Home 2013 Off-Season Four for Friday: Kovalchuk, Colborne, Gunnarsson and Franson

Four for Friday: Kovalchuk, Colborne, Gunnarsson and Franson

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It’s been an incredibly interesting first week of free agency for the Toronto Maple Leafs and around the NHL.  Here’s four thoughts to get you through your Friday.

Kovalchuk’s retirement a blessing for the Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the world Thursday when the Russian superstar announced his retirement at the tender age of 30.  In doing so, Kovalchuk will be leaving $77-million on the table over the next 12 seasons.  But he also might save the New Jersey Devils.

A couple years back, I made my opinion on Kovalchuk’s contract fairly clear.  It was cap circumvention then, and it still looks of it now.  With only three years burnt off his contract, the Devils will carry a surprisingly fortuitous cap benefit recapture penalty of only $250,000 until the year 2025.  But as the venerable James Mirtle pointed out, Kovalchuk’s early exit from the NHL will benefit the Devils extraordinarily over the course of the next decade.

 

Given the incredibly unstable financial situation in New Jersey, Kovalchuk’s departure truly couldn’t have come at a better time from management’s perspective.   I don’t want to say that Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello pushed Kovalchuk out the door, but he’s probably going to be paying the movers.  Lamoriello is nothing if not shrewd, and had to see the potential calamity facing the team had Kovalchuk stayed a few more seasons.  It’s incredibly interesting that the bulk of Kovalchuk’s salary – $56-million – was to be paid out over the next five seasons.

The off-ice viability of the New Jersey Devils will be stronger in the future without Kovalchuk.  When you’re hemorrhaging money, it’s good to cut $11-million in payroll for fiscal ‘14.  The on-ice product will be more viable for the next 12 years they’ll barely notice the effect of the cap benefit recapture penalty.

Certainly, the Devils are a weaker team today without their best player.  They’ll also forfeit their first round pick next season as a part of the cap circumvention from signing Kovalchuk just three seasons ago.  So they’ll serve as a cautionary tale about long-term deals, and they’ll probably miss out on a top-10 pick.  But it could have been a lot worse, all things considered.

Colborne contract makes a ton of sense

In perhaps his most (only?) prudent move so far this offseason, Leafs GM Dave Nonis re-signed Joe Colborne to a modest one-year contract worth $600,000 on Wednesday.  With about $10-million and change left in cap space and more than a couple roster spots to fill – and hefty raises pending for Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson – the Leafs needed to get some bodies on the cheap.

Colborne, a first round pick in 2008, has had a decidedly checkered professional hockey career.  Once a top prospect and the jewel of the Kaberle trade, Colborne has never truly lived up to his promise since coming to Toronto.  Just two seasons ago, he was considered a potential second line centre and a blue chip future.  Today, he’s a guy who’s tallied 97 points in 150 career games for the Toronto Marlies.  While he’s hardly a has-been at only 23, it’s looking more and more likely that Colborne won’t be the big, skilled centre the team has been looking for.

Amusingly, due to the contract type, this deal is actually nearly a 1000% raise his previous AHL salary.  But for the Leafs, this is a ‘show me’ deal.  Due to the restraints of the falling cap, you can bet Colborne will be stick with the team through camp to fight it out with the pugilists for time on the fourth line.  And it could be his last stand in Toronto.

Under the Gunnarsson

The other bit of Leaf news from the week was that Carl Gunnarsson has elected to go to salary arbitration with the Maple Leafs.  This was an incredibly smart move by Gunnarsson’s camp, if only for the nuanced rules of the CBA.  As a part of the salary arbitration process, the player can only be signed to a one or two-year contract.  This is exactly what Gunnarsson’s agent wants.

Gunnarsson is a bit of weird case as a restricted free agent, because he’s a late 1986 birth.  Had he been conceived just a few months earlier, he would have become a UFA on July 5.  Alas, he’s still chained to the rules of RFAs, and likely doesn’t like what the Leafs are offering him.

My best guess is that the Leafs would like to sign Gunnarsson to a deal similar to that of Roman Polak’s in St. Louis.  The Leafs would LOVE to keep Gunnarsson in the fold for 4-5 years at around $2.75-million a season.  For what he provides to the penalty kill and defensive zone, that’s a steal of a deal for the Buds.

By going to arbitration, the Leafs would only be able to eat into one year of Gunnarsson’s UFA eligibility, and he’d finally be able to see what the market would bear for his talents in either 2014 or 2015.  He’ll be 28 at the oldest, and should his offensive game grow, could command a much larger salary than Polak’s.  This is simply smart business, and a part of the transactional nature of professional athletics.

Before you sling fiery comments on his twitter, just remember: don’t hate the player, hate the CBA.

