Based on what we have been told, we would be looking at a notably different roster if the Toronto Maple Leafs’ plan A this summer had come to fruition.
Dave Bolland would still be a Leaf, making $4.75M/year for five years, according to Darren Dreger.
Dreger "the Leafs best offer for Bolland was $4.75. He made a business decision and that's his right"
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) July 2, 2014
Josh Gorges would be a Leaf in exchange for Cody Franson, according to Dreger as well.
Dreger "everyone is assuming that the player who would have gone to Mon for Gorges was a F, it wasn't. It was Franson. I know that 100%"
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) July 2, 2014
Perhaps they would have signed Dan Boyle instead of Stephane Robidas, too, who Pierre Lebrun noted the Leafs were very serious about for days.
Leafs and Rangers among several teams interested in UFA Dan Boyle. Toronto's interest said to be “serious.''
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 25, 2014
From the outside, it appears the Leafs desired a defense of:
Gorges – Phaneuf
Gardiner – Boyle/Robidas
Rielly – Polak
Dave Bolland certainly would have been a Leaf if they got their way. Brendan Shannahan was consistently firm about his desire to retain Bolland, and we all know how the incumbent staff felt about him. It is probably safe to assume that Mike Santorelli would not have become a Leaf if he had been retained. Komarov was very much a priority regardless, and there is no reason to think the Frattin deal doesn’t happen; same goes with the Petri Kontiola and Troy Bodie signings. Between the Gorges trade, Bolland and one of Robidas/Boyle, all of those moves would pretty well have eaten up the Leafs‘ cap space barring an additional major trade.
In a Capgeek mock-up here, we can see the Leafs would be right up against the cap without James Reimer signed. And this does not take into account the fact that the team was negotiating with Mason Raymond right until free agency began, which presumably could have meant less depth guys, and more money spent just on Raymond.
The make-up of the team now is still very similar to the original outlined plan and last year’s team; the difference is Bolland would have been on a five year deal making a lot more money than Mike Santorelli’s one year, $1.5M contract, and what happens on defense remains to be seen, although Robidas and Polak are in the fold. So, it appears for now Cody Franson is on the outs provided the Leafs find the right trading partner.
Plan B: New-look bottom six, restructured defence
Before the draft and free agency, I discussed the Leafs lack of depth and determined they almost certainly had the worst bottom six in the league last season. To this point, the management staff has been attempting to address that and pick off the “low hanging fruit” that I discussed frequently.
This chart shows the changes:
What this shows is that the Leafs downgraded on some established scoring, but added a lot more cycling and board play, so they hope. Bolland and Raymond have strong career percentages, but Bolland is coming off an injury that will surely affect him for the rest of his career, and Raymond’s averages are inflated by a few strong years playing with elite players in Vancouver; plus, he has not been exactly the same player since a big injury, either.
Komarov is replacing Kulemin’s role for over $1M less. He isn’t as big, or as heavy, or as established of a scorer, but he brings a lot of the same board play Kulemin does, is sound defensively, can kill penalties, and draw power plays. How these two score moving forward is anyone’s guess, though. Komarov produced 9 points in his only 42 NHL games, which was almost on par with the 20 in 70 Kulemin put up last season. Kulemin figures to score more in an offensive role, yet so does Komarov the more he plays in the NHL, as he has a track record of at least decent numbers playing pro hockey in Russia.
Otherwise, many of the exchanges made appear to be reasonable upgrades. Stephane Robidas is coming off an injury-plagued season, but there is no question that a healthy Robidas is a better player than Carl Gunnarsson. The same can be said of Roman Polak in comparison to Tim Gleason. Polak might have some inflated numbers of late because of how good St. Louis is, but they have only recently become a strong team and his career numbers have been steady across the board; at 28, he isn’t exactly at the age where we expect players to fall off a cliff, either. It is curious, though, that the team appears to not be bringing back Paul Ranger. Last summer, Nonis talked about him as a potential top 4 candidate, and while he understandably struggled to start the year, he started to turn the corner in the second half of the season and we have to figure that a full season of hockey under his belt would lead to a much smoother season in the second go around.
Mike Santorelli appears to be the big wildcard. He has washed out of a few programs now, but has strung together a few very solid campaigns. The Canucks offered him a one year deal to return and — despite being from Vancouver and having some success from there — he chose the Leafs. I suspect that is because he will have a better opportunity to play up the line-up in Toronto, where the second line right wing spot is wide open because Kadri and Clarkson mixed like water and oil last season.
