Maple Leafs Off Season: Assessing “Plan B”

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28: (L-R) Brendan Shanahan and Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs talk on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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.

Josh Gorges would be a Leaf in exchange for Cody Franson, according to Dreger as well.

Perhaps they would have signed Dan Boyle instead of Stephane Robidas, too, who Pierre Lebrun noted the Leafs were very serious about for days.

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:

 AgeHeightWeightPPG 2013-14Career PPGCF% 2013-14Career CF%
OUT
Mason Raymond286'01850.550.4944.50%51.20%
Dave Bolland286'01840.520.5144.90%50.50%
Jay McClement316'12050.120.338.80%44.50%
Nik Kulemin286'12250.290.4641.30%49%
Carl Gunnarsson276'21960.210.2839.90%45.90%
Paul Ranger296'32100.260.3342%48.80%
Tim Gleason316'02170.110.242.20%48.20%
Average28.96'1203.10.290.36741.94%48.30%
IN
Leo Komarov275'101870.210.2145.60%45.60%
Matt Frattin266'02050.160.2852.80%50.60%
Mike Santorelli286'01890.570.3450.90%50.30%
Stephane Robidas375'111900.260.2851%50.20%
Roman Polak286'02360.180.1949.70%49.30%
Average29.25'11201.40.280.2650.00%49.20%
Kept/promoted
Peter Holland236'21940.260.2543%43.40%
Troy Bodie296'52260.210.1443%45.80%
Carter Ashton236'32150.090.0643.80%44.70%
Average256'3211.70.190.1543%44.63%

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.

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
McLaren, Bolland

Vs.

Komarov – Santorelli/Kontiola/Holland – Clarkson
Ashton – Holland/Kontiola – Frattin
Bodie

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.

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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.
  • silvermaple

    Nice read, thanks Anthony. 

    Pretty much sums it up — too early to go over the moon, but cautious optimism with a wait-and-see attitude is where to live this summer.

  • http://mapleleafshotstove.com/ DeclanK

    Looks like Burkie is still wearing the Maple Leaf cufflinks.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    DeclanK I still love him.

  • BrandonCheema

    nice write up !

  • Hifi75

    Nice read. I believe that plan B is better too, I expect this team to play hungry. Not to mention that this line-up has room to grow and bring in a really good player if needed

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    I like our D adds.  So far the forwards are less than thrilling.
    Thanks for the writeup AP !!

  • vinoa

    So what’s the deal with Ranger? Didn’t he want to stay close to home? Or is the team just moving on?

  • LeafsGuru

    Good eye on that one

  • RandomScrub

    vinoa It is odd. Perhaps he feels he could play higher in the lineup but can’t be given those minutes? I would like to have him back to play on the bottom pair. He could also play on PP2 with the rocket he has.

  • Jordan29

    I wont lie, I would have loved to see Gorges here instead of Robidas, but oh well, not much of a difference really.

  • Jordan29

    If Im a betting man, I feel Holland, Franson, and Reimer are all being shopped for a good top 6 forward to play with Kadri

  • Jordan29

    Im guessing Patrick Sharp

  • N_Leafs

    Jordan29  Robidas wants to play here – that attests to how much of a man he really is. Gorges allegedly refused to come to a team that *wanted* him out of loyalty to a team that thought they have a better chance of winning *without* him. What a tool…

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Jordan29 Holland isnt going anywhere.  Management loves the potential fo this kid.  Why dont you understand that?

  • Jordan29

    TheCanucksnaphook Jordan29 Because an upgrade is an upgrade, you shall see I guess

  • BrandonCheema

    Jordan29 TheCanucksnaphook only way there trading youth is for more youth

  • RandomScrub

    @N_Leafs Jordan29 http://i.imgur.com/j466p3h.jpg

  • N_Leafs

    Leafs still better play a tough, gritty game with the occasional fight (hopefully more). I’d hate to see a team that is collectively castrated and pushed around the ice…

  • Jordan29

    BrandonCheema Jordan29 TheCanucksnaphook maybe, but you never know when your dealing with 2 players who want out

  • Jordan29

    So apparently Gardiner did not elect to go to arbitration?

  • RandomScrub

    Jordan29 Really? Mind linking me?

  • BrandonCheema

    Jordan29 BrandonCheema TheCanucksnaphook who wants out ?