Why Franson didn’t choose arbitration

A corollary to the above section on Gunnarsson, Cody Franson opted to forego salary arbitration this week.  His reason? Another wrinkle in the CBA as it pertains to the arbitration process.

When a player elects for salary arbitration, the team is given the choice of whether they want to offer a 1 or 2-year deal to the player.  (The inverse is true when its club elected).  So in Franson’s case, he’s only 25 years old; two seasons away from UFA eligibility.  The Leafs would almost certainly elect for a 1-year deal, so they could retain Franson’s rights as a restricted free agent for one more year in 2014.  Franson would also be unable to sign an offer sheet prior to arbitration, losing him leverage in negotiations.

So by foregoing arbitration, Franson has as much freedom as his status allows.  His side is probably much more interested in a much higher dollar amount than the Leafs want to pay.  I’d guess he’s more interested in the type of deal Roman Josi and Slava Voynov signed with the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings (respectively).  There’s no doubting that Franson is an offensive talent, but he’s nowhere in the realm of those two.  Franson may be a $4-million a year guy if he continues to finish in the top ten in scoring for defenders (as he did in 2013).  But he’s certainly not a guy the Leafs should think to lock up for 6-7 years at that number.

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383 comments
lovemyleafers
lovemyleafers

This #1 centre garbage is the dumbest thing in the world, and I honestly will never understand it. How come you never hear a winger say 'I'm a 1st line winger only!'

Burtonboy
Burtonboy

Lol Bozak .... I played 1st line center for 2 coaches now and they both wanted me there . If there are a few fans who don't think I should then I will take what the coaches say over them any day

Black_Hawk
Black_Hawk

BOS got another one of there Key guys locked up today in bergeron. When are phil and dion getting done?

wiski
wiski

Bozie at the 24 min mark

dlb meh
dlb meh

@Burtonboy 

he's got a point.

players don't like sitting on the bench.  if the coach keeps throwing out there that's rewarding in itself.  having fans cheer for you in your 12 minutes a night i certainly a great consolation prize.

Leaf Diehard
Leaf Diehard

@Burtonboy  Was a huge mistake resigning him, can say goodbye to acquiring a true number 1centre, his salary will make him untradeable (being a 3rd line centre on any other team).

TOHockeyNut
TOHockeyNut

@Black_Hawk Nonis is proving to be a last minute guy. I'm not sure how good a strategy that is going to be. We will see.

mcloki
mcloki

@Black_Hawk next year. before trade deadline probably you'll hear about extension after Nonis and Phils AGENTS finds out what the cap is going to be. Why bargain a deal under a smaller cap?

dlb meh
dlb meh

@wiski 

awesome.  i'm going to stop doing what i'm doing to watch.  i do not want to miss hearing what our 1C has to say!

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

@dlb eh @Burtonboy I don't get it. People think getting a 1C is so easy. Just trading for Crosby.

You have the play with the cards you are dealt with. Carlyle relies on Bozak, just like Wilson relied on Grabo.

dlb meh
dlb meh

@Leaf Diehard @Burtonboy 

take off the blinders.  a few years ago we were told about needing a top line centre, and ever since there's a group of you that can think of nothing better to bitch and moan about.

Bozak being signed has fuck all to do with it.  if Nonis finds an upgrade he'll damn well make the move if it's there.

wiski
wiski

@dlb eh Picture him with the cup over his head ;)

dlb meh
dlb meh

@wiski @dlb eh 

i watch with my imagination.  some things, like when our 1C speaks, are worth focusing all 5 senses

FrycersGhost
FrycersGhost

Remember Nonis said it will take 12-24 months for "this team to do something special"?  I wish Burke had said that when he got here (ie Be patient not necessarily the time frame). 

dlb meh
dlb meh

@Greg Fenton @-Keon- 

Sundin didn't lead us to anything.  Teams win cups with other players as their main players.  Yes, we need to be strong down the middle, but that means in the checking roles and in the special teams roles and in the faceoff and in the scoring...

a centre's linemates can be just as important (Jagr, Selanne, Parise, Ovechkin, Kessel, Lupul, JVR, Clarkson) to the LINE's ability to play an important role.

we do not have to hav Toews or Crosby on the team to win.  Of course they're elite players, but that's not the only place you could use "legit" player.

Greg Fenton
Greg Fenton

@-Keon- Guys who would be a #1 center on any team. Crosby Stamkos, Malkin, Datsyuk  - Legit #1 centers. Sundin was a legit #1 center. 

As opposed to a Ribeiro or or Stepan or even Duchene at this point - players who can be a teams #1 center but aren't exactly "legit #1". 


Greg Fenton
Greg Fenton

@-Keon- Kadri may very well knock Bozak out of that spot and become the Leafs #1 center. It wouldn't surprise me at all. Will he ever be a "legit" #1 center.......

