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Leafs Open Free Agency Period with New Additions

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

On the first day of the NHL's unrestricted free agency period, the Maple Leafs retained the services of goaltenders Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks, while adding veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey to shore up the blueline, and experienced Dominic Moore to provide depth at the centre position. McElhinney, Sparks and Hainsey agreed to two-year deals: McElhinney's new contract carries an average annual value (AAV) of $850,000; Sparks' pact has an AAV of $675,000; and Hainsey's deal is worth $3 million per season. And Moore's contract is for one year with a salary of $1 million.

Once teams were free to sign unrestricted free agents, the Leafs moved quickly to bring in Hainsey, a 36-year-old, 14-year NHL veteran who split last season between the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring four goals and 17 points in 72 regular season games. The Bolton, Conn., native added two goals and eight points for the Penguins in 25 post-season games en route to winning his first Stanley Cup championship - and he sees the Leafs as a great match for him with familiarities in terms of the style of game employed.

"The system is a great fit for me," Hainsey told a gathering of media Saturday after agreeing to terms with Toronto. "When (Hurricanes head coach) Bill Peters got to Carolina, (he) put the system in which is basically what (Leafs head coach) Mike (Babcock) does, (and) it really suited my game and it's a system I'm really confident playing. And so that, coupled with everything that's going on there, from all the young forwards who create so much offence, to the top on down, from (team president Brendan Shanahan) on down, if as a defenceman you didn't want to be part of this group, you'd be nuts."

Hainsey spoke to Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello and Babcock prior to signing, and as one of the older players on the roster, he'll be looked to as a leader in the dressing room. However, he's cautious about painting himself as the sage for a team that's already experienced success despite being one of the league's younger groups.

"Some of that's overblown sometimes," Hainsey said. "In Carolina we had a very, very young defense the last two-to-three years. I was kind of the older guy there, and to some extent players are going to have to learn some things…and see some people who've done it for a long time and how they go about it day-in and day-out to have a long career as a pro. There's a lot of things on the ice and off the ice and go into it. And really, I'll be myself and hopefully set an example for these guys. (But) these guys, as I said, they're on their way…they got their first taste (of the playoffs) this year in the fist round of the playoffs, had a hell of a series in the first round against Washington. And we're all going to be on board here to push further than that next year."

That said, Lamoriello believes Hainsey's track record demonstrates he's going to be an asset in multiple ways and regardless of where he plays among Toronto's top six defenders. Veteran D-man Matt Hunwick, who spent the past two seasons with the Leafs, signed as a free agent with the Penguins Saturday, leaving an opening the franchise was happy to fill with Hainsey.

"He's a veteran, he's won, and he's had success no matter where he's been as far as playing with offensive partners," Lamoriello said of Hainsey. "So we feel he'll come up in the top four and will serve a purpose."

Later Saturday afternoon, Toronto announced it had inked Moore to a one-year pact. The 36-year-old, 12-year NHL veteran joins the Leafs for his second tour of duty with the organization after spending last season in Boston, where he netted 11 goals and 25 points in 82 games with the Bruins. The Thornhill, Ont., native first played for the Buds beginning in January of 2008, when Toronto claimed him off waivers from the Minnesota Wild. In 101 career regular-season games with the Leafs, he produced 16 goals and 55 points. Moore has 847 career regular-season NHL games under his belt, with 100 goals and 270 points to his credit in that span. He'll take the spot filled late in the season by veteran Brian Boyle, who signed as an unrestricted free agent Saturday with the New Jersey Devils.

"He'll fit right in on the fourth line as far as (a) penalty-killer," Lamoriello said of Moore. "We feel that, after the year he's had, probably one of the better years he's had, that it's a perfect replacement for Brian Boyle."

Just prior to the 12 p.m. ET opening of the free agency period, Toronto locked up the 34-year-old McElhinney and 24-year-old Sparks to solidify their situation between the pipes. McElhinney appeared in 14 games with the Buds last season after being picked up off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets in early January. The London, Ont., native posted a 6-7-0 record, a 2.85 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and one shutout with the Leafs as the understudy to starter Frederik Andersen. Sparks, Toronto's seventh-round pick (190th overall) in the 2011 NHL entry draft, spent the 2016-17 campaign with the Leafs' American League affiliate Marlies, amassing a 21-9-0 mark, a 2.16 GAA, a .922 SP and a career-best five shutouts in 31 games. 

"Curtis did a great job for us, he really did," Lamoriello said. "And he's a quality character, gets along with Freddie, and that's so important, for the number of games he has to play."

There may be more moves still to come for the Leafs as the off-season unfolds, but their moves Saturday ensured their back end and centre position would be more formidable, experienced and have a good deal of depth once the 2017-18 campaign begins. And as Lamoriello always says in one way or another, the work continues.

"Right now we're just listening to see what transpires with the players that are there," Lamoriello said. "Also to see if other teams are making movements…so we're really listening. We feel very good about what we've done. We wanted to put a veteran defenseman into the lineup, replacing Matt Hunwick, who's moved on. And also (got) a fourth-line centre that we felt could accept that role, understands what it is, and also has done it very well over the years.

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