Dave Bolland, The Leafs Rebuild & Succession Plans

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VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 2: Dave Bolland #63 of the Toronto Maple Leafs is helped off the ice by teammates after he was injured during the NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on November 2, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 4-0. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Having gone through a long and painful rebuild, the Toronto Maple Leafs now find themselves right smack in the middle of a critical time in their development as an organization. 

With legitimate core pieces finally in place, it’s up to management now to make the proper decisions to take this team from a middling group capable of making the playoffs annually to a powerhouse perennial contender.

With that in mind, is locking up Dave Bolland the right move for this organization?

Long Term Contracts and Contention

Consider this: The Leafs have five forwards already signed to big money deals until at least 2017-2018. The only other team that can claim the same is the Philadelphia Flyers. Not exactly flattering company.

Are the Leafs going to take the lead and make it six by adding Dave Bolland?

That would require the Leafs signing Bolland to at least a four year deal, which would pretty well set up their roster for keeping the Bozak line intact, Lupul on second line left wing, Bolland as the third center, and Clarkson on either the right side of line two or line three.

But as was the case when the Leafs locked up Dion Phaneuf, I’ll warn again that the Leafs could be locking up a middling core  and need to be extremely careful with how they are approaching their hockey team.

Traditionally, teams have at least won some playoff series before looking up a core for a very long time, but the Leafs are locking up a core that hasn’t won anything while some of their most important young players are still on cheap deals. The Crawford and Bickell contracts, for example, are pretty ugly, but at least they won a Cup with those two in place and can argue that they’re simply trying to keep the band together. The Leafs are in no position to claim such things.

When a team hasn’t had that level of success, it has to constantly be planning for the future as much as it plans for the present. This summer Jake Gardiner and James Reimer need new deals. In a year from now, both Kadri and Bernier will be RFAs again, only with more power this time. With the exception of maybe Reimer, does anyone think any of them will come cheap? Even if the Leafs follow through with trading a Gardiner or Kadri, their replacements won’t be cheap either unless the Leafs give them away for kids and picks (and how counterproductive would that be?). This isn’t time to say, “I’m not worried about [year] six or seven right now [of a player’s contract]. I’m worried about one.” The Leafs aren’t good enough to justify that kind of move and line of thinking just yet.

Fans can make jokes about Pat Quinn for going out and giving up futures to acquire a veteran like Owen Nolan all they want, but he was going for it at the time and it was the right time to do so. Obviously it didn’t work, but at that point in time for the Leafs it made sense to go all in. This edition of the Leafs isn’t ready for that yet.

What good teams do is identify their core, run with it, and fill in the gaps as need be each year.

Teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston run with their elite players and cycle in good fillers. Pittsburgh has gone through support pieces like Guerin, Hossa and Iginla. Chicago develops young talent, promotes them and pushes out veterans in the way when they’re ready. They’ve done it by drafting and developing players like Kruger, Saad and Shaw, while picking up young guys on the cheap like Frolik, Ladd, and Stalberg.

Meanwhile, Boston have taken on a ton of veterans throughout Chiarelli’s tenure; players such as Ryder, Recchi, Rolston, Corvo, Morris, and Iginla. All those teams kept their core pieces and just rotated the supporting cast when need be. These are the easiest moves to make when a GM has built up his core properly. Good players are available every trade deadline to bolster a roster and fill in the holes the youth proved they couldn’t throughout the first half of the season.

The Leafs biggest problem used to be that they didn’t have pretty well any good NHLers (that’s how Joey Crabb ends up playing on a line with Phil Kessel for a long time). Now, the problem might be that they have just enough good players to start overvaluing what they have instead of keeping the bigger picture in mind.

 

The Progression Plan

Bolland is a good player, but solid third line centers are available every single trade deadline. This deadline David Legwand and Marcel Goc are available to be acquired, while a good young third line center in Shawn Matthias has been rumoured to be available all year. Matthias has one more year on his deal, so if he doesn’t get moved soon he’ll probably be available again next year and join potential 2015 pending UFAs on the market like Fisher, Vermette, Cullen, and Horcoff.

Beyond that, the Leafs have a good young center that needs ice time in Peter Holland and he isn’t going to develop on the fourth line playing 8-10 minutes a night.