Savo43
Savo43

@KingTon @Burtonboy why does that annoy you? It should annoy him that ppl are questioning his ability to play the game when he's only improved every time he's stepped on the ice. Fuck the label of number 1, 1 person never won a cup, its a committee. He's a big part of ours, and should be respected as such. 

Greg Fenton
Greg Fenton

@Xxxxxnew So no you don't, and by all accounts Bozak will be the "top line" center, Bolland the "shut down line" center. Kadri the "scoring line" center and McClement the "energy line" center. 

Changing lines doesn't mean there is no long a scoring line and a shut down line etc.... 

Greg Fenton
Greg Fenton

@Burtonboy @KingTon But a player still shouldn't be basically saying "the fans don't know what they are talking about, I am a #1 center". 

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

I prefer watching games live than, like the one I saw in Boston, than sitting behind a keyboard reading blogs. And this is what I saw at the TD Garden, as reported by TSN

BOSTON – Joffrey Lupul had a sense of what his coach may have been up to in the pre-game warm-up, tactics that would inspire a rebound performance from the Leafs in Game 2 on Saturday evening.

“I think I did, but sometimes I never know,” said Lupul with a laugh. “You don't know until he taps you on the back.”

Randy Carlyle got creative on Saturday evening. After his team generated just 20 shots and only hints of offence in a wobbly series opening loss, Carlyle did his best to make life a tad more challenging for Bruins coach Claude Julien, efforts that paid dividends as his team evened up its best-of-seven series with a 4-2 victory, the series shifting back to Toronto for game number three on Monday night.

Carlyle's creativity and deception became apparent as soon as the puck dropped at 7:14.

The much-maligned Phil Kessel began the game alongside Lupul and Tyler Bozak, but darted off the ice after just six seconds, replaced by Matt Frattin. Kessel then tagged onto a unit with Nazem Kadri and Ryan Hamilton, James van Riemsdyk joining Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin, Leo Komarov finding his way onto a fourth line with Colton Orr and Jay McClement.

In menacing fashion the Leafs coach had, in one swoop, dumped the four line combinations displayed only minutes earlier in the pre-game warmup and thus fashioned an entirely different template, one that would throw a wrench into Julien's matchup plans. The creative strategy worked mostly to keep Kessel away from Zdeno Chara and alternately spread the Leafs attack onto three units – with Kessel, Lupul, and van Riemsdyk all on different lines. The tactics proved successful on all fronts.

Greg Fenton
Greg Fenton

@Xxxxxnew The terms for the lines - http://mapleleafshotstove.com/2012/05/24/burke-carlyle-and-the-top-six-bottom-six-model/

And the stats which pretty much this up/prove it correct. While Grabovski was the 3rd line center, he played more then Kadri did ont he 2nd line, which makes sense if he is playing against the other teams top players, who are going to play a lot (kinda how the Berg-Zezel-Osborne line was used by Burns). If this continues, Bolland will be the #2 center in terms of ice-time, but the #3 in terms of how people generally think of/build depth charts. 

http://www.nhl.com/ice/playerstats.htm?fetchKey=20132TORFAFALL&sort=avgEvenStrengthTOIPerGame&viewName=timeOnIce


Do you have one for this "no #1 or #2 line" stuff? 

Greg Fenton
Greg Fenton

@Xxxxxnew I looked this up the other day, and everything I've found about Carlyle and how he runs his lines, the 1-2 lines won't be blurred away at all. Ont he contrary he has very defined roles for each of his lines, and this is backed up almost perfectly by the forwards Even Strength Ice time this year. 

In terms of most ice-time to least, the #1 Line is the "top line", the best offensive, most skilled line (ie - Kessels line). The #2 line is the checking/defensive shut down line. Most likely Bollands unti. The #3 Line is the scoring line, the secondary offensive option (Kadri/Lupul), and the #4 line is the energy line (McClements unit). 

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

I think under Carlyle's system the No. 1 and 2 stuff will be blurred anyway. He has no problem shifting guys around to suit the opposition's tactics. Like the way Chicago splits Kane and Toews until they need to turn on the power.

Burtonboy
Burtonboy

@KingTon @Burtonboy I wouldn't want him on the team if he didn't thimk he was capable . Bozie will likely wind up in the 2 slot before long anyway.

KingTon
KingTon

@Burtonboy @KingTon oh I understand the situation but he makes it sound as if he's a true 1st line center.  Maybe I just took in the wrong way.

Burtonboy
Burtonboy

@KingTon @Burtonboy Why ...fans don't have any say in who plays where and he has been getting slammed on twitter for weeks now. Don't blame him for biting back.