The Toronto Maple Leafs have had one of the longest and most storied histories throughout all of the NHL franchises. There have been many Hall of Fame players that have been on a Leafs roster, with a big chunk of them acquired either through the NHL Draft or by being brought in via trade. Every now and then, though, there are players that come in via free agency.
Teams try not to let their best players hit free agency, but when it happens, Toronto is one of the premier destinations in the league. While not every free agent signing by the Leafs has been a hit, there have been some home runs. Here are the five best free agent signings in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
5. Alexander Mogilny
Russian native Alexander Mogilny came into the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and ended up being one of the franchise’s greatest players, including a season in which he scored 76 goals and 127 points. The two-time All-Star then spent time with Vancouver and New Jersey before becoming a free agent in 2001.
Mogilny was 32 years old, but he certainly wasn’t out of his prime just yet. The Maple Leafs signed Mogilny in 2001 for four years and $22 million. Mogilny put up 166 points in 176 games, winning a Lady Byng Trophy in the process. Unfortunately, the Leafs didn’t get that fourth season from the contract due to the NHL lockout.
4. Ed Belfour
Goaltender Ed Belfour spent his 20s playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and was a three-time All-Star before heading to the San Jose Sharks for a handful of games and then the Dallas Stars. Balfour won a Stanley Cup with the Stars, then became a free agent at 37 years old after many thought he was over the hill.
After Curtis Joseph (more on him in a second) left the Maple Leafs, the team plugged the vacancy with Belfour hoping that he still had some good years left. On a two-year contract worth $13.5 million, Belfour didn’t disappoint and even stayed for a third year. Belfour put up a 93-61-15 record with a .912 save percentage, his best with any franchise.
3. Curtis Joseph
Getting back to Curtis Joseph, he had many fine years with the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers when he became a free agent following the 1997-98 season. The Maple Leafs went all-in on Joseph, signing him to a four-year deal worth $24 million. Joseph played the entirety of his contract, winning a Clancy Trophy, and was top-10 in the Vezina voting each year.
Joseph lived up to his contract, putting up a record of 133-89-27 and a save percentage of over .910. Joseph then left for the Detroit Red Wings and played briefly for Phoenix and Calgary before returning to Toronto in his final season, retiring at 41-years-old in 2009.
2. John Tavares
John Tavares was the first overall pick in 2009 by the New York Islanders and made his professional debut at just 19 years old and played with the team for nine seasons. Tavares scored 621 points in 669 games and became a free agent after the 2017-18 season. Most fans were furious after Tavares left the Islanders, and was quick to choose Toronto as he had been a childhood fan.
Tavares rejected all extension offers by New York and signed a seven-year deal worth $77 million with the Maple Leafs. In the first five seasons of his contract, Tavares continued to be a near-point-per-game scorer and made the Leafs into a contender.
1. Borje Salming
The late Borje Salming was one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history, and certainly one of the greatest Leafs players. No team drafted Salming while he was with Sweden, and it wasn’t until 1973 that he signed with Toronto after playing professionally in his home country for several years.
The original contract to bring him to Toronto was a bargain, too, with Salming signing for two years and $140,000. Salming played 16 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs, and the Hall of Famer was named to six All-Star Teams, scoring 768 points in 1,099 games. He would finish his career in the 1989-90 season playing as a free agent in Detroit.