  • Jordan29

    RandomScrub Jordan29 http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=456525 unless Im missing something, the dealine was an hour ago

  • Jordan29

    BrandonCheema Jordan29 TheCanucksnaphook reimer and likely franson

  • RandomScrub

    Jordan29 RandomScrub Huh, that’s always nice. Must have something basically done or Gardiner feels he’ll get good value anyways.

  • BrandonCheema

    Jordan29 BrandonCheema TheCanucksnaphook why would franson want out? he loves it here..

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Wow…what an awesome read.  Ya know, the analysis here at MLHS is 2nd to none.  Top shelf.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Bon Scott was a Leaf fan Mostly the training camp pieces?

  • Cameron19

    Jordan29 RandomScrub We may not hear about it for a while though.

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Jordan29 
    Strange, since Dreger specifically mentioned Gards and arbys yesterday.  Dreger is full of shit.

  • Jordan29

    Cameron19 Jordan29 RandomScrub thats what i was thinking

  • Cameron19

    Jordan29 I don’t think it was Gorges OR Robidas. They wanted Gorges regardless. They thought they were going to be icing:

    Gorges – Phaneuf
    Gardiner – Robidas/Boyle
    Rielly – Polak

    Which is a lot of turnover.

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Cameron19 Jordan29 RandomScrub 
    If the deadline has passed, why wouldn’t we hear about Gards filing for awhile if he in fact filed??

  • Cameron19

    We will have to hope that the offer to Bolland and the apparent interest in him was feigned in order to create the perception they were trying to keep the player.

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    TheCanucksnaphook Bon Scott was a Leaf fan 
    Anthony was ripped off for his Notebook, if I recall.

  • Cameron19

    Bon Scott was a Leaf fan Cameron19 Jordan29 RandomScrub Because I don’t think it’s something that the guys left reporting on right now are terribly in touch with. For example, they had no idea about qualifying offers, and the fact that Reimer was given his months ago.

  • Cameron19

    Bon Scott was a Leaf fan Jordan29 Almost every single RFA files for arbitration. It would be really weird if Gardiner didn’t, especially after seeing Franson get screwed last season.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Cameron19 I believe that is possible.

  • DJGLENN22

    TheCanucksnaphook…….continued from last post……….TheCanucksnaphookJR from Halifax ………Hey Phook you never been to Cape Breton Island before…..well I will tell ya buddy you will love it friendly as hell…….born and raised in Sydney Cape Breton most of my life.Moved to Ontario almost 12 years now because the wife hated the winters back home..If you ever get the chance do the Cabot Trail lots of places to camp and visit….I am telling ya you will love it.

  • Cameron19

    I think the D is pretty much set now. Just sit back and see if this group can develop into the unit we want it to be. But let’s give them a fighting chance and use all 4 forward lines and start using a system that caters to their skill-set, plus demanding a little better commitment to the back-check.

  • Jordan29

    Cameron19 Yep

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    DJGLENN22 TheCanucksnaphook JR from Halifax Thanks my man !!!  People are incredible out here….I went and got a coffee for a security guy at the course and he couldnt have been happier and thankful.

    Just gems !!

    #Bolland #PlanB  (so we dont get thrown out for being off topic)

  • Jordan29

    Bickell might be available too to play the wing, would that work? He is a massive 233, would be nice to see in our top 6 
    Lupul-Kadri-Bickell

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Jordan29 or Ritchie….nevermind

  • DJGLENN22

    TheCanucksnaphook DJGLENN22 JR from Halifax thanks for the heads up do not wanna be thrown out……lol

  • Jordan29

    TheCanucksnaphook Jordan29 I hear ritchie eats raw meat for all 3 meals a day and washes it down with gravy

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Jordan29 What a beauty !!!

  • Jordan29

    TheCanucksnaphook Jordan29 #Veganblasphemy

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Jordan29 Can you bring me some lunch to the course?  Thanks….maybe some veggie quesadilla and bananas and powerade etc.

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Cameron19 It actually is. I was as down on Leafs management as anyone, but they obviously were aware that Florida was going to offer him big money. If you take the perspective that they actually know what they’re doing (I know, hard to do), than it looks like we created a price point for a player beyond his worth and forced a division rival to pay up. 

    Also, Raymond signed in Calgary pretty quickly. I’m guessing our offer for him was 2 years 5 million or so – which is reasonable for a 20g scorer.