Crafting a winning vintage

Crafting a winning vintage

Alec conducted a terrific interview with Marlies GM and VP of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, earlier this week.  While the article that touched on several great topics, Poulin raised the comment of acquiring ‘like-aged’ players to construct a winning team.  He stressed that to build a perennial winner everything must move like clockwork, from the crease womb out.

This quote from Alec’s interview jumped out at me:

“There’s so many different variables, besides the cap going down nine percent, that go into a final product of a hockey team. The timing has to be incredibly efficient on every single front of what I just described. You have to have a like-aged team; it’s no good for us to have a player who fits in good now but isn’t going to be available in three years from now or two years from now. You’re trying to grow a group of players.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this said about the Leafs roster.  Here’s what Poulin said to me about roster construction from the 2012 Maple Leafs Annual a little over a year ago:

“If you look at the top end of the age of the team, there’s a lot of balance.  You have to grow like-age players to be successful at the NHL level. People are stunned when I tell people that Phil Kessel is still just 24.  And he’s scored 30 goals four straight seasons.  So if you look at him as the median, and that’s probably a fair point to look up and down from, you want players around that age.”

 

It may not sound earthshattering, but basing the composition of the Leafs roster on players of a similar age, much of the team’s recent strategy can be gleaned.

Taking a quick look at the Leafs roster, Poulin’s comment about using Kessel as the franchise cornerstone for player acquisition appears to hold water.  Practically everyone on the team is between the ages of 22 and 30, falling within four years of the soon-to-be 26 year old Kessel.  The only outliers are graybeards John Michael Liles and Colton Orr in their early 30s and are usually maligned much more for their marginal value to the club than their age.

That tidbit becomes important given the Leafs cap crunch.  I can’t say for certain what the future holds for either player, but by the numbers they do appear to be the most expendable. It could mean that Orr, with his cap-friendly if debatable contract, could end up in the minors to make space for Carter Ashton or Jerry D’Amigo.  Both are closer in age to Kessel and should warrant a look on the fourth line this season.  It could also mean that Liles, could be bought out for being a relic from the previous regime with decreasing value.  It could be done to ensure that Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri can get re-signed and this team can retain some of its offensive dynamism.

It’s not without precedent.  Last season, Dave Nonis moved or demoted David Steckel, Mike Komisarek, Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly to make room for younger players closer to Kessel’s age range.  Kadri, Leo Komarov, Matt Frattin, Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and Mike Kostka all got to see ice time (for better or worse) in 2013 because of Nonis’ efforts to move old dead weight.  It’s looked at as a youth movement, but it was certainly a ‘like-age’ movement.  And it did help make the Leafs a playoff team last season.

But the age-specific roster also serves to explain some of Dave Nonis’ acquisitions in the past couple of months.  All of David Bolland, Jonathan Bernier and David Clarkson are of an age with Kessel, and have a lot of recent Cup Finals experience to varying degrees.  Bolland is 27 and twice a cup winner, having scored the series clincher for the Hawks just two months back.  In Clarkson, the Leafs are paying a premium in term to get a tough, former 30-goal scorer in the short term.  He’s someone with Cup experience that actually wanted to play here.  Bernier has more dubious honours as a Cup-winning backup, but he provides the Leafs with a highly regarded if contentious tandem in nets.  He also comes with a ceiling as high as any goaltender the Leafs have had… since James Reimer.

What the Leafs gave up to get them? It could be costly – but even if it is – it won’t be immediately costly anywhere outside of the salary cap.  In giving up Frattin, Scrivens, two second round picks and two fourth round picks, the Leafs either gave up on like-aged talent with minimal championship pedigree or distant futures.

Now, there’s nothing to say that Frattin won’t become a 20-goal scorer, or that the picks given up won’t become meaningful NHLers four years down the road.  But they won’t be meaningful contributors to the Leafs in the present, and that’s probably why they were shipped out.

