Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Authors Posts by Anthony Petrielli

Anthony Petrielli

201 POSTS 0 COMMENTS
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.

by -
67
Toronto Maple Leafs new head coach Mike Babcock poses with a team jersey following an NHL hockey press conference in Toronto, Thursday, May 21, 2015. Babcock spent the last 10 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2008. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

The common sentiment around the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hiring of Mike Babcock is, “good coach, bad team”—and it is tough to argue against that.

This is not the first time Mike Babcock has been in charge of a team in transition, though.  We can look back to see what he did in Detroit in order to get a better understanding of how he might structure the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs.

by -
337
NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals
Jan 10, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock looks on from behind the bench against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

From the moment it came out that Mike Babcock would possibly not return to Detroit, his name has been connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Like any high profile free agent before him, all the big ticket names seemingly get attached to Toronto, where their name is thrown around in months of speculation with hardly any attention paid to the actual value that would be brought.

Randy Risling/Toronto Star

If you watched Brendan Shanahan’s end of season press conference and began wondering who the next GM will be, you missed the forest for the trees.

It was pretty clear last season, and abundantly clear now, that Brendan Shanahan is the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Traditionally there is confusion when teams don’t have a GM in place because now the incumbent staff is reporting to a president or ownership group that is not a hockey expert. That is not the case here. Shanahan could go into the draft and free agency tomorrow and not miss a beat. He has not defined his plan or vision –and it appears he won’t at all—but it is in his vision and plan that this team will be built.

“We want someone that shares our vision,” said Shanahan. “We need to have a team with greater character. We have to have people that represent this city and represent this team as it deserves. I think we have an incredibly loyal, resilient fanbase. We need to have an incredibly resilient group of players that love to play in Toronto… This job won’t be for some general managers, but those general managers won’t be for us. The one statement I don’t like to say too much is this is how it’s always been done. That doesn’t really make much sense to me. I believe we are building a very capable and dedicated staff of people. The type of general manager that I want to bring to Toronto is someone that recognizes that. And wants to be apart of that team.”

Those aren’t the words of someone hiring a GM to run the show.

The usual definition and duties of a GM is a team executive responsible for acquiring the rights to player personnel, negotiating their contracts, reassigning or dismissing players, and hiring and firing coaches.

In one season, Shanahan has negotiated contracts for players such as Casey Bailey, been a key staple in the Roman Polak trade negotiation, hired all of the Leafs assistant coaches and subsequently fired them after the season, and is looking to hire the new head coach. He openly admitted he’d have no problem hiring a head coach before GM, because the reality is he is the GM.

The prototypical management tree in the NHL with the GM in charge is how Brian Burke built his group.

burkietree

Now it looks like this:

shannytree

Short of bringing in an experienced voice (or in other words not Rob Blake or someone of that ilk), the move is not inconsequential but the impact made by the GM will not be people what are used to.

At best, they are bringing in another intelligent voice to complement the existing managerial group; at worst, they are bringing in a PR guy to handle all the interviews for Shanahan and take care of the public image. The GM is going to take care of the day-to-day work and logistics of the jobs, but the Leafs aren’t hiring a GM with a vision of how he wants the team to look and how it is going to get there, because as Shanahan has clearly stated, he’s made those decisions.

One interesting thing Shanahan noted in his pressernin this regard, to me, was when he discussed the media and sticking to the plan. “The challenge here in Toronto is not to come up with the plan. The challenge in Toronto is to stick to it. That’s the hard part… As far as having the patience to do what’s needed to be done, yeah, you have to have a stomach in order to get through it in a place with this much passion. I have that stomach. And the board does.”

And with Shanahan not “technically” being GM, it won’t be him answering the questions from the media or facing the heat, and instead he will be sticking to his plan, without the distractions or the screams of the public, presumably.

Just last week Shanahan was lambasted by Bob McCown for cancelling his appearance on PTS with McCown, who stated he has only been on once with him — the day he was hired. All year the players were all over the papers due to various scandals and not once did Shanahan step up in the media to protect the team or shift the attention, perhaps because he felt no affiliation with the group and wanted to tank. He’s rarely done any interviews and has publicly said he feels no need to state his plan publicly because other teams don’t (which is a joke, because pretty well every GM gives at least some sort of indication of what their plan is other than “draft and develop”).

The assumption here is the new “GM” will take care of some of those media appearances now, as well as offer his insight into their decisions, use his connections, and take care of the daily duties of the GM. But make no mistake, the decisions come and go through Shanahan. If it wasn’t clear last summer, it is now—This is his show.

A True Rebuild

As the summer progresses one theme that is sure to come up with regularity is rebuilding and how long it will take. Some analysts and media have already said they believe it will take nearly seven years, but is that realistic?

NHL rosters turn over a lot quicker than most people realize. I took some time to put together a chart that shows the roster turnover from teams from the 2011-2012 campaign and the 2014-2015 that just occurred. I looked at the top 25 players on each team in terms of games played – not including goalies—to see how many have changed in the three seasons since:

TeamRoster TurnoverPercent
Anaheim17/2568%
Arizona16/2564%
Boston15/2560%
Buffalo18/2572%
Calgary18/2572%
Carolina17/2568%
Chicago13/2552%
Colorado18/2572%
Columbus17/2568%
Dallas19/2576%
Detroit25-Dec48%
Edmonton20/2580%
Florida18/2572%
Los Angeles25-Dec48%
Minnesota20/2580%
Montreal19/2576%
Nashville18/2572%
New Jersey16/2564%
NYI16/2564%
NYR19/2576%
Ottawa16/2564%
Philadelphia16/2564%
Pittsburgh17/2568%
San Jose15/2560%
St. Louis14/2556%
Tampa Bay21/2584%
Toronto18/2572%
Vancouver15/2560%
Washington14/2556%
Winnipeg14/2556%
AVERAGE16.6/2566.40%

So, in three seasons teams on average turnover over 66% of their primary playing roster, nearly 17 players, but it should take the Leafs double that time to rebuild?

That is hardly the case.

Just last summer the Vancouver Canucks traded Ryan Kesler because they were heading into a rebuild and he wanted to win. The Canucks made the playoffs this season. The Ottawa traded Jason Spezza because he wanted to win and not play on a budget team. Ottawa made the playoffs season and the team Spezza was traded to, who was one of the league darlings last year, missed.

Things change extremely quickly in this league.

Here is an article that looks at different team rebuilds, where you can see it took teams 3-5 years since the start to make the playoffs.

“A commonality in the success examples above is that each team made the playoffs within 5 years from their first top 5 pick (average: 4.25 years). While it’s not a huge sample, it’s a decent measuring stick. There also seems to be another cut-off at around that 6 year mark for making the Conference Finals. If the team doesn’t take that next step by then, they might plateau or see a bit of a regression.”

The Leafs drafted Rielly fifth overall in 2012. Nylander is a top 10 pick that looks like he should have gone even higher if early indications mean anything.

If and when they trade some of their big ticket veterans they are sure to receive value in return. There are a few prospects of note coming through the system other than Nylander as well.

It will take years to build up the prospect pipeline, simply because when you draft kids at 18 they generally only come into the NHL conversation 2-3 years later. The 5-7 year timeline for contention can be appropriate in this regard, unless you get some big breaks. Should the rebuild of the roster and being a competitive playoff team take that long, though?

No way. Unless you’re the Edmonton Oilers.

Best Player Available in the Draft

When it comes to the draft, the moniker is always take the best player available.

That puts the Leafs in an interesting predicament.

