Breaking: Maple Leafs Closing In On Deal To Sign $24.1 Million Free Agent Defenseman

Breaking: Maple Leafs Closing In On Deal To Sign $24.1 Million Free Agent Defenseman

According to NHL source David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period, the Toronto Maple Leafs are leading the race to sign defenseman Brett Pesce.

Pesce’s six-year, $24.1 million contract ended when the Hurricanes lost to the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs.

On June 6, Pagnotta stated that the Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators may be interested in the blueliner if he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Free agency begins on July 1.

“Circling back to Pesce, he will be a player both Nashville and Toronto pursue if he’s available July 1,” Pagnotta stated. “Clearly, there will be other potential suitors, but the Predators and Maple Leafs will go after him if they can.”

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Carolina Hurricanes are attempting to persuade Pesce to sign a contract that he previously declined in July 2023.

“Pesce didn’t seem likely (to extend his contract),” Friedman reported on May 17. “They basically told him what they were willing to do last year.” I believe it was in the five-year, $5 million per year range. It did not work. I’m not sure if it has changed.”

Changes Have Come (And Will Keep Coming) to Carolina

Don Waddell, the former General Manager of the Hurricanes, resigned on May 24, raising concerns about the organization’s future just over a month before free agency began.

“Carolina is already evaluating its options in the event they cannot get one or both of Pesce or (Brady) Skjei signed to new deals,” Pagnotta stated.

According to Spotrac, the Hurricanes might lose up to five players in free agency, each earning between $3 million and $6 million.

Martin Necas (who has already caught the attention of the Montreal Canadiens) is the only restricted free agent among those five players, with the others being unrestricted free agents Teuvo Teravainen, Jake Guenzel, Skjei, and Pesce.

Brett Pesce’s Potential Fit With Maple Leafs

Pesce has been a consistent performer for nearly a decade, playing more than 20 minutes per game for eight straight seasons. He came close as a rookie, averaging 18:46 in 69 games in 2016.

Though his offensive productivity dropped in 2024 to only 3 goals and 13 points in 70 games, his career-long statistics indicate a 25-plus-point contributor every year.

At 29, Pesce should still be in his prime and nearing his peak. He would complement Morgan Rielly on the right side of Toronto’s top defensive pairing.

In July 2024, Ilya Lyubushkin is projected to leave the Leafs’ top defensive line, adding credibility to the allegation.

The Maple Leafs are targeting top defensemen available in this summer’s UFA market, especially right-handed shots such as Pesce.

Pesce’s Contract Details & Leafs’ Cap Considerations

According to Evolving Hockey, Pesce is expected to sign a six-year contract at an average of $5.5 million on the open market in July. For comparison, this would outbid Carolina’s contract offer, as reported by Friedman, in terms of both money and term.

The Leafs begin the offseason with significant salary cap flexibility and could easily offer such a deal to Pesce.

According to PuckPedia, Toronto has $19.3 million in salary space this offseason, which is sufficient to sign Pesce.

The Leafs only have 14 of the mandatory 23 players under contract on the active roster, and 34 of 50 under standard contracts in the organization.

At the top of the to-do list for the Leafs in the summer should be trying to re-sign notable UFAs Tyler Bertuzzi ($5.5 million in 2024) and Max Domi ($3 million), as well as deciding on what to do with the much-discussed future of superstar winger Mitch Marner.

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