It’s one thing to lock up a bunch of veterans and bring up young players through the bottom lines until they are ready to take on more responsibility (Chicago does this better than anyone), but the Leafs have 1) Not shown any inclination that they want to do anything with their fourth line other than play them sparingly and not really care if they can handle a regular shift if need be, and 2) Have openly discussed how the NHL is about winning and not developing players.

That’s why we don’t really know what the Leafs have in once-promising prospects, who are turning 23 this year and up for new contracts, in Carter Ashton and Jerry D’Amigo. If Bolland is locked up, Holland might end up being grouped in the same category. Could he play wing in the top nine? Probably, but he’s not a winger. The organization is much better served if Holland cashes in on his potential of being a strong two-way center. And if he ultimately doesn’t, it’s easy to find a solid third line center just like that. Heck, they picked up Bolland himself for a few picks.

If the Leafs decided to play their fourth line regularly with some skill on it, centered by Holland, bringing back Bolland for reasonable money won’t be a bad move at all provided he is fully healthy again. But that requires a seemingly radical philosophy change, and how does that saying go? Can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

The plan for this management team has to be to develop kids to properly fill out the roster, so they can be competitive in all facets of the game. That becomes a lot more difficult when they have six (assuming they lock up Bolland) veterans signed to big deals, don’t play a fourth line, and have to find ice time for Kadri along with Holland as well.

There has to be a progression plan in place, and that begins with placing prospects into positions to improve, supporting them through mistakes (which, to their credit, has begun to happen with Rielly, Gardiner and Kadri lately), and developing them in good environments.

When the Wings were struggling with all their young players this season, Mike Babcock came out and said, “We need to do a better job of insulating our younger players and provide better leadership.” The Wings don’t have all the answers in hockey, but they’re getting better results from their kids now and climbing up the standings. Conversely, the Leafs have pitted their kids against each other and made it a “one or the other” type thing. Kadri was called out and told Holland could take his ice time; it also seems like it’s either one of Ashton or D’Amigo, but never both, even though Ashton has played RW in the AHL. Not to mention it was Rielly or Gardiner for a little while in Leafs land. Of course, Reimer or Bernier is a whole story in and of itself, too.

The grand plan can’t be just to trade Reimer and hope Rielly becomes a star while the cap goes up. The Leafs are now on their second straight year of getting elite goaltending on the cheap and that isn’t going to last much longer. They have to start planning for it and managing the cap better than they have been. It hasn’t cost them yet, but when they’re paying someone like Clarkson big money, and now considering Bolland for a long term contract when they have capable kids in the system not even getting ice time, it’s going to catch up to them eventually.

And this all circles back to whether or not they should sign Bolland. Is he going to sign a reasonably priced deal for two years? If so, it makes sense to sign him, but they need to rethink their lineup philosophies if they do agree to bring him back. If he wants a long-term deal? They probably need to pass altogether. This is without even taking into consideration the player, what he might cost, and his injury. Bolland has a history of being disinterested in games throughout the grind of the year. How do you think playing with a specialized boot and weird foot situation will compound that? Don’t let 15 games to start the year dominate the judgment on this player. We haven’t seen the night-in, night-out Bolland, only the good one. He’s also an okay skater, but has never been confused with a speedster; is he slower now?

The Leafs have accumulated a number of good players and have a reasonably strong core hitting its prime (at least on offense; really only looking at JVR, Kessel and Kadri up front), but how they fill out the roster is what will make or break them. To compound things, the East is right there for the taking. It’s a mediocre Conference. A few good moves could catapult them up to the top. A few bad ones could drop them to mediocrity and have them looking to Kessel to carry them every night. To a degree, we can already see how signing Clarkson to that big money deal might corner them in. They’ve dropped him to the third line and desperately searched for a fit since he’s gotten here. We don’t know yet, but that signing might end up costing them Kulemin. The point is that they can’t just keep adding more veterans to this team on long-term deals and blocking out more kids from sticking on the roster in the process. Either play an actual fourth line, or give Holland the 3C spot next season.