With the Oilers winning the draft lottery that means Arizona might possibly draft Dylan Strome instead of what was the general consensus third overall pick most of the year in Noah Hanifin. It was a rumour going around hockey prior to the lottery and is now starting to gain steam within the Arizona media.

That would leave Toronto with a decision to make between Hanifin and Mitch Marner (in theory).

The smart money would be on Noah Hanifin based on scouting reports throughout the season, as he has been the consensus third overall choice generally speaking. If they are ranked essentially even though, is it the smart money to draft Hanifin?

When draft boards are being built they are generally done so two ways. You rank each player by position at first (C, LW, RW, LD, RD, G), then you rank them on an overall big board. When you build that board position comes into play to a degree because the gap between players is not always clear cut; let’s face it, if you give two players the same grade, a right handed center has substantially more value than a left winger.

In saying that, Hanifin is a left-handed defenseman. Save for being a superstar (see Ekblad, Doughty, etc.), it takes defensemen roughly 300 games to develop, or essentially four seasons. It is extremely difficult position to learn and play.

Strangely though, here is the list of top four defensemen set for unrestricted free agency this summer, in no particular order:

  • Christian Ehrhoff
  • Cody Franson
  • Andrej Sekera
  • Jeff Petry
  • Mike Green
  • Paul Martin
  • Francois Beauchemin
  • Zbynek Michalek
  • Johnny Oduya

Along with a few other veterans that could probably still handle it (Jan Hejda, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Marek Zidlicky).

Last summer these defensemen switched teams:

  • Matt Niskanen
  • Christian Ehrhoff
  • Anton Stralman
  • Tom Gilbert
  • Mark Fayne
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Willie Mitchell
  • Michael Del Zotto

Not to mention the countless defensemen who have changed hands lately. And it’s not just veterans either, young guys like Nick Leddy and Brandon Dillon have been traded, Johnny Boychuk and Braydon Coburn as well just to name a few.

Now if you think Mitch Marner is a center –and there is debate on that, he played it quite a bit in the playoffs but not always during the regular season—then looking around the center movement around the league is pretty scary.

Here is the list of top 6 centers set to become UFAs this summer:

  • Antoine Vermette.
  • Mike Fisher

Here is the list from last summer:

  • Mike Ribeiro
  • Paul Stastny
  • Brad Richards

The trade market has been a little better, with Ryan Kesler and Jason Spezza moving last summer.

On the whole, these guys simply do not get moved or are allowed to hit free agency anymore. That is not the case on defence, where it is relatively quick to patch together more than a talented unit capable of holding their own.

If the scouting report says Hanifin is a top pairing defenseman and Mitch Marner is a top six forward, there is no real debate to be had, obviously. But if the differences are negligible and the report on Hanifin is more of a top four defenseman than a top pairing guy, then alternative players should be explored. Defensemen take longer to develop, top four defensemen are available every summer (for some reason), and forwards are able to step into the league and at least put up points relatively quickly.

This debate is just getting started, but it is something to consider.

William Nylander

Speaking of forwards that are able to step right in and contribute, consider William Nylander. He played 37 games and scored 14 goals on 73 shots with 32 points total. The Marlies are 23-11-3 in games he has played and he’s been a big part of their turnaround to make the playoffs.

At the start of the year, I wrote that the Leafs should have sent Nylander to the AHL when they sent him to Sweden. The general response was basically that he’d get physically crushed in the AHL and to keep him away from the Toronto fishbowl. Well, he put up nearly a PPG as an 18 year old in the league and played their throughout one of the most embarrassing stretches in Leafs history. Somehow, someway, he survived.

AHL success at 18 in no way means he is destined for great things in the NHL (paging Nikita Filatov), but this has been a promising start for the electrifying player that almost certainly looks like a winger at this point, as he’s played there the entire time.

It would have been nice for Nylander to get the entire season in the AHL as was apparent back in October, but the important thing is he has had an extended experience on North American ice against pros to ready him for the NHL.

Discussed in this space regularly down the stretch, the Leafs could have called Nylander up and probably received a nice shot in the arm from him, but they kept him in the AHL and made the playoffs, and also bettered their draft pick in the process.

Win-win. The best part is that the Leafs should have a player ready to contribute to the team at the beginning of next season.

Scouting Systems

There was some talk and worry around Leafs Nation that the Leafs firing all their scouts before the draft could result in some leaked information. That is not how scouting and drafting works, especially when you are an area scout.

Here is a quote from Lou Lamoriello from Behind The Moves on the protection of information and scouting:

“How do we protect [the intellectual property of the Devils]? You trust. You break people up… People can leave with what they know, but not with what somebody else knows. So the way we operate is to have very little interaction with people… The way our [organizational] pyramid is [set up is] a little different than most… Some of your most intelligent scouts might be the most insecure people, so they won’t express themselves if you are overpowering… So we try to do things in such a way that everybody can maximize who they are and never feel that they’re threatened or intimidated or that their opinion is not respected and honoured, even [if] it’s not used.”

Damien Cox noted that the Leafs fired the scouts after they submitted their final reports, which means the team took their information and let them leave with it too, but they didn’t let them leave with the overall group’s information as pre-draft meetings have not really begun to heat up.

It’s a ruthless business and cut throat move, but the Leafs benefit here from collecting reports.

When they are doing their “GM” search, they would be smart to interview as many strong candidates as possible in order to at least attempt to solicit as many ideas and information as possible. It could potentially turn into a great opportunity to gauge the feeling and thoughts of people around the league on players such as Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf.

Quotes

That group, in our mind as a coaching staff, we felt that they had to be able to have the freedom to skate, because they’re a skating hockey club, they’re a transition hockey club. And believe me, we tried to preach defence in a lot of areas, but we felt that we had good enough goaltending and if we could transition the puck, then we could be an effective, dangerous hockey club. They weren’t going to be a shutdown team, that group is not prepared to be a shutdown team. That’s maximizing the strength of your roster and what you have. You have to find a way to get people, the people that you have in place, and use them to their strengths and put something in place that will give them the best chance for success.

 

  • Randy Carlyle, on the style of play the Leafs players wanted.

 

It was pretty clear down the stretch if things weren’t easy and they couldn’t free wheel and score, the players on the team as-is had about zero interest in doing anything the right way that is conducive to winning hockey.

Ultimately, this team had to change. If we continue right where we were in November we might not make the playoffs, we might be fighting for the playoffs. If you’re in that situation, even if we make the playoffs, we’re not going to win. Is that what we want? Do we want to be competitive or do we want to build something to win a Stanley Cup? That’s the change that we have to make. Not to just be competitive. We have to start to think about winning, and have higher expectations. Our expectations have to go in a new direction. Not competitive. That’s just not OK. That’s ultimately where we were. It was the same place where it was the year before.

 

  • Peter Horachek, after his last game coaching the Leafs.

 

This quote goes hand-in-hand with the Carlyle quote above it. Loud and clear changes need to take place here. It was last summer too.

I think we’ve got some good pieces. But we have some talented parts of this team. As a group, as a mix, they understand and they’ve shown over the years, not just this year, for whatever reason the mix doesn’t work. In spite of the fact we have talented individuals, if the mix doesn’t work, there is going to be changes.

 

  • Brendan Shanahan, on the current team.

 

Who he keeps will be as much of a statement on that player’s abilities as it is how much that player wants to stay in Toronto and be a Leaf.

Final Note

I just wanted to extend a quick thank-you to everyone for following along this season. Obviously, it was a tough season for the Leafs. At points it was tough to write this column because of how poor they played. However, it was still a great season here with a lot of intelligent and polite discussion, and I always look forward to reading through the comments or getting nice emails. So, once again, thank you for reading and your support. It means a lot to me.