The new additions are smaller and lighter on average than the players leaving, but when we add in the players that are sure to come from within through the Marlies, the team actually gets a little bigger and heavier. Beyond that, though, they added a lot more versatility and moving parts. Santorelli, Komarov and Kontiola (if he turns out to be NHL calibre) can all play center and wing. While Ashton, Frattin and Bodie can each play both wings, plus Holland adds another C. Last season, the Leafs had trouble making solid lines once injuries hit because they didn’t have many players that could move up the line-up or multi-position players. Lupul was forced to switch over to his right side where he was uncomfortable in order to accommodate Raymond, while players like Colton Orr couldn’t move up the line-up and McClement did but couldn’t handle it.
Brendan Shanahan has said teams can’t be built through free agency, and the basement hunting they have been doing follows along those lines, even if we consider the Bolland and Raymond pursuits, as those would have been re-signings. So far, he is sticking to his word by backfilling the roster more than anything.
All indications are that the fighters are done and the Leafs are gearing up to roll four lines. The Bodie signing all but points to a shift in player approach.
FWIW I met Shanahan last month and asked him if he thought there was still a place for fighting in hockey. He said no, which is encouraging.
— Danny Dubas (@dannyd1976) April 11, 2014
McLaren finished last season on the Marlies while Orr was healthy scratched with frequency in the second half of the season. Provided Ashton and Holland are retained, the Leafs would have 13 forwards signed not including Orr and McLaren. The writing is on the wall. When Loiselle was asked about McLaren and Orr playing regularly on the radio last week, he completely avoided the question and started talking about speed and forechecking.
Going into the summer, the Leafs had three primary problems: a weak bottom six, a weak center group, and a need to reshuffle the defense.
So far, the management has attempted to reshuffle the defense by adding a solid top 4 guy and a reasonable third pairing player, both of whom are right handed players. They’ve added a lot of pieces to the bottom six to remake the lower portion of the forward group. While time will tell if it is ultimately a better group, on paper it certainly is:
Kulemin – McClement – Clarkson
Bodie – Holland/Smith/Smithson – Orr
Komarov – Santorelli/Kontiola/Holland – Clarkson
Ashton – Holland/Kontiola – Frattin
Where Things Stand
The center position is still a sore spot. At the top of their line-up especially, they still lack a horse down the middle who can go up against the other team’s best line successfully. Swapping out McClement and Bolland for Holland and Santorelli (or Kontiola) is a downgrade on name value but consider that the two centers who played the most last year in the bottom six for the team were McClement and Holland, followed by Trevor Smith. A year of growth for Holland –he really had an excellent playoff in the AHL—and bringing in Santorelli is an upgrade, on paper.
The roster is not where it needs to be to compete against the best, but Rome was not built in a day. The defense is gambling on the health of Robidas and Gardiner plus Rielly continuing to grow and play good hockey versus taking a step back. Plus, they have a trade chip to cash-in on in Cody Franson. But this is a defense that ran Carl Gunnarsson on its top pairing all year and now will be running at least two better options (Gardiner, Robidas) and possibly three (Rielly, but we’ll see how his sophomore year goes) alongside Phaneuf. Meanwhile, Polak hopes to be an upgrade on some of the players they trotted out on the bottom portion of the Leafs defense.
Up front, the Leafs will be adding in a few more kids and hoping they develop. They need to get contributions from players like Holland, Ashton and Frattin, and they need at least one of their gambles to payoff whether that is Santorelli or Kontiola, or even Komarov to a degree, by taking a step upward in production. This is to say nothing of Clarkson hopefully bouncing back and contributing.
Many of the same problems still exist that were present all throughout the season, but clear issues are attempting to be patched up with value signings. Even though a big name center has not been brought in, they drafted William Nylander and another year of development for Kadri, Holland, and even Gauthier could have them where they need to be at that position sooner rather than later.
That is a step up on last summer, when they went out and spent heavy money on a winger and traded assets to bring in a goalie, which were their two strongest positions. Maybe they spent the way they did this time because Plan A failed, but plan B appears to have worked out just fine and perhaps better than plan A would have. Cap space is an asset that cannot be taken lightly – consider the Leafs tried to get Vanek at the deadline last season and couldn’t get it done. They ended up doing nothing at the deadline while the Habs made numerous moves with their cap space that helped push them to the Eastern Conference Final.
This is not a banner summer, but it appears to this eye that they are at least pushing the needle forward this time around. Now, we wait to see what happens with James Reimer and Cody Franson.