10 Midsummer Thoughts on the Maple Leafs

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Peter Horachek
Photo: NHLI.com

Rosters are not set in stone yet, but the dust is starting to clear on the summer moves and we are starting to get a picture of what next season’s NHL landscape will look like. For the Toronto Maple Leafs specifically, we still need to find out the fates of James Reimer and Cody Franson — beyond that, here are some thoughts on what has transpired thus far:

1 – One quietly interesting note and a bit of a strange trend this summer has been depth NHLers getting long-term deals. A few questionable players who got three year deals include: Joe Vitale, Deryk Engelland, Tanner Glass, Derek MacKenzie, Cody McCormick and Nick Holden. To say nothing of more questionable players getting at least two year deals. By that token, the Leafs did well to get similar-to-better players under contract on one year deals. The Leafs signed four players to one-year deals: Mike Santorelli, Troy Bodie, Trevor Smith and Petri Kontiola, as well as a two year deal to Matt Frattin which they can demote without cap penalty. The really big, bad deals get a lot of attention — and rightfully so (Orpik, Bolland, etc.) — but a lot of teams strangely locked in with term players who are borderline NHLers. The Leafs, generally speaking, did not.

2 – But, and there is always a but, they did do so with Leo Komarov with a surprising four-year deal. Komarov can draw powerplays, kill penalties, play on a two-way line, forecheck, drive the net, and all of that opens up space that helps him drive play forward; by no means is he a bad player. That said, he will have to score in a tier above the 15-20 point range he was in in his first season in Toronto (9 points in 42 games). It was his rookie season and it wasn’t an 82 game season, so to draw conclusions based on that small of a showing of his play would be foolish. He also did not play much with the Marlies to get much of a gauge there (9 points in 14 games). In the KHL, Komarov was tied for the team lead in scoring in 2013-2014 and he was a combined .51PPG player in his past two seasons over there. He is only 27 years old, so he’s signed in an age range where he should have solid numbers. He needs to get between 12-15 goals and/or push for 30 points to earn that money, which is not a farfetched gamble. His history and age does not make that out of the question. Plus, of course, he is a good player who makes the team better.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 10  -  Toronto Maple Leafs Leo Komarov celebrates  after Tyler Bozak scores a shorthanded goal   as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the  Boston Bruins in game 5 of their first round NHL Stanley Cup playoffs series at TD Garden in Boston,  May 10, 2013.
Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

3 – When Brian Burke acquired Phil Kessel and promptly gave him a 5-year, $27M contract, he paid up quickly and ultimately was ahead of the curve as the production Kessel provided the Leafs was above the value he signed for (30+ goals every year). There was some doubt when it came time to re-up Kessel’s deal and Nonis signed Phil to the 8 year $64M contract, but there shouldn’t be anymore. With Patrick Kane’s and Jonathon Toews’ ground breaking 8 year, $84M contracts, there is a benchmark set and the Leafs will once again have Kessel on a bargain. Kane is an unbelievable talent and fantastic player who has only hit the 30 goal mark once (and was on pace to in the shortened season). Including Kessel’s shortened-season pace, he has hit the 30 goal mark six years running. He hasn’t missed a game in four seasons now, either. Kessel is turning 27 this year, and while guessing how he will do throughout the entirety of that contract is a fruitless endeavour, in the immediate future it is a bargain.

4 – David Clarkson was an unmitigated disaster last season, and I harped on it throughout most of the season, but it is unlikely that he remains that unproductive of a player moving forward. Clarkson has a career 8.9% shooting percentage, yet shot only 4.9% last season. His 102 total shots on goal was the worst raw shot total of his career since becoming a full-time NHLer, and that includes the shortened season where he played 48 games and 2009-10 when he played 46 games and had 106 shots on net (he played 60 games with the Leafs). Even just slight upticks in those categories –- which is a more than reasonable expectation -— would make a huge difference. Production wise, he will never live up to that dollar amount and the contract is only going to get worse with time considering he is 30, but a season where he contributes 15-20 goals and even 30 points would be a huge boost to the team compared to the 5-goal, 11-point disaster that started with a ten-game suspension.