WINNIPEG, CANADA - JANUARY 3: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs bounces the puck on his stick during the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets on January 3, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

One Game Left.

Notes

  • Interesting piece by Thomas Drance over at TLN on executive compensation and the Leafs. Essentially, if the Leafs fire Nonis and hire someone away from another team to help conduct the draft, it is going to cost them a second round pick. That hardly seems worth it any way you slice it. The Leafs head office is completely inexperienced at the NHL level, which is to some a big deal and to others means nothing. The team has had a poor season and a few PR nightmares, so how they proceed is anyone’s guess, but this could potentially put a wrinkle in their plans to hire someone specific. It could also influence who they bring in to be head coach, and should it be Dan Bylsma the current season will have been a waste, to some degree, considering he was available last summer.
    I
  • Cody Franson still leads the Leafs defense in scoring.
    I
  • Casey Bailey recorded his first NHL shot on goal against the Ottawa Senators — his fourth game since signing. When the signing was announced Bailey’s attribute most discussed was his shot, but four games in he only has one on net to show for it and it was a floater from the blue line with no traffic in front. It is definitely early and he’ll need to spend the summer working on his skating –- it’s the biggest reason he isn’t getting shots on net -— but he is turning 24 this year, so time isn’t on his side. Christian Hanson’s five game debut was notably more impressive, but debuts do not decide whether a player will be successful long-term.
    I
  • Two goals and five points for Richard Panik over the last 23 games. His shooting percentage is down to just under 13%, which is more reasonable and leaves him with 11 goals in 74 games (and to be honest, 13% is still high for him). Panik was getting a lot of attention earlier in the year, but he was shooting over 25%. Now that he has come back to earth, ironically at a time where his ice time and power play time has increased due to trades, there is a much clearer picture being painted of the 24 year old. It appears the Leafs found an NHLer for free, but some of the expectations need to be tampered. He does have reasonable possession numbers on a weak team and some good splits, though, and he has also shown the ability to draw penalties, which is underrated and valuable.
    I
  • The goal Lupul scored on Sunday was his first in the year 2015, in his 27th 2015 game. He has three other assists to speak of since the turn of the calendar. Peter Horachek noted he was still banged up; Lupul has always been poor defensively, but that is unprecedented poor play from the noted scorer. He is turning 31 and is making almost $7 million in real money next year, and then has another two years left on his deal after that.
    I
  • Jonathan Bernier’s save percentage in 56 appearances: .912%. James Reimer’s save percentage in 34 appearances: .909%.

Quotes

I think the perception of the ECHL is that the player is going there for punishment or he’s really struggled. We want to use it as entry level to pro hockey for younger players to start out there. It’s a slow change. We would like to have it where first-year players start in Orlando and graduate to the Marlies and then to the Leafs. That’s going to take time for the buy in and the mindset for how people view pro hockey.

– Kyle Dubas on making use of Leafs’ ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears
There have technically been 563 ECHLers that have played at least a game in the NHL, but the number is a little deceiving at face value. For example, players like Chris Neil and Daniel Winnik each had small ECHL stints that were under ten games combined, but are counted among the alumni. There have been some notable actual ECHLers such as David Desharnais, Matt Hendricks, Andrew Brunette, Vern Fiddler, Dwight King and Andrew MacDonald, but largely the league has produced goalies due to the nature of only one goalie playing per team, per game. The ECHL is growing in quality, but any reasonable player prospect should be making the Marlies immediately with a chance for ice time; the team is on the outside looking in on the playoffs with a negative goal differential.

There will always be players that fall through the cracks that would benefit from this type of route, but generally speaking for Toronto it seems unnecessary if it’s just to nurture the next Matt Hendricks. Especially considering the Marlies are located in Toronto right under the organization’s guidance and NHL facilities. The idea originates from the baseball chain of development, but it doesn’t hold much water in the NHL context; baseball has a 40-round draft and each organization signs three teams worth of (some promising) players to minor league contracts, compared to hockey where it is seven rounds and there is a 50 contract limit with the ability to sign largely journeymen and undrafted over-agers to minor league deals. There is a difference between being different for the sake of change, and being different for the sake of being different.

Laterally, he’s so mobile, he can look one way and skate the other way and accelerate.

– Peter Horachek on why Morgan Rielly can play the right side as a left handed shooter.
Last season when Jake Gardiner tried right-defense he really struggled in part because he is such an upright skater and that hinders his lateral movements. Rielly is a much more hunched over skater, giving him a lower center of gravity and making turning a lot easier. He also played some right defense in a few WHL games I saw, whereas Jake Gardiner played primarily with Justin Schultz, who is a right handed defenseman.

I’ve had tough seasons. I don’t think I’ve had a season like this year, but that’s what summers are there for.

– Jonathan Bernier on his up and down season.
If there was one thing I thought would be money in the bank for the Leafs this season, it would have been goaltending. Currently, they are 25th in the league in team save percentage. Last season stellar goaltending almost got them into the playoffs, and while poor goaltending hasn’t been their undoing this year, a return to form would change things in a hurry for the Leafs moving forward.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think sending down Sam Carrick and TJ Brennan was the right move in order to try and help the Marlies make the playoffs. It is splitting hairs, but I would suggest there is more value to be gained by getting Connor Brown, William Nylander and co. into playoff games than there is in seeing those two with the Leafs at this point.
    I
  2. I think, when we look back on the last 25 games or so of the season down the road, we will see that the team made a mistake not experimenting more. Dion Phaneuf is playing with Eric Brewer to close out the season. The top line has remained intact, including starting every power play. Nazem Kadri is playing with Joakim Lindstrom. It was nice to see Komarov play center (he can handle it but is clearly better on the wing, where he can work the walls), Booth move up the line-up (he still has some game left), and Rielly on PP1 (that should be a thing moving forward), but there was more to see here and it was left off the table.
    I
  3. I think it was just one game back, but I’d put Peter Holland back on the penalty kill. Barring a trade, the big center is only 24, he’s returning next year, and he’s a player who can help moving forward. Earlier in the season he started to earn more ice time by playing on the PK and forcing his way up the line-up, however when he returned against Ottawa he was not on either unit. There is a lot more to gain playing him there as opposed to, say, Zach Sill.
    I
  4. I think Stuart Percy, who is in the minors, should be looking over his shoulder at Tim Erixon. Percy had a nice debut earlier in the season, flashing some nice skill and actually being tasked with shutdown duties with near regularity. However, Erixon has come in and begun to settle in. He’s playing on the second power play unit, his partners have shifted almost by the shift, but his most common partner has been Andrew MacWilliam. The near 70 minutes they have played together has been painful, but in Erixon’s 417+ minutes without him his corsi-for percentage is over 50%. He’s 6’3 with first round pedigree, and he has shown nifty skill pinching into the zone and leading some rushes. Maybe there will be room for both, but at the moment there are five NHL defenseman already signed for next season.
    I
  5. I think, if Rielly is going to play RD moving forward, that possibly makes one of Robidas-Polak expendable. Even without Phaneuf, Rielly-Polak-Robidas down the right side is extremely poor if you are trying to be even remotely competitive next season. If Robidas isn’t expected to be healthy to start the season, though, it would change things.

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

The old saying goes that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, but perhaps sometimes the opposite is true.

This season the Leafs conducted a fire sale because they had no other choice; the team is bad and had a collection of pending unrestricted free agents. Three players in particular that the Leafs would have loved to keep, had the team been doing well, were Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson.

