. Phil Kessel, RW, Vegas Golden Knights

Age: 35

Last contract: $1.5 M, one year

2022-23 stats: 82 GP, 14 G, 22 A, 36 PTS

Since his last game for Toronto in 2015, Phil Kessel set the NHL’s ironman record for most consecutive games played while casually playing for three teams, including a pair of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kessel isn’t the point-per-game scorer he once was, and his defensive deficiencies might not be worth it for Toronto, but what a storyline it’d be if “Phil the Thrill” signed back in Toronto again.

2. James Van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers

Age: 34

Last contract: $7 million, five years

2022-23 stats: 61 GP, 12 G, 17 A, 29 PTS

Often skating alongside Phil Kessel (next to Tyler Bozak), James Van Riemsdyk was among the most productive Leafs of the past decade, potting 154 goals in 413 games with the club across six seasons in Toronto.

Van Riemsdyk left Toronto in 2018 to sign with the team that originally drafted him, but wouldn’t it be one heck of a storyline if he chose to flip-flop back to Toronto for another go with the Leafs?

3. Jake Gardiner, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 32

Last contract: $4.05 million, four years

2022-23 stats: Did not play – back injury

If Jake Gardiner is searching for a return to the NHL, Toronto would be one heck of a place to mount a comeback.

He hasn’t actually played since playing just 9:01 in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and has been dealing with back injuries that have kept him out of the league over the past two seasons.

But at age 32, it’s not impossible he’ll recover, and maybe — just maybe — he’d be interested in linking up with an old friend in Morgan Rielly again.

4. Connor Brown, Washington Capitals

Age: 29

Last contract:  $3.6 million, four years

2022-23 stats: 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS

Connor Brown was dealt a terrible hand this past year after getting sent to the Washington Capitals in a trade from the Ottawa Senators.

Just four games into his tenure in Washington, Brown was injured on a hit from defenseman Noah Juulsen that led to a tear of his ACL in his right knee.

A 2012 draft pick of the Leafs who spent four seasons with the team before being traded to the Senators in 2019, the Toronto native could be a top candidate to re-sign with his hometown franchise this summer in an effort to kickstart his career once again.

5. Andreas Johnsson, San Jose Sharks

Age: 28

Last contract: $3.4 million, four years

2022-23 stats: 13 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 PTS

Andreas Johnsson hits free agency this summer following a contract he actually originally signed after a 20-goal season with Toronto back in 2018-19.

Traded to New Jersey in the summer of 2020, Johnsson never quite found his stride on his new team, who eventually placed him on waivers earlier in December 2022 before he was eventually shipped to the Sharks as part of the Timo Meier trade.

6. Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins

Age: 35

Last contract: $3.8 million, two years

2022-23 stats: 60 GP, 10 G, 16 A, 26 PTS

The Leafs’ big trade deadline acquisition of 2021, the former Columbus captain Nick Foligno spent the past two years playing for one of their biggest rivals, the Boston Bruins.

Both years, Foligno and his Bruins suffered a first-round playoff loss in Game 7, so perhaps he’d be interested in crossing the lines once again to see if he can find more postseason success in Toronto.

7. Scott Harrington, Anaheim Ducks

Age: 30

Last contract: $750,000, one year

2022-23 stats: 45 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 PTS

Scott Harrington hardly counts as a “former Leaf,” playing just 15 games for the club in the 2015-16 season, where the team finished last in the NHL.

But having spent time with three different NHL rosters since his last go-around in Toronto, the veteran defenceman could be a cheap depth option for the Leafs next year should they choose to bring him back for a much more competitive roster than the team’s first go-around.

8. Jonathan Bernier, New Jersey Devils

Age: 34

Last contract: $4.125 million, two years

2022-23 stats: Didn’t play – hip injury

Have you noticed a trend of ex-Leafs dealing with horrible injuries that have limited their ability?

Jonathan Bernier may have just played his last NHL game after missing all of 2022-23 with a hip injury, but the mid-30s goaltender will likely be searching for a new team with the Devils operating with a younger trio of Mackenzie Blackwood, Akira Schmid, and Vitek Vanecek this past year.

9. Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 33

Last contract: $4.5 million, two years

2022-23 stats: 34 GP, .903 SV%, 21-11-1

The lone Leaf on this list is still active in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (unless you count Jake Gardiner), Frederik Andersen coming back for a reunion with Toronto seems like the kind of thing that’d happen in a cheesy sports movie.

He’s had an up-and-down two years in Carolina since leaving the Leafs, but with Toronto likely to stick with Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll next season, there’s probably no room for him on the roster.

10. Michael Hutchinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

Age: 33

Last contract: $750,000, one year

2022-23 stats: 16 GP, .865 SV%, 2-6-3

Michael Hutchinson spent parts of four seasons with the Leafs on two separate stints with the team, although his recent stats have shown that he’s likely, finally, probably done with the franchise forever.

A competitive Leafs team would have no business signing Hutchinson, so any contract offered to him by an NHL team is a surefire sign they’re willing to throw in the towel.

11. Josh Leivo, St. Louis Blues

Age: 29

Last contract: $750,000, one year

2022-23 stats: 51 GP, 4 G, 12 A, 16 PTS

A veteran of five pro franchises, Leivo left the Leafs in a trade to Vancouver back in December 2018 in exchange for Michael Carcone, who never played in the NHL for the team.

Leivo has yet to hit 20 points in an NHL season and remains destined for a career bottom-six role, but would be a cheap option should the Leafs be willing to offer him a deal for next season.

12. Alex Galchenyuk, Colorado Avalanche

Age: 29

Last contract: $750,000, one year

2022-23 stats: 11 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS

There was a moment in time where many would argue the Leafs “fixed” the former third overall pick in Alex Galchenyuk, who bounced around with five franchises before joining Toronto in 2021.

But Galchenyuk appears to be just a step behind the NHL these days, putting up 42 points in 42 AHL games this past year while going scoreless in 11 big-league contests.

Maybe there’s an NHL future for the 29-year-old American, but it’s been a long way back to the promise he showed with a 30-goal season for the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16.

13. James Reimer, San Jose Sharks

Age: 35

Last contract: $2.25 million, two years

2022-23 stats: 43 GP, .890 SV%, 12-21-8

While other ex-Leafs might have doubts about returning to the city due to their physical status, Reimer has proven over the last few seasons that he just doesn’t appear to be a very good NHL goalie anymore.

Making headlines for all the wrong reasons by refusing to wear the Sharks’ Pride Night jersey this past year, a reunion between the Leafs and their former No. 1 goalie doesn’t seem all too likely.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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