With some smart management, this can be the time the Leafs take the next step as an organization and really start becoming contenders to win the East. Conversely, they could sink into that dreaded middle-of-the-conference pack, fighting for a playoff spot every single year, sometimes making it and sometimes not. It’s up to Nonis now.

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Anthony Petrielli has been at MLHS since 2011. He is known for his weekly "Leafs Notebook" feature, and also writes specific analysis pieces. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli.
  • MLHS_Mike

    APetrielli leafs should keep Kulemin, let Bolland walk. Make Holland the 3C, see how it shakes out with Kadri and bozak

  • mlclearwater

    Great article. Here’s a little diddy for any of you draft fanatics, not a bad read either:

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1936821-2014-nhl-draft-5-perfect-fits-for-toronto-maple-leafs

  • cyf8

    MLHS_Mike APetrielli wait for a Stamkos…

  • APetrielli

    MLHS_Mike Might be able to keep both if they get Bolland cheap due to injury+Kulie’s valued as a L3er by NHL. But have to develop Holland.

  • lieffan

    mlclearwater  “A good read here”

    Sends a 10 part Bleacher Report slideshow, GTFO

  • mlclearwater

    @lieffan mlclearwater  hey bud go choke on a dick, just sharing info.

  • vinoa

    mlclearwater  Love that you started with “hey bud”

  • MLHS_Mike

    APetrielli I still see Kuli getting offered 4×4 somewhere else. If ever used in an offensive role again he’d be a 20-goal guy.

  • mlclearwater

    vinoa mlclearwater  thanks man

  • APetrielli

    MLHS_Mike The reality is, he wont with his current point totals and pace.

  • vinoa

    Awesome work as always. Love that you guys write write without bias and agenda unlike the MSM. I’ve learned more about the sport and league from MLHS than all the years of watching these hacks on TV.

  • GoalerOKeeper

    APetrielli MLHS_Mike agreed other GMs have a history of a “if he could do that his old team would of had him doing it” mentality

  • vinoa

    mlclearwater That’s the Canadian way of telling someone to f off lol

  • mlclearwater

    I think we will sign Bolland. We will have to worry about signing the young great players when they become great. We can leave a spot open for Holland, he has to take one. We are in a tricky spot for sure but cant let assets like Bolland walk for free either. Lots for Nonis and Co to think about, a huge summer for sure

  • mlclearwater

    vinoa mlclearwater  absofuckinglutely it is

  • Anthony Petrielli

    mlclearwater  If Bolland wants a lot of money they could test the market or just keep him for the playoffs and see how it plays out. I think either/or is fine.

  • Marlies Man

    vinoa mlclearwater lol used frequently by Ric Nattress on the Leafs after show on radio. BTW, is RN really Milan Lucic? h
    http://ourhistory.canadiens.com/media/5f50ed4ed2c159a1/small/Nattress_Ric.jpg

  • mlclearwater

    Anthony Petrielli mlclearwater  Yes, i dont think we sign him at all costs but id be fine at or below 4.5. It is a lot but we dont have a de facto number one guy and if it doesnt look like he will resign Nonis has to trade him no imo. I would find it strange that he would acquire him for a 1 yr rental, seems like he has longer plans for him

  • vinoa

    Hopefully Kuli has a great Olympic break and someone wants to over pay for him. Much as I love Kulemin’s hustle and 2-way play we have to decide on a long term core and we already have Kessel, Ph9, and Clarkson signed for a while. Kadri, Rielly, and Bernier will be looking for $$ soon and Kuli seems like the odd man out.

  • vinoa

    Marlies Man vinoa mlclearwater  LOL! Definitely a resemblace. My favourites are Reims and the Shermanator/ RNH and Butthead (or Beavis..1 of those 2)

  • Anthony Petrielli

    mlclearwater Anthony Petrielli  Things change. They have Holland now. Really just depends on Bolland’s number- I wouldn’t give him that much ($4.5M)

  • Alec Brownscombe

    mlclearwater  Bleacher Report does suck though.

  • Marlies Man

    Alec Brownscombe mlclearwater Big time. I never click a link to it.