In Nashville, Franson has gone from playing on the top pairing in Toronto to under 16 minutes per game and secondary power play time. Mike Santorelli has played just under 13 minutes on average (top nine forward ice time). His commons line-mates are Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Wilson, with whom he’s nearly a 54CF%, but he has just four points in 20 games. In 20 games with Franson and Santorelli, the Predators are 8-9-3, with three of those wins coming against Buffalo or Arizona (and two of those were in extra time).

Maybe they will have interest in retaining Santorelli, but Franson is hoping for a big pay day and can’t crack the Preds top four, so it’s certainly not happening for him there. In a separate article I also wondered how Franson’s time in Nashville might hurt his price tag.

In Pittsburgh, Daniel Winnik has been a different story. He’s playing 15:26 per night, has been bouncing between playing on the Sutter line and the Crosby line, and his CF% is over 57 with both to go along with seven points in 15 games. Winnik has been very good as a Pen so far, but with over $57 million already committed to the cap and them wanting to bring back Christian Ehrhoff along with almost half a forward corps to fill out, it would be tough to bring back Winnik, who will want a raise on a multi-year extension.

At this point it seems like a strong possibility that all three will hit the open market this summer.

For the Leafs, it is fair to wonder if they should be interested in bringing any or all three of them back. Some will look at Santorelli and Franson’s time on their new team as an indictment of their play once they are on a stronger club, but don’t let a small sample size, in a situation that might not be a good fit for either, totally fool you.

Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik are both 30, meaning they are on the wrong side of their prime but not old enough to think that they don’t have multiple good years left ahead. They can each play every forward position and in any situation. Cody Franson is turning 28 and was arguably primed to be one of the hottest free agents on the 2015 UFA market. His time in Nashville might serve as a bit of a reality check on the open market, but he’s still a good, productive, right-handed defenseman with size, which is a difficult asset to find.

Toronto has a lot of problems and people will prefer the idea of never going back and always looking forward, but Santorelli, Winnik and Franson were players who were part of the solution. Unfortunately for them and Toronto, the logistics and struggles of the team forced them all out. The aftermath of each of their situations might just make them cheaper or more available than previously expected, however, and for the Leafs the opportunity to bring some players who we know can be successful here, will improve the team, and can still be gotten for relatively cheap -– particularly Winnik and Santorelli — will be worth exploring in the summer.

They can look for the “next” Santorelli or Winnik, but for the right price there should be some consideration for going back to the well.

Notes

  • Kessel has six games left to get six goals in order to reach 30 goals for the seventh season in a row (including pro-rating his lockout season). If it holds, his 9.4% shooting percentage would be the lowest of his Leafs career, and lowest since his 18 and 19 year old seasons in Boston. He has shot under 10% once in Toronto, and still managed 32 goals that season. One of Kessel’s biggest positives has been his ability to block out the media and fan noise and consistently produce. This season he has done anything but, feuding with the media since basically day one. Maybe it is simply a down year, maybe a season gone wrong has compounded matters, but the nose-dive in his production has to be investigated.
    I
  • One thing that is sure to get attention is his workout habits. Kessel made headlines for saying he skated maybe ten times over the summer. It wasn’t a big deal at the time because he was an elite producer. But it will catch up to him; he’s human. He made $10 million this year and he will finish with roughly 60 points, playing with the same line-mates he put up 80 with last season. His line mates take blame, too, to be sure, and a season gone wrong did not help, but Kessel is a huge question mark going into the summer and this is just the beginning of this can of worms.
    I
  • It is not getting a lot of attention, but Christopher Gibson is putting together a quietly solid season with the Marlies. The average AHL save percentage this season is .913%, and he is 10 points above that at .923%. That is good enough to rank him ninth in the league, but only one goalie ahead of him is younger than his late ’92 birthdate. Gibson was drafted in the second round by the LA Kings, but when they chose not to sign him the Leafs swooped in and brought him to the organization. Last season he only played 12 games in the AHL, with 20 of them coming in the ECHL (where he strangely had a much lower save percentage). This season, though, he has carried the workload and performed very well, becoming a player to keep an eye on.
    I
  • Frederick Gauthier won the Guy Carbonneau Trophy for best defensive forward in the QMJHL last week. Here are the last 10 winners of that award:
2013–14: Felix Girard, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2012–13: Felix Girard, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2011–12: Frederick Roy, Quebec Remparts
2010–11: Phillip Danault, Victoriaville Tigres
2009–10: Gabriel Dumont, Drummondville Voltigeurs
2008–09: Jean-Philip Chabot, Gatineau Olympiques
2007–08: Olivier Fortier, Rimouski Océanic
2006–07: Marc-Andre Cliche, Lewiston MAINEiacs
2005–06: David Brine, Halifax Mooseheads
2004–05: Simon Courcelles, Québec Remparts

Quotes

When you’re practising & working day after day the littlest thing can turn into a big thing


– Dion Phaneuf on the Kessel-Booth dust up.

This is really a non-story to me. These things happen all around the league, but, alas, this is Toronto…

We have to make sure we’re taking care of the defensive side so he’s a well-rounded player. He’s not so gifted that he’s going (to the Leafs’) second line right away— so he has to make sure defensively he’s solid… He’s a guy that’s got so much potential because he has a certain skill set that translates to the NHL.


– Marlies Head Coach Kevin Dineen on Josh Leivo.

There used to be this notion last year that Leivo could be the next Lupul, despite Lupul being a former top-10 pick who made the NHL in his draft +2 year. The general benchmark in production that a player needs to hit to go from the AHL to the NHL is .7ppg according to some work previously done by Tyler Dellow. Leivo is just under that at .67. Learning to be a dependable defensive player is what is going to give him a real opportunity to stick on the team and develop. He’s a lanky 6’2, but he’s strong and can cycle.

I think part of what’s gone on here is that they’ve managed to produce a team that is not just bad, but appears not to give a damn. It’s almost rubbing it in people’s faces—the lack of try, the lack of effort. They are the least likable group of professional athletes I think I’ve ever been around. Just the way they play, outside of the arena, the way they come across—they come across as the opposite of plucky underdogs that are trying really hard even if they’re not quite good enough. This is talented guys who are getting paid enormous amounts of money who stopped trying a long time ago and are kind of laughing at everybody. That’s a bad vibe if you’re a consumer.


– Stephen Brunt on the Leafs.

I agree, to an extent. Personality wise I think Dion Phaneuf just has the worst reputation in this market for being dry and aloof, but really we’ve seen flashes of his personality and sense of humour whenever he isn’t being interviewed. Sometimes I try to put myself in his shoes; if I was captain, how would I answer some of the nonsense thrown his way? He never gets in trouble for speaking out because he gives cookie cut answers. Honestly, I would probably do the same thing. What’s the alternative? Being open and honest? That’s a recipe for disaster in this market.