In growing this like-aged team centred on Phil Kessel, the Leafs have indicated that they’re looking to win now.  The Leafs brass are hoping to develop into a Stanley Cup contender.  But MLSE sees their ‘cup window’ as about to open, with Kessel near or at his peak of ability right now.  The team has a mandate to ‘grow’ a winner, and have tried to do just that with an infusion of prime or near-prime talent with a winning pedigree to do it.

We’ll soon learn if an infusion of past success begets success.  But make no mistake: Nonis and Co. are banking on it.

LINKS:

An Inside Look at the Leafs’ Approach to Advanced Stats:
Pension Plan Puppets spoke with Chid Finds, who does all manner of statistical analysis for the Leafs.  Turns out that the team tracks scoring chances, who shows up first to practice AND wins.

Dave Bolland brings Stanley Cup to Mimico
Turned out this was a pretty big deal, because…

Leafs Twitter Says Dumb Thing
Jeffler won’t let the Leafs twitter off the hook, and good on him.

Can the Leafs afford a lame duck Kessel this coming season?
Looks like we’ll find out.

Do these Leafs look better than the old Leafs?
Ryan Fancey asks the million dollar question.

Why you don’t want your team’s goaltender to play in the Olympics
Turns out that that Reimer snub could be a good thing.

Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike

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270 comments
Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

Yesterday at the Bayfield Street beerstore....

You know you're getting old when you order 2 28's and the young girl asks;

" sir,would you like help with that" ?

Wasn't quick enough on my feet.. :(

"Drinking it?... sure ! "

LeafsGuru
LeafsGuru

Hears a question for you, if Seattle get's a NHL team will that increase the cap for every team as it will create more revenue for the NHL? if it does the payroll will change in 3 yrs dramatically

B_Leaf
B_Leaf

I would not be opposed to signing Phaneuf for five more years at $6M per. I don't think I would be prepared to go a cent higher or any longer in term. I support Phaneuf and see his value but he is not elite. I would be comfortable walking away if he wanted anymore. My guess is that he would work with that. With the new cap that is really like a raise.

With Kessel I would go 6-8 years on term because he is younger and his style etc. However in the new cap I think we have to be really careful with the dollars we give. Kessel has improved as a player and he is likely to perform well in that contract. But what is Kessels value to helping us win the cup? To me that is a tough call...I mean he does not have the value of a guy like Toews...but IMO he is getting more valuable each year. I actually think Kessel is about a $6M a year player on a 7 or 8 year term. I don't think we should go above that.

mlclearwater
mlclearwater

Armstrong signed is Sweden, WTF happened to that crooked nose piece of shit

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

Sport writer Dave Perkins is retiring from the Toronto Star. A very good journalist. Sadly, The Star is going downhill with its newer generation of writers...who I will not honour with any names.

mlclearwater
mlclearwater


Been watching the game in 6's too


I agree with Keon that Franson looks lost in his own end sometimes, specifically when players take him on wide. I like him but he got sheltered minutes. Offensively great, defensively hopefully improving.
Grabovski, god bless his soul, was a give away machine last year, played his butt off yes, but he made more bad plays then good ones.
Reimer's puck handling skills are embarrassing, really, yelled at my tv a lot over it, I like him too just saying

mlclearwater
mlclearwater

First thing I thought when I saw J-Bo's new contract was "excellent, could bring down Phaneuf's asking price" Different players I know but still comparable

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@wiski 

Gotta pack/split...always fun gang

Have a great Long weekend everyone..and if you are near Bluewater Beach..look for the white cat/stop by

Ask for Otis

ingy56
ingy56

@Uncle Otis Got a senior's discount at Shoppers Drugmart the other day without asking. After first being indignant, I then realized I save 12 dollars..bought my lunch LOL.

ingy56
ingy56

@mr_hanie You said the magic word there Mr. Hanie ...journalist. No idea what to call some of the hacks out there now, none of them are for mixed company. 