5 – The other player not getting a tonne of attention is Nazem Kadri. Expectations were unfairly high for him last season due to his success in the shortened season, where he came in hot from playing in the AHL (like a lot of Leafs that season) and ripped up the league. But, he still had a pretty productive 2013-14 campaign with 20 goals and 50 points. He’s only played 177 games, which is barely over two full seasons worth of hockey, yet it is tough for many to separate how new he is to the league because his name has been around the market since he was drafted. Last season was actually his first real full season in the NHL. Players usually take off in their fourth year (which we have talked about before, and like last year with Bozak, to a degree). Kadri is in a contract year and if he wants a big, long-term, deal he is going to need to show the goods, take his play up a level, and demonstrate that he is worth a big contract. The young players and the new additions will get our hopes up because of the unknown/upside potential and shiny new toy syndrome, but Kadri and Clarkson are the guys I would be looking to improve and have a bigger impact overall.

New Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott. (QMI Agency)
New Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott. (QMI Agency)

6 – My original reaction to the delay in announcing new assistant coaches was that nobody wanted to coach under Randy Carlyle since he will be on the hot seat as soon as training camp opens. Connecting some dots, though, that does not appear to be the case. On May 19th, Vishal Hussain, the Oshawa Generals broadcaster, tweeted that DJ Smith interviewed for the Marlies head coaching job and subsequently responded to someone saying “Spott to the Leafs as a Carlyle assistant. Shanny doing work I suppose.” It appears that Spott was in place for a while, and Nonis did note they did not want to discuss this with him while the Marlies made their playoff run. The Marlies were eliminated from the playoffs June 3rd, roughly two weeks after the initial report came out. Peter Horachek was in the mix for head coaching jobs (he was interviewed by Vancouver, for one), and while that does not mean he was the Leafs’ first choice, they certainly didn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel here when they hired him. Spott is clearly being groomed right now. He could easily have stayed in charge of the surprisingly good Marlies and taken another run at the Calder Cup in order to drum up some interest for head coach openings sure to open up, but he moved up in the Leafs system instead. Things change over time, but the writing on the wall appears to say Spott will eventually be the guy in charge here. Let’s not forget:

[quote_box_center]“When the club was looking for a coach to replace Ron Wilson in the grim days when last season transformed itself into a lost season, NHL sources say Nonis went to bat for Dallas Eakins, then and now the coach of the AHL Marlies. Nonis and other front-office executives were of the belief that Eakins is everything a modern-era coach should be; progressive but hard-nosed, communicative with players but never friends with them.”
– Toronto Star
[/quote_box_center]
Spott fits the bill there.

7 – The focal point that leaps out with these hires is each of their work in developing players. Horachek coached the defense in Nashville, and that was the bread and butter of that team and their success. As a small market team, they were not exactly bringing in big money defensemen, either; they developed from within. That list includes Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Kevin Klein, and even Cody Franson. Nonis did not impart what each of their roles would be, but needless to say the Leafs have a host of young defensemen they are trying to grow in the NHL currently. Spott, of course, integrated numerous rookies into the AHL this year and got results out of them. Players like Sam Carrick, Greg McKegg, Petter Granberg, Stuart Percy and Josh Leivo had very promising seasons under him, to say nothing of all his Kitchener alumni in the NHL. Players such as Kadri, Rielly and even Gardiner have taken strides under Carlyle, but there was a big problem transitioning in players like Ashton, D’Amigo and Holland, despite the Leafs’ bottom six needing all the help it could get. These hires appear geared towards integrating the kids and developing.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

8 – On that note, the outlook on the season appears to be that of a development year. Gardiner and Rielly are pushing up the line-up, the team has talked about Petter Granberg so much that it would seem he’d need to have a terrible camp not to make it, and — if they trade Franson without bringing in another defenseman — players like Stuart Percy and Andrew MacWilliam would figure to be in the mix to make the defense out of camp, too. At forward, Holland and Ashton could be playing their first full NHL seasons, Petri Kontiola is a veteran of pro hockey but has never played a full year NHL season, Frattin is trying to get his career back on track, and Santorelli is still trying to establish himself in the league. These are safe, good-value deals with more upside than downside, but they aren’t exactly, “we’re going hard for the playoffs and want to win a round” moves. They aren’t trying to tank because they would have traded away good players to do that, but they want to grow their system and that has a larger risk factor to it compared to signing a number of established veterans to fill the holes.