The second point that I think is noteworthy is the talent portion. The team started the year as a talented group, there is no question about that. They had scoring and goaltending. But the mix has never been right, and I wrote about this to end last season. There is not one line you would feel comfortable matching up against the top lines on other teams on a nightly basis. Until those changes take place, you can have all the talent in the world and it won’t get you anywhere.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1.  I think I understand the general sentiment of what Don Cherry said regarding Casey Bailey getting to go right to the NHL while the players in the AHL finish the season on the bus. Cherry played in the minors, so for him it’s personal. If you are Connor Brown, who is lighting up the league and carrying the Marlies, it’s frustrating. However, that’s the price of doing business here in order to get Bailey in the first place, so there really isn’t an alternative if the Leafs want to pursue all avenues to improve their club. I actually like the Leafs healthy scratching Bailey because he clearly needs time to adjust to this pace and style.
    I
  2. I think Sam Carrick is playing his way into having a leg up for making the starting line-up next season. In preseason I thought Carrick got the short end of the stick a bit because he was an impact player but was stuck with the Leafs enforcers for the majority of the tryout session. Now in the NHL, he hasn’t been spectacular by any means, but he’s noticeable every game and as his ice time has grown so has his contribution. In the AHL a player should be around .7PPG to push up to the NHL, and Carrick is around a .5PPG player, but lucky for him the team has nothing immediately emerging down the middle, and his game is well rounded enough to play on the fourth line as a right handed center capable of producing the odd point and grinding it out. He can also play wing, which is a nice bonus.
    I
  3. I think, in terms of veterans, David Booth is the only guy who stands out as potentially playing his way into a contract for next season. Although I will say Joakim Lindstrom should get some credit for his play because he has been crafty and a contributor with good line-mates. Since the trade deadline, David Booth has played 14 games, has eight points, and has 48 shots on net. He is showing he can still be a reasonable top nine forward and was miscast on the fourth line, which was in part due to an injury to start the season. Whether it is with the Leafs or someone else, he’s playing his way into another contract for next season, which wasn’t the case earlier in the year.
    I
  4. I think, as much as anything, the goalie trade market should dictate which of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer stays or goes. The gap between the two just isn’t that big, which has been discussed in this space numerous times. But, the goalie market is set to be a buyer’s market yet again and I am not sure you will get much in return for either. Complicating matters is Bernier needing a new contract. If you can sign Bernier for cheap and the market for him is not much different than Reimer’s, I’d lean towards Bernier. If Bernier still holds high value and wants to get paid, I’d lean Reimer. But I can’t help but think of when the Habs had Price and Halak. Halak was the sentimental pick while Price was the more talented goalie with a bit of an arrogance to him. The Habs went with talent and won out. I’m not saying Bernier will be as good as Price, but picking the more talented player usually is the right call.
    I
  5. I think it is noteworthy that this is the second straight year Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are closing out the season as a pairing and playing very well together. Phaneuf has played a little over 153 minutes with Gardiner and has a CF% over 48 in that time, while with Rielly he’s played a little over 56 minutes with him and is over 49%. There isn’t a lot to learn from that, but they seem to be shifting to playing the talented duo together, which is telling in multiple ways. I think, if they could ever find a solid partner for Phaneuf, Gardiner-Rielly could run run over teams as a second pairing.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28: General manager Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens speaks with President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan (L) of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

One of the main questions in Toronto down the stretch has been whether or not Dave Nonis will be General Manager of the team moving forward.

It is a reasonable question, but perhaps it is not the right one.

More appropriately, is this a position that anyone in the league with experience will actually covet?

There are the obvious reasons one can think of as to why an experienced manager would not want to take control of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team is lousy, they have an admittedly shallow prospect pool, the team is riddled with controversy and has a poor relationship with the media, and they are years away from contention.

Of course, that can all be quickly countered by someone with a big enough ego to think they can be that guy (or girl) to come into Toronto and lead them to the Promised Land. You don’t get a job as a General Manager without some sort of ego and self-conviction, so it is easy to see how someone can look past everything just listed.

One thing a General Manager worth their salt won’t be able to look past? Not being able to bring in their team of executives.

That is not to say there would not be room for a potentially new General Manager to bring in a few of his own coworkers, but Brendan Shanahan has essentially hired his team. He brought in Brandon Pridham to be his capologist, Kyle Dubas to be his assistant General Manager team, an accompanying analytics team, and a director of player personnel who will also oversee scouting in Mark Hunter.

What experienced manager worth their salt is going to want to step into a situation where their front office team has been picked for them?

It was obvious that Shanahan was completely in charge when they traded for Roman Polak and he told reporters that he made calls on the player before acquiring him. It was cemented when he was the one, not Dave Nonis, that recruited Casey Bailey.

While they may in fact end up firing Dave Nonis, it is hard to imagine a reputable GM chomping at the bit to take over this team.

Where there may be leverage to be used here, however, is in bringing in a top end coach. It is no secret that Mike Babcock, for example, covets more power in decision making when it comes to player personnel. In Toronto, he could get that opportunity. That bargaining chip can be used for any coach with some reputability, presumably.

Otherwise, the current management team appears to be the team going forward, with or without Nonis.

Notes

  • The interesting thing about Casey Bailey, when looking at his numbers, is his second season where he fell off of a cliff production wise. His first season at Penn State he put up a point per game, and in his third season he was slightly over, but in his second season he produced only 13 points in 32 games. Last season his coach believed it was because he tried to play a finesse game when his game is really about driving the net and putting in dirty goals. The book on Bailey appears to be pretty straightforward: Big shot, big player, skating is a question mark.
    I
  • It’s a similar scouting report to Brayden Irwin, but he was never as strong of a scorer as Bailey. Christian Hanson was younger when he signed (22 compared to 24), but he never led his team in scoring whereas Bailey did it twice.
    I
  • Undrafted free agents have a bit of a bad reputation in Toronto because of players like the aforementioned Hanson, Irwin, and even Tyler Bozak to a degree. But, if Leafs signed three other undrafted UFAs like Tyler Johnson, Matt Read and Danny DeKeyser it would be quite a different story in Toronto. It’s a relatively risk free found wallet, sometimes there’s no money in it, sometimes there’s a $20, or sometimes there’s a lot more.
    I
  • Was surprised to see this go relatively under the radar, but Darren Dreger reported the Leafs and Ottawa Senators negotiated a trade last summer involving Nazem Kadri and Mika Zibanejad. The pending RFA has been in trade rumours for years and as I’ve written about earlier; pretty well no matter what the Leafs do with him this summer will draw criticism. I don’t want to make a habit of commenting on trade rumours so I won’t dissect the trade, but if we’re to take it at face value the Leafs certainly had no problem trading him to a division rival. Add that to the Cody Franson for Josh Gorges that almost happened and the talks surrounding Lupul to the Habs as well.
    I
  • Found this interesting story accusing the Leafs of insider trading because the Leafs have a scout that is on the bench of KHL team MO-Atlant, where recently signed prospect Nikita Soshnikov played. But Mark Hunter has roots in the OHL, and this is common practice there. Did you happen to watch the OHL Cup final broadcasted nationally on Sportsnet? The Don Mills Flyers were coached by Lindsay Hofford all season, and he is the director of scouting of the London Knights. They are hardly the only team that does this; for example, the Mississauga Reps this season were coached by an Oshawa Generals scout. I am not saying it is right or wrong either way, but this is the background Hunter comes from.
    I
  • Thought I would share this video on teams being owned by media outlets. This season has been embarrassing for team and media alike in terms of some of the stories that have emerged. Haven’t figured out the answer yet, but there has to be a better way of doing business on the whole.

Quotes

What does that mean? We’re giving it our all. We’re giving it full effort, obviously it hasn’t been great, but no one’s not trying so if you’re saying that your lost.


– Phil Kessel, on how hard the team is working.

When you are playing games against desperate teams trying to make the playoffs and half your roster is full of AHLers, what is happening to the Leafs should be expected. Most of the top players have shut it down, but it can’t be denied this is not an NHL roster.

It’s pretty screwed up in here; you’d think things would change. No one notices what’s going on here.


– An anonymous Leafs player talking about the team.