MaxwellHowe
MaxwellHowe

@mlclearwater Significance of goaltender puck handing skills, and confidence in same, is understated.  Goalies who are not confident will leave dmen in toight spots, or cause faceoffs in the defensive zone that could be avoided.  Anyone recall the game the Leafs lost against the Sens later last season (I think it was the Sens).  Late goal by Greening I think.  Anyway, Scrivens, who is also a poor puck handler, froze the puck with less than a minute remaining when there was virtually no pressure on him.  He was that uncomfortable handling the puck. Sens got the puck after the ensuing faceoff and scored the winning goal.

ingy56
ingy56

@rustynail What a skater he was, Michael compares him to Jake Gardiner and the comparison fits IMO. 

Burtonboy
Burtonboy

@wiski Retweeted by Leo eh .Seems the guy is having some trouble cutting ties with the Leafs 

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@ingy56 

$12?..that's a days worth of groceries for us older cats ;)

(excluding bevies)

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@wendelsway1 

In retrospect,it may have been for the best..may have come with a slap

I'll get enough of those watching the bikinis stroll by on the beach this weekend.

Who says looking's free? ;)

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@wendelsway1 

You betcha...the best lines always are 10 seconds late

She had me boondoggled me at "sir" :)

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

@ingy56 @mr_hanie Sports journalism is a dying craft...especially in Toronto....maybe small towns still have professional writers.

GreekLeafer
GreekLeafer

@MaxwellHowe @mlclearwater The Sens game was a mid-February game. I was there sadly. Chose not to see the 2 other games because I feel like I have bad luck. Turns out my luck was only bad because I've only seen Reimer live once, and the rest of the times have been Gus, Jiggy, or Scrivens.

NotInsane
NotInsane

@MaxwellHowe @mlclearwater 

If memory serves, Scrivens mishandled the shot on the winning goal, too.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Bernier canbring to the table this year.  Also to see if Reimer can shore up his rebound control.

mlclearwater
mlclearwater

@MaxwellHowe @mlclearwater Ya Scrivens fell down a lot to when he left his net. Reimer is a good goalie but didnt do the team any favors with his puck handlin skills

ingy56
ingy56

@DeclanK @mlclearwater I just remember Peca's statement that they looked forward to playing against Jay-Bo, still haven't heard anyone say that about Phaneuf.

mlclearwater
mlclearwater

@DeclanK @mlclearwater Fair. Those stats support my comparable statement though. Phaneuf has better goals and +/- but J-Bo more games and minutes, and played for the Panthers. 

wendelsway1
wendelsway1

@rustynail @Pent_House Agreed.....personally I don't like the site and won't give them the hits, but plenty of people do.  To each their own.....live and let live  :)

NotInsane
NotInsane

@Burtonboy @wiski 

I'm glad his time with the Leafs rubbed off on him.  Perhaps there were personal reasons that forced him to return to the K.

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@wendelsway1 

I wouldn't dare lol

...tipping the sunglasses,rubber neck, long stares, and chin drizzle is usually all I need ;)

ingy56
ingy56

@mr_hanie @ingy56 Just look right here sir, lots of good writing going on. The mainstream guys just can't adjust to the fact that their voice isn't the only one. 

toleafs
toleafs

I agree with that statement, I coach hockey and baseball and my goalie plays 1st base for me, he has developed an amazing glove hand!

wendelsway1
wendelsway1

@mlclearwater @MaxwellHowe IMO...Reimer was very good for us last season.  Yes, he has weaknesses.....but he's young and still learning the game.  I like his compete level and his mental make-up.  I'm hoping Bernier will play well for us and we will end up with a very good 1a/1b tandem. :)

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

@mlclearwater @DeclanK +/- isn't a stat that is considered for contracts and arbitration (not that he's going to abs).

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@wiski 

glub glub...hope those pocket protectors are buoyant :)