Torres A Viable Option

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The Atlanta Thrashers (Maxim Afinogenov) and Montreal Canadiens (Marc-Andre Bergeron) can attest to it: unrestricted free agent signings deep in the off-season could pay dividends.

Yes, those two particular players may not play for those respective teams anymore, but they both provided their clubs with offensive boosts (Afinogenov scored 61 points; Bergeron 13 goals and 34 points in 60 games). The point is that there are plenty of quality players available in free agency if the contract terms are reasonable. Luckily for the Toronto Maple Leafs, they have some breathing room, and options, to maneuver around the salary cap.

The Leafs will have approximatively $5 million in cap space if they send Jeff Finger’s contract to the minors. Considering the logjam of quality NHL defenders on the Leafs’ blueline, it’s reasonable to assume Finger will be donning the 23-point Maple Leaf for the majority of next season.

That would give general manager Brian Burke more than enough money to dip his toes into the free agent pool once more. The question is whether another UFA signing would affect the development of the Leafs’ young players.

The short answer is no, and the reason is quite simple.

The Leafs’ bottom-six is anything but locked, mainly because the top-six has yet to be established, so players like Christian Hanson, John Mitchell and Luca Caputi will battle for spots during the pre-season.

While many of these players could play a bottom-six role adequately, it is in the Leafs’ best interest to find players who can play both ends of the ice, so the team can roll three scoring lines (even if they’re not lethal).

Raffi Torres can fill that role. And according to the big man himself(http://spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1...), he is indeed interested in his services.

Torres, 28, is coming off a somewhat disappointing season, as he registered zero goals for the Buffalo Sabres, who acquired him at the Trade Deadline. He did, however, produce 19 goals in 60 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the trade. His best season came in 2005-06 for the Edmonton Oilers when he notched 27 goals and 41 points (averaged a mere 13:23 TOI/G). He has the potential to be a 25-goal scorer, but his offensive numbers have fluctuated due to some injury concerns in the past.

The six-foot, 215-pound Toronto-native has a reputation as a gritty forward who can throw the body around with authority, although at times he does tread a fine line in that department. He is also versatile as he can play both ends of the rink and could thrive in a third or second line role.

If Torres is willing to take a marginal pay cut from his $2.7 million cap-hit he earned last season, he could very well find himself donning the Blue and White before long.

Personally, I think it’s a match made in heaven.

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