Well, when the team is this bad you wouldn’t expect to hear, “it’s awesome in this dressing room.” That said, whoever did say this is right. The top line continually gets trotted out for the top power play, the players all signed long-term have been dogging it to end the season (save Dion Phaneuf), and no matter how bad it gets the non-meritocracy continues. Horachek did some good things early, scratching Clarkson, benching players, shifting the lines around, and it has stopped. He instilled some structure early and the team was playing a cleaner brand of hockey, but coaching is much more than just installing systems (player management, people management, etc.) and he has dropped the ball in the other departments.

With him [Nylander], and the Gauthier boy with Rimouski who is playing really well and the team is in first place, we’ve got some prospects but we have to get more and we have to make it more competitive in the organization for spots on the Leafs and spots on the Marlies.


– Mark Hunter, in an interview with TSN Radio.

Thought it was eye brow raising that Hunter named Frederik Gauthier. William Nylander is the obvious guy to focus on, as well as Connor Brown and a few others on the Marlies such as Brandon Leipsic. Gauthier’s scoring numbers have gone down progressively since his draft year and he has missed a lot of time injured this season. With Team Canada it was clear he was limited skill-wise, but he was strong defensively and in the faceoff circle; a Brian Boyle type. The Leafs need all the help they can get right now, especially down the middle, even if he is a 4C that handles tough starts and match-ups that would be a huge boost to this team. The organization appears to still like him quite a bit.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think Casey Bailey is an exception because the Leafs used the ability to play right now as a bargaining chip, but in general the team needs to keep the kids away from the big club. It is a breath of fresh air when the kids are called up, I won’t lie, but the team is in fourth last and honestly look like they might not win a game the rest of the season. It is hard not to get romantic and emotional about playing out the season hard, but they simply can’t afford to do it. This draft is bordering on generational; it simply can’t happen.
    I
  2. I think, hypocritically, Sam Carrick deserves to stay up, though. He is beginning to see more minutes and was more or less robbed of a goal from Jake Gardiner (although it was the right play). Even without it, he has one point in three games in this call-up and has been physically running players nightly. Carrick is 23 and an RFA this summer, he has been making an impact and had a strong preseason, and this team is begging for centers; let him play out the string and get some real ice time.
    I
  3. I think Dion Phaneuf is giving me some pause. Earlier in the season I was ready to move on for relative pennies on the dollar because of the contract. I don’t want to change my mind based on meaningless games, but in a time where the veterans on the trading block should be showcasing themselves to move on in the summer, he is the only one really doing so. In 14 games since returning from injury, he has 6 points in 14 games, 39 shots on goal, and numerous big hits and fights in front of a team that rarely has his back when he does it. If there is a good deal to be made, by all means it has to be done, but on a team full of guys pulling the chute, moving one of the few who actually hasn’t doesn’t seem like it should be a priority. Especially at a position that is tough to find good players at for a reasonable price.
    I
  4. I think, conversely, Joffrey Lupul is doing a good job of playing his way out of town. In 21 games since he returned from injury, Lupul has three points and 29 shots on net. He also questioned Horachek for benching him after he gave up a goal with an awful giveaway up the middle against one of the worst teams in modern history. I have been hesitant to trade Lupul before because I know what he can bring playing on a good team, but it makes you wonder if he would bring much of a benefit as a leader on a rebuilding team. One possible caveat here is a knee injury he’s been reportedly playing through.
    I
  5. I think this is a really nice piece on Peter Horachek and agree the Leafs should keep the guy around. As I detailed last week, he was caught in a really tough situation and is getting the short end of a stick because of a management group that wants to move on from a lot of these players and the group shutting it down in general. Horachek is a smart, articulate coach, and I think he provides a lot of value schematic wise, but he seemingly appears to struggle in the leadership and room/bench management portion of the job. Some people are meant to be head coach, some are meant to be assistants; there is nothing wrong with that, and I see a lot of value in retaining Horachek, his experience, his smarts, and the insights he can bring to the new Head Coach. That is, of course, as long as the new guy does not want to bring in an entirely new staff.

Randy Carlyle Peter Horachek
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 04: Head coach Randy Carlyle of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on from the bench during third period action against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on November 4, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

When the Maple Leafs fired Randy Carlyle 40 games into the season, their record stood at 21-16-3. They are 6-22-3 since then. On the surface, that is nothing but ugly and it has led to some half-sarcastic comments suggesting Carlyle should win coach of the year. Let’s explore it.

The first thing to note is that, while the team was technically in a playoff position by overall points, they were not by points percentage. Throughout the season, the constant discrepancies in games played between teams mean there is more value in looking at points per game compared to overall points. The Leafs were in eighth when Carlyle was fired, but they were ninth in points per game (Florida was behind them in the standings, but ahead in the percentage).

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs hits Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. The Penguins defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On trade deadline day, it was revealed the Leafs and Red Wings were making a push to get a deal done that would send Dion Phaneuf to the Detroit Red Wings.

In the aftermath, the potential deal, or at least parts of it, was revealed. Here is what Elliotte Friedman wrote last week:

My guess is the pre-Coburn plan centred around Phaneuf, Stephen Weiss and Brendan Smith. The Maple Leafs understood they’d have to take Weiss’s contract to make it work. Smith makes sense because, like the Toronto captain, he’s a left-shot. He’s also due for a raise so adding salary means someone has to go.

There were reports the Maple Leafs asked for Anthony Mantha, but I’m not sure that was a major sticking point.

Although the deal ultimately did not come to fruition, it would not be a surprise to see talks revisited in the summer as a lot of groundwork was laid. So, what should Leafs fans think of this return?

Phaneuf is turning 30 this year and is signed through the 2020-21 season with a $7M cap hit. Since his first full season in Toronto, he is 24th in points by a defenseman league wide and 20th in goals; for all the criticism he gets, he has been very productive. The rest of the story with Phaneuf is well documented. He gets saddled with extremely tough competition and zone starts, and rarely gets any help. His partners in Toronto have been: Francois Beauchemin, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Kostka, and Cody Franson. The centers he has had to team up with for checking assignments has not been much better: Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, David Steckel, Tim Connolly, Jay McClement, Dave Bolland, and now Nazem Kadri. That is not exactly a banner group, to put it nicely. To compound matters, the team did not start getting consistently solid goaltending until 2013.

However, his underlying numbers have been poor as he’s been unable to push play successfully. At least according to WOWYs, players have had better numbers without him than with him (although some of that is probably due to match-ups and role).  The only season he has averaged less than 22min/game was his rookie season, so he’s been eating minutes pretty well his entire career.

It appears any deal between the two teams would require at least Stephen Weiss going back the other way in order to swap money and big deals.

Weiss is turning 32 this year and signed through the 2017-2018 season with a $4.9M cap hit per season. The next two years he’s making $6M in real dollars, so it would be very attractive to Detroit to move that away. He costs less than Phaneuf, and the Leafs would be getting out from Dion’s contract three years earlier, these are swaps we starting to see happen in the NHL and ones I wondered if they’d begin to happen. Weiss hasn’t had a healthy season since the 2011-12 campaign, this year he has managed to get into 41 games and has had a reasonably productive 19 points, but he’s doing it shooting nearly 17%. He has played primarily at wing this season, but there is reason to believe he can still be a productive top nine forward.

That is presumably why the Leafs would ask for Brendan Smith as well. Smith is 26 and has played only 178 NHL games, and last season was his first playing over 70 games. This year he is playing the 5th most overall and at even strength among the Red Wings’ defense group. His underlying numbers are strong (55CF%), as are his WOWYs.  Last season was the same story when the Red Wings were healthy, although Smith did play in the top four quite a bit due to Jonathon Ericsson missing time and only playing 48 games.  Smith is also an RFA and should command a reasonable raise on his $1.26M salary.