9 – Further, Brendan Shanahan sort of implied as much in an interview with the Star when he said:
[pull_quote_center] “One common theme that I’ve heard from a lot of people is to avoid the temptation to make knee-jerk decisions that provide the impression of a quick solution and satisfying people’s hunger for IT’S GOTTA HAPPEN NOW, IT’S GOTTA HAPPEN NOW, IT’S GOTTA HAPPEN NOW. And here we are 90 days later: I haven’t lost a game, I haven’t won a game. And everyone’s saying, come on, change everybody! I knew this was coming. And I know there will be stormy days ahead. If I want to have success, I have to stay determined through those stormy days and trust what I know.”[/pull_quote_center]

10 – With that, I think this team as is (and remember, there are still a few things we need to find out) could finish anywhere between a wildcard position and a lottery spot. Neither would surprise me. There are a lot of moving parts and question marks that could swing it either way, specifically when it comes to all the new additions and young players being integrated into the line-up. On one hand, we can look back and think they were a playoff team until a monumental collapse, so a few improvements should be able to push them in. But we also have to ask ourselves if it is reasonable to expect a team to make the playoffs after a year in which they gave up the most shots against in an 82 game season, ever. With no major moves (yet), we are asking for a big leap forward from the same core.

  • hoolihan

    Given the above, what do you see as the opening night lineup?

  • LeafsGuru

    Good write up Anthony, I’m hoping that Horacheck cleans up our defence, and yes there has been no single major change, but as a whole I think the team has undergone a major change in forwards to defence and coaches. About 50% of a potential new team IMO

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Thanks for the thoughts AP.
    I disagree with the thinking behind 1 year deals.  I would like to see a team grow together and have a stake in the teams future.  One year terms are just patchwork and everybody is aware of this.  Find the right players, give them those 2-4 year deals and ensure they want to win for THIS franchise and not just go out to earn a new contract for themselves.

    I am sure my opinion will be argued, but I believe its for the better.  
    Cheers.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Good call on the Generals broadcaster calling the DJ Smith interview…..I remember that tweet at the time.
    Unsure its a great idea still, but should be lots of media/fan fireworks before training camp is even over.

  • Burtonboy

    TheCanucksnaphook Smith has since signed a 2 yr deal as coach and GM of the Generals I do believe .

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    jbman5 Glad I am an Anaheim fan now.

  • Mind Bomb

    Thanks AP,  Cant wait to see the Final roster, he isnt done

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Burtonboy TheCanucksnaphook Yes, sorry I meant the Carlyle/Spott dynamic isnt one of my favorite ideas ever.  This market is going to turn that into a shit show.

  • Burtonboy

    TheCanucksnaphook jbman5 I’m glad you are too . Now go back to your own board and stop trolling Leaf sites. :)

  • dlb Mad

    TheCanucksnaphook
    thank the good Lord for them Ducks of Anaheim

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    peterbleafs jbman5 Leivo is going to be a stud for the Leafs.

  • LeafsGuru

    I’m convinced that brodeur is waiting for the leafs to trade Reimer I’m sure they have a deal worked out already, I hope they can get a good deal for him and Franson just wondering what it could be.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    LeafsGuru pretty sure this is 100% done.  FML.

  • Mind Bomb

    LeafsGuru That certainly seems possible bro, I am not sure I like losing Reims though, still flip on the issue

  • Burtonboy

    Horachek handled the D in Nashville and his impact was immediate when he took over in Florida . Hopefully he gets to integrate some of those systems with the Leafs. I believe that’s one of the biggest reasons he was bought here .

  • Anthony Petrielli

    TheCanucksnaphook I think they are just buying time for the kids to develop like Holland and Ashton, on top of Leivo, Broll, etc with the Marlies. And if one or two of these short term deals workout they will bring the guy back too.

  • dlb Mad

    Mind Bomb
    Franson and Reimer for Trouba

  • Mind Bomb

    Burtonboy I certainly Hope so BB, We have some Kids to develop, and more coming

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Anthony Petrielli TheCanucksnaphook I do agree, but then please dont tell us we are contending for the playoffs.

    I mean we could stumble in but 10th place is what we are actually looking like.  And after all of our futility, its horrible for this fan base.

  • Mind Bomb

    dlb Mad Mind Bomb Nope, I am not. I liked the Kid, was pulling for him

    He did good work for us when it mattered in the Playoffs, we could have lost that series in 5 games 

    And if you can get Trouba for that ! I will Call you the Wizard from now on lol

  • TheGroobster

    “But we also have to ask ourselves if it is reasonable to expect a team to make the playoffs after a year in which they gave up the most shots against in an 82 game season, ever. With no major moves (yet), we are asking for a big leap forward from the same core.” 
    Assuming that we are ditching the swarm, the gap shouldn’t be as big.

  • LeafsGuru

    Ya not sure an aging Brodeur over Reimer is best but I’ve ran out of toes and fingers of counting how many times Reimer couldn’t catch a puck and keep it in his glove. So many times I’ve yelled at the tv “catch the damn puck” lol

  • Anthony Petrielli

    LeafsGuru It’s new-ish because there are a lot of familiar faces. Frattin, Komarov, Holland, Ashton, guys like Gardiner and Rielly pushing up the line-up.

