Free Agent Frenzy: Day 1 Digest

Free Agent Frenzy: Day 1 Digest

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All in all, there weren’t any miracles performed that we can be over the moon about yesterday, but the hope is that there was some incremental improvements made and — perhaps more importantly — some major mistakes avoided with the type of money that was doled out to the likes of Brooks Orpik and Dave Bolland.

Stephane Robidas

We’ll start with the new acquisition I’m most excited about.

Stephane Robidas has been a warrior in Dallas. He wears the evidence on his face. Maple Leafs management felt there was a need for more leadership, character, competitiveness and experience on this team, and the way to fix it is to bring in a few players who can provide those elements along with a meaningful, positive on-ice contribution that addresses an area of need.

In Robidas, they may well have found that sweet spot in the form of a solid, experienced complement for Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner on the second pair. Robidas has been a 20-22 minute defenceman who can handle tough assignments in the past; it’s just a matter of whether or not he bounces back to form at his ripe age following his second leg break in the span of a year. That’s not an injury that shouldn’t heal up (not like he broke his leg in the same spot twice), but it’s another battle scar on an aging 5’11, 190-pound body that has played a rugged game for 15 seasons in the NHL.

Robidas isn’t a highly-skilled puck rusher and mover, but he moves efficiently, has a solid first pass, has a strong compact build, owns a hard shot, and battles like hell; if he’s still got enough left in the tank (and that’s the obvious big risk), he’s been one of the missing ingredients on this blueline we’ve yearned for the past couple of trade deadlines. He should be able to help Dion out on and off the ice, and he’ll have Randy Carlyle’s trust.

$3 million is a slight hair trim on his previous $3.3 million salary and definitely agreeable for a July 1 salary, but it’s the extra year on the term that’s concerning. Worth the risk.

Matt Frattin

Matt Frattin is an interesting reclamation project for the Maple Leafs, who know the player quite well and are likely in tune with what’s held him back from taking the next step. On the surface, the issues with his game appear to be between the ears, because there’s an impressive physical package here; he’s solidly built with a good stride, and has some puck skills to go along with a good shot.

Jerry D’Amigo represents an unfortunate loss of a capable PKer and honest-as-it-gets fourth line option, with a little bit of potential to grow into a little more. What the Leafs are thinking is that it’s a cheap venture (Frattin signed for 2-years, 800k AAV) on a player with, ostensibly, more upside.

It should be noted the Kings were through with this player rather quickly after giving him an opportunity up the lineup early on, and Columbus was looking to move him rather than give him a contract after just a couple of months there, having acquired him in the Marian Gaborik trade. It’s possible the Leafs gave up a three-years-younger homegrown foot soldier who can kill penalties and provide a little secondary scoring in exchange for a player who is just never going to put it together.

And maybe Frattin never would’ve left in the first place if he just buried the 5-1 put-away goal versus Bos– let’s not go there.

Leo Komarov

We all love Leo Komarov. Tough to play against, finishes every check, draws penalties and can kill penalties, and does it all with a “why you heff to be mad” comportment.

I think we’re all also unanimous on the contract being a little rich. At $2.95 million AAV, we’re looking at the closest cap comparables in the likes of Jamie McGinn, Joel Ward, Michael Grabner, Sean Bergenheim… There’s a certain level of expected secondary offensive output at that figure which hadn’t yet manifested itself in Komarov’s brief 48-game NHL stint. And then there’s the term; while Komarov seems like the type of guy who will go through a wall to prove he deserves the faith and the dollars invested in him, as a general rule I prefer to keep players like Komarov hungry on shorter-term deals.

Unquestionably, there’s something to be said for this Leafs team needing to — excuse the cliche – play the game the right way. The Leafs badly need a consistent cycle and energy element out of the lines in their bottom six if they’re to change the tone of their team following the stories of Leafs receiving the embarrassing label of “easiest team to play against” in the dressing rooms of their opponents last year. Faulty, passive systems that allowed for a record-number of shots were a part of that, but not the full picture. For as bad as David Clarkson was last season, he can’t be left on an island as a cycle player who wants to put in the work down low.

The right mix of players can yield scoring by-committee (as Ken Hitchcock says — play the right way and the points will come), but there obviously has to be a measure of scoring talent in there somewhere. Frattin absolutely has the capability and Komarov might based on his KHL production, but if Kulemin’s gone (not a sure bet) as well as Mason Raymond (who was a little more than a third-liner last season, but the point remains), the Leafs are going to be banking on a track record of production that simply isn’t present with these latter two like it is the former pair.

Granted, the Leafs aren’t done their summer moves, may still be looking into a few wing options and will almost definitely add a center (could Nik Kulemin still factor into this equation as a versatile option at both positions?). I’ll wait to say anything further until we have a more complete picture.

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

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