Without money being retained either way, the Leafs aren’t gaining cap space in the immediate future and they are trading away the best player in the deal. A productive top four defenseman for an overpaid top nine forward who has struggled to stay healthy, along with a prime-aged defenseman who has yet to prove he can play in the top four, is an immediate win for Detroit. The Leafs would win this deal down the road when Weiss’ deal expires (and they might even be able to trade him on the last year of his deal, who knows).

But it is not a great return considering Phaneuf would go to a contender, play heavy minutes—possibly with Kronwall — and be a big player for them as they try to win a Cup while Zetterberg and Datsyuk are still around. It makes sense that Friedman noted the parameters changed once the Braydon Coburn deal went down; Weiss and Smith are parts of a fine return, but the Leafs should be getting some sort of young asset with upside (be it a high pick or good prospect; don’t confuse that with that being their best prospect, though).

Phaneuf is a lightning rod and that makes it tough to cut through the nonsense and see his real value. On a team like Detroit, they have a defense with Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathon Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and now Marek Zidlicky (along with some decent young players); he would be going to go there and play a prime role on a perennial contender. To get some secondary pieces with zero futures would be an underwhelming return.

Notes

  • Thought this was a good point on twitter about Mats Sundin and how old he was when the Leafs finally succeeded with him. Kessel is turning 28 this year and, while the team might not be a season away from being successful, he is still an extremely productive player and not nearly old enough to think they still can’t win with him down the road. There have been, in my opinion, legitimate concerns raised over whether or not Kessel will age well due to his workout habits, but it can’t be denied that he can roll out of bed and contribute, as his shot is simply that good.  Some will say it’s time to move on and start fresh, and maybe it is, but I don’t think age is relevant with Kessel yet. He’s young enough to remain productive and obviously still is.
    I
  • As a complete aside, it’s funny that we hear a lot about “if only Clark or Gilmour were on the team,” but never Sundin. Sundin was a 6’5, right handed center who could play in all situations against anyone, and the only player between the three to have a career wherein he scored over a point per game. Doesn’t mean much or help the team now, but it’s funny how players are remembered in this city. Safe to say Kessel will be remembered in the same light Sundin is, which isn’t really a compliment.
    I
  • I suggested last week that the team should have traded Roman Polak due to the acquisitions of Tim Erixon and Eric Brewer. Later in the week, Erixon was scratched against Tampa Bay so Brewer could make his debut, which seemed confusing considering Erixon is the type of young player they should want to give every opportunity. A week later, Stephane Robidas and Polak have been shut down for the year. Don’t mind admitting I’m wrong, but there are a lot of moving parts here. Apparently Polak has been playing with a hernia problem for most of the year, but there were teams interested in Polak at the deadline, including his former squad. Could the Leafs have moved a player who is done for the rest of the year anyway for value? Were the rumours simply that and GMs across the league knew he was hurt? Quite a few interesting scenarios to consider here.
    I
  • Now Leafs management has a decision to make. The Marlies are 7-3-0 in their last ten and knocking on the door of a playoff spot sitting only one point out but having three teams to pass. They acquired TJ Brennan at the deadline and Stuart Percy still isn’t back, so how are they going to fill the hole on defense? On one hand it would be nice to get a look at players on the Leafs to get ready for next season, but more players would benefit from the Marlies making the playoffs on the whole.  The team is also trying to tank. Who they call-up might not be indicative of the team viewing that player as a long-term piece.
    I
  • Interesting observation from David Johnson on Twitter. The JvR – Bozak – Kessel line has shot under 2% under Horachek, and in general has played some pretty defeated hockey with the season going down the drain. One thing worth exploring is this—Via War-on-ice, under Horachek Kessel has started over 60% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone this season, but under Carlyle he was starting a little over 43%. Logically, that sounds like it would increase production and it certainly has a play in the lines increased CF%. However, this line scores almost all of their goals off the rush, so in a weird way they might be better served in the defensive zone where they can break out and use their speed and skill through the neutral zone to create mismatches and score goals. Of course, the bigger question to that is whether or not that is conducive to winning, because all three players are poor defensively.

Quotes

“The guys have tendencies when things go well, they like to go read stuff about themselves. They get in this cycle that they have to read about themselves all the time. But one [piece of] advice for the players that play in a Canadian market, or any market: At the end of the day, all that matters is what the coaches say, management says and your teammates. That’s it. And your wife. I think that’s all you need to do. I think here with the players, they pay too much attention what the people outside say because, at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter. You guys know better than any of us how it goes here. One game you score two, you’re a hero. Next game you’re minus-2 — things are not that good. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy enough. I kind of liked that style because you as a player, you want to be in a place that hockey matters, and at the same time, you want to be part of the good teams, too. Hopefully, they can fix things here because I think the city of Toronto deserves to have a good team, a winning team. It would be unbelievable for the league and for the sport.”

– Olli Jokinen on the Leafs and the media.

In the social media age it is honestly impossible to avoid the media here in Toronto. The major, national sports stations are here, as well as the newspapers, the city is Leafs obsessed no matter what anyone tells you, and the ratings on the team are massive given the opportunity. It would be foolish to think that this doesn’t affect the players one bit, no matter how many media members want to pat each other on the back on Twitter and say it’s not their fault the team is bad. It isn’t their fault, they didn’t build the team, but the attention and constant pressure over any little thing would beat down on any human, especially when the team is poor like they are this year and  people still feel the need to kick them while they are down. The rest of the season is a formality; they are rightfully tanking to get a high pick in a potentially elite draft. It is clear, though, that the team needs to do a better job of shielding the players from the media, at least with this current group. Kessel is clearly rattled by everything going on, for example. As much as it is on the players to deal with everything better, and it will be easier when the team itself is actually good, management/PR/whoever needs to help, too. The relationship between the team and media has been shockingly toxic this year. I’ve never seen it this bad. The media isn’t changing or shrinking in Toronto, so it’s up to the team to figure out a solution internally because it has been an awful year to follow the team.

“I like playing here. It’s close to home & my family can watch the games.”

– David Booth, pending UFA on the possibility of returning.

Booth is turning 31 this year and has four goals and nine points in 44 games, along with 63 SOG, and a 48.8CF%. He takes a lot of shots from the outside, which appears to artificially inflate his possession numbers, but he’s also played a large chunk of the year on the fourth line and hasn’t gotten any power play time. Down the stretch he’s getting an opportunity to play with some of the Leafs scorers and steady minutes to along with regular PK time. For a good portion of the season he looked like a player that was on his way out of the league, but lately he’s shown better with the increased role. He has 15 games left to show what he can do.

“Did I talk to Naz? Yep. We talked about his past, and I talked about today, that he wasn’t playing.”

-Peter Horachek, on benching Nazem Kadri for sleeping in and missing a team meeting. 