  • Mind Bomb

    TheCanucksnaphook Anthony Petrielli I will, Nonis has had all the tools to get us there, still has some aces to play 

    Or is MTl so much better than us ?

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Burtonboy Hopefully he gets a lot of say in what happens with the team. That’s the tricky part with AC hirings.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great stuff AP.  I also have the impression this is an evaluation year for the Leafs.  And who can remember the Leafs ever taking such a sensible cautious approach? 
    And sepaking of evaluation – another issue of significance heading into this season – Bernier.  Do they try to lock him up early or do they wait and see if he can play a full year and remain relatively healthy?  One thing is for certain – absent a come back from Reimer, the Leafs have few alternatives in goal.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Mind Bomb TheCanucksnaphook Anthony Petrielli MTL is so much better than we are.

  • Mind Bomb

    TheCanucksnaphook Mind Bomb Anthony Petrielli

    /smack !

  • LeafFan15

    Gotta love your views AP. Really looking forward to this season (like every season).

  • Anthony Petrielli

    TheGroobster I’m not expecting them to be historically bad again, and they should be slightly better, but going from 30th to 15th is still a massive, massive, jump. Not impossible, but just something to keep in mind.

  • Mind Bomb

    LeafsGuru Glove or No Glove, he is still better than any back ups in the league. We finally have some Goaltending Depth, getting rid of it, makes me cautious

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    dlb Mad Mind Bomb There is NO WAY you are getting Trouba for that hot pile of mess.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    MaxwellHowe They’ll wait because he’s an RFA again- No need to rush.

  • mcloki

    Morning Gents.
    Good article AP. Clarkson contract is going to look great after next season. There’s too much money moving in too quickly the agents will try and grab their 50% no matter who is available. 
    Still believe the NHL should go to a luxury tax.

  • LeafsGuru

    The one year deals become a great deadline piece if we are not in the playoffs cheap contracts for playoff teams depth.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    We all look forward to the upcoming seasons…..and then they arrive.

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki Morning MC

  • LeafFan15

    TheCanucksnaphook And we’re happy with the first half then scratch our heads saying what the fuck happened.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    LeafsGuru Probably only Santorelli will have decent value at the deadline, and if he is healthy I think fans will want him back. He’s a very good player.

  • Burtonboy

    Anthony Petrielli Burtonboy I think the big driver of change will come from management . The new AC’s are one of the tools that they are bring in to drive that change. I think Shanny is going to be keeping a very close eye on everything this staff does. Carlyle may be a lot of thing but he’s not stupid. I don’t for one minute believe he would be back back unless he has totally bought into the need for change.

  • mcloki

    Mind Bomb mcloki Hey MB, Just another rainiy day in TO today. and some ugly clouds to the west. dark navy in coulour.

  • hoolihan

    I don’t really like how they’ve handled the backup goalie situation. Given what’s gone on, I can’t see Reimer being back in the room in October. Aside from Brodeur, and I don’t like him in that role, there aren’t a lot of decent options left out there. I guess they’ll have to get one in whatever trade(s) they work out for their “spare parts”.

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki Mind Bomb Its been a Crap shoot latley, Our high today is 68 !  

    Thats Nuts !

  • MaxwellHowe

    If he does manage to stay healthy and perform as he did last year, I would look to the Leafs to lock him up long term.  i know this has been shaky ground for goalkeeps in the NHL, but from a fan’s perspective, he seems to be a guy with great fundamentals and therefore a dependable consistent performer.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Burtonboy Anthony Petrielli I am expecting it too, but I don’t think he’s going to sit there and let the ACs do all the work while he acts as a figurehead. So there’s a grey area there.

  • TheGroobster

    Anthony Petrielli I think it comes down to saying to our young players “Show me what you got”. Exactly what you said about it being a development year. I think management wants to see what these guys can do.

  • Burtonboy

    Interesting that most of the players that walked or were traded are some of the worse on the team is possession stats

  • Anthony Petrielli

    TheCanucksnaphook Anthony Petrielli I think they have improved the D and they haven’t traded any core guys so maybe they aren’t all-in, but they are probably going to contend. If Reimer returns they still have one of the best tandems in the league and Kessel is one of the best players in the league, so that alone will keep them in the mix.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Its either Reimer for $2 million plus and hope he plays himself back into an asset (and hope to avoid drama in the meantime), or trade him and go with Vokoun, Broduer or the Bryz.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    hoolihan Let’s wait and see what happens with Reimer and Franson first