  • Mind Bomb

    @APetrielli MLHS_Mike  Hi Anthony, some team will offer him 4 x 4 in UFA, its only here that Kulie is shit on lol

  • Shift_Disturber1

    https://twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenzie

    https://twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenzie/status/431880961559506944

    We have a trade to announce:

  • Shift_Disturber1

    https://twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenzie

    https://twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenzie/status/431881034343268352

    BOS trades Carter Camper to CBJ for Blake Parlett.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Mind Bomb MLHS_Mike  I love Kulie but he’s on pace for 25 points. Last full season he played 70 games and put up 28 points. That’s going to get him 4M x 4 years??

  • Mark

    Amazing piece.
    I love Bolland so it’s tough to separate myself from that. Always have loved him. I think we all love Bolland.
    But there is a lot of logic to your warnings about going and locking up Bolland to too much money and term as they have Clarkson. They’re on the “marginal core” side of the equation.

  • Xxxxxnew

    @SportsnetSpec: They never gave him a chance (kidding) RT @Bob_Stauffer: Sabres place Linus Omark on waivers. There goes the (conditional) 6th round pick!

  • peterbleafs

    If we waant a cup run, we need the likes of a Bolland…we need him till we go deep into the playoffs and others learn to lead to victory.

  • vinoa

    Shift_Disturber1  It took him 2 tweets for that? Does Bob know Twitter’s got a longer character limit.

  • Marlies Man

    vinoa Shift_Disturber1 He likes suspense.

  • darthNihilus

    Shift_Disturber1  Franson to Pittsburgh for Crosby (with Letang’s stroke and all)

  • Xxxxxnew

    @SportsnetSpec: Throw L.Omark on Oilers pile marked “Loved by Bloggers”.
    Alongside, R.Nilsson, R.Schremp, T.Gilbert, G.Brule, T.Hartikainen

  • vinoa

    peterbleafs  In case we need a timely goal in game 6? Bolland’s great but how much are intangibles like that really worth?

  • Shift_Disturber1

    Anthony Petrielli mlclearwater I like Bolland but I don’t see them giving him that kind of bump. I’d  be wary of anything over 4 and like you mentioned term is possibly a concern. 

    Like you mentioned in the article, we definitely need to have our cap stepped properly going  forward or it’s going to bite hard and likely at the worst time.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    @Mark  I’m a huge Bolland fan. All the cap stuff aside, I’m really worried about his injury.

  • peterbleafs

    vinoa peterbleafsIntangibles are worth everything in sport.  Thats what gets wins.

  • Shift_Disturber1

    vinoa Shift_Disturber1  I think he was messing with everyone a little

  • SportsFan_96

    LeafsNews Wow!, great article!

  • darthNihilus

    peterbleafs vinoa  stats say there is no such thing (or trying, or hockey IQ, heart, etc)

  • vinoa

    Shift_Disturber1 He knew ever Leaf fan was waiting for the JT for Smithson blockbuster 😉

  • peterbleafs

    darthNihilus peterbleafsvinoaSo far I have ignored every stats related comment from everyone on this site and will continue to do so lol

  • Burtonboy

    Not sure what everyone else sees but IMO the Leafs have always been building towards a top 9 bottom 3 model .

  • Anthony Petrielli

    peterbleafs  If the point is he’s here to teach but ultimately not here when they are champions, I’d rather players just learn by trial and error. TML can pick up legit vets for that teaching stuff whenever they want, anyway.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Burtonboy  I call it a “top 9 and fuck the bottom 3″ model

  • drummond

    I believe it would be wise to let Bolland play and decide on signing him after that. Signing him (especially long term) before his return on ice is way too risky.

  • Mind Bomb

    Anthony Petrielli Mind Bomb MLHS_Mike  IT got Connoly that :) 

    But thats playing 3rd line minutes, against top lines Anthony, Kulie can fill a 2nd line role kill penalties and has a hell of a shot. The biggest thing he has going for him is he is a Winger with size that can skate with and play with elite players, He has good hockey sense and can forecheck, a great compliment

     Its not his fault the leafs are mis-using him, he is naturally a Center :)

    Seriously though you are paying kulie for more than Goal scoring, we could have Semin for more :)

  • Burtonboy

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy  It is right now for sure lol

  • drummond

    Burtonboy I like top 12 model