He made a mistake, he owned it, and the Leafs rightfully sat him. Not much else to say here, really. They disciplined him and rightfully so. Hopefully he learns and everyone moves forward. There was talk about the why the Leafs would even tell the media, but what is the alternative here? Healthy scratch him without reason and say it’s a team issue? As if some media member in Toronto wouldn’t dig up the reason? I think it was a pretty honest mistake and unfortunate situation, but the team and player handled it pretty well all around.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think, for the defense, I would either keep up Petter Granberg or call-up Andrew MacWilliam. For me the focus should be on AHL playoffs and getting guys like William Nylander more professional hockey games under pressure. It sucks for Brennan, but just because he is in the AHL now doesn’t mean they can’t give him a real look next season. Focus on the Marlies and the playoffs, and, again, keep the kids away from the NHL mess.
    I
  2. I think I get why the team is playing Holland on the point of the power play (to get him PP time however they can because of all their forwards), but I’d rather see Tim Erixon there. His last stint in the AHL he had 38 points in 40 games, and he was known to have some offense when he was drafted. Erixon should get a prime opportunity now to show what he can do in the NHL. The team can still put Holland on the power play for a guy like Panik and cycle in forwards when necessary. It’s not like the team has six forwards who deserve PP time.
    I
  3. I think shutting Robidas and Polak down was the right move, and if there are other players in the same boat of needing surgery soon it should be done with them, too. Tanking stuff aside, if you’re an established veteran there is nothing left to gain by playing out the season. Get fixed, get healthy, get ready for next year.
    I
  4. I think the goalie situation down the stretch is a tough one to figure out. Do you split starts or heavily favour one guy over the other? Reimer seems like he needs out, but Bernier is an RFA and apparently wants to get paid. The smart money is on hedging your bets at this point and pretty well just splitting them the rest of the way.  I don’t think either goalie’s value is swaying one way or another based on the end of the season at this point.
    I
  5. I think there has been an insinuation that there are players who are unhappy they did not get traded at the deadline. If that is true, they should be accommodated out of the city at one point or another in the near future. It doesn’t mean you should sell a guy for pennies on the dollar, but if you don’t want to be part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

I

New Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, left, looks over at Maple Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis during a news conference in Toronto on Monday, April 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

A deadline of selling rentals and stockpiling depth picks was expected, until the Columbus Blue Jackets came calling with an offer too good to be true.

Somehow, Toronto got out of the David Clarkson era relatively unscathed.

by -
1026

The NHL is officially a week away from the NHL trade deadline. Leafs fans in seller mode rejoice.

I’ve written before about selling high and selling low, and I thought this would be a good time to revisit that framework due to an expected flurry of trades to happen at some point in the next seven days. I’m not going to write about obvious players on the move like pending UFA Daniel Winnik, but let’s take a look at some players under the Leafs control who are on the block:

Phil Kessel

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: Kessel had 214 points in his last 212 regular season games before this season, but is set to finish well below the point per game mark this year. He’s also pushed for 40 goals the last two full seasons but this year will just be trying to hit 30. He’s making $10M in actual dollars this year and next, then makes $9M the following two seasons. So, he’s under producing and is going to be one of the highest paid players in the league for the foreseeable future.

Tyler Bozak

Sell Status: High
Thoughts: Bozak is on pace for a career season in both goals and points, and he is turning 29 this year. Next year he is making $5M in actual dollars, the most expensive year of his deal, and then his money starts to decline. Last summer was the optimal time to sell high based on his PPG, but he’s still producing solid point totals now; you just wonder how much longer he is going to play with Kessel and rack up the points on PP1 like he currently is.  Bozak has also started showing some ability to tilt shot attempt totals to his side under Horachek lately, which might be an added benefit to some teams.

James van Riemsdyk

Sell Status: High
Thoughts: On pace to approach last season’s total of 61 points and 30 goals again, so he’s going to roughly repeat his career best season back-to-back. He’s also only turning 26 and is signed for three more seasons with a measly $4.25M cap hit. All the numbers are good, but if you have watched him play this year or dig deeper, you know all is not well here. He’s arguably the worse defensive player on the team and he struggles to break out cleanly or back check consistently. If they can get a good center or defenseman for JVR, you have to think they pull the trigger.

Nazem Kadri

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: His game has taken a step forward defensively this year, but his offense is roughly the same as last year which is what most will look at. To make matters worse, he’s also an RFA this summer and that promises to be a lengthy negotiation; teams tend to avoid getting themselves into these situations. He’s turning 25 this year and has firmly established himself as a top 6 C, but he has another level offensively he can hit considering he’s primarily been a second power play option this season.

Joffrey Lupul

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: He’s been okay when he’s played (47 point, 22 goal pace), but he’s missed nearly half the season. The book on Lupul is out there and everyone knows it: He’s weak defensively, dynamic offensively, and he gets hurt every season at least once. This year he turns 32 and he has three more years left on his deal.

Dion Phaneuf

Sell Status: Flat
Thoughts: Was having a decent year before getting injured; among the leaders in defensemen for power play and overall production. Still logs heavy minutes (23:05TOI/game this year) against tough competition, although the Leafs did try to shelter his zone starts whenever possible. The real crux of the status is his contract though; there is a lot of term and money left on it which means unless he has elite numbers it’s tough to ignore.

Roman Polak

Sell Status: High
Thoughts: Playing over 21 minutes a night this year, which would be the second time in his career he has done so. Polak is having a pretty ordinary season for him, but the Toronto effect seems to be raising his profile as a big, heavy, grind it out penalty killing defenseman. He’s a third pairing defenseman playing high in the line-up because the Leafs defense is so weak, but teams are always looking for solid, right handed defensemen, so that serves Toronto well when it comes to the possibility of trading him.

Jake Gardiner

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: Just started a big contract extension and is on pace for a career-worst season of 20 points even though he is supposed to be a point producing defenseman. His game has rebounded a bit under Horachek and he is beginning to make better reads again, but it’s doubtful a short span of good games resurrects his value considering how poor he was in the first half of the season. Gardiner is turning 25 this year and has four more years left on his deal.

Stephane Robidas

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: Robidas has had a rough first season in Toronto. He had surgery in the summer and was red shirted for most of training camp and preseason.  He finally got into some games on the final weekend of preseason, then stepped onto the top pairing with Phaneuf and got torched at the start of the regular season. When he got pushed down the line-up and got some games under his belt, he started playing better. He got hurt and tried playing through it, for which his on-ice play suffered. He’s back now but this looks like a lost season. He’s 38 in a few weeks and has two more years left on his contract.

Notes

– There is a lot of talk around Toronto about trading Kessel and then in separate breaths, hoping to get Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the draft. There’s very little talk about what happens after you hypothetically draft one of those two.  It would be nice to have an elite scoring winger to play with one of those two players, perhaps someone like Phil Kessel. The irony of finally getting a center for Kessel, and then not having Kessel to play with one of the two prospects, would really be something. It’s all hypothetical at the moment, of course, but amazing how almost nobody is bringing up this thought.

– It was interesting to see all the praise Tyler Myers was getting during the Leafs-Jets game on Saturday night. Leafs fans should be completely aware of Myers, since he played on a division rival. Needless to say, he wasn’t getting anywhere near that level of praise while playing on Buffalo in the last two years. It was a good showing of how quickly the story changes around a good player who once played on a bad team, that suddenly got traded to a decent team and was no longer asked to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. Toronto has a good handful of players that fit that bill and that is why the team needs to be very careful about who they trade, and what they get in return. There are some really good players whom, if they trade, are going to go elsewhere and rip it up.

– Dion Phaneuf has missed 12 games now, and in those 12 games Morgan Rielly has eight points and a 52.85CF% while averaging 23:24 TOI and just over 2SOG per game.  Elite defensemen drafted high are now coming into the NHL and finding success relatively quickly, and now we are starting to see Morgan Rielly handle the same workload. At the start of the season the talk around Rielly was that him having the same year as his rookie one would be a success, but he’s clearly taken a step forward.

Tweeted about Phaneuf’s PP production Saturday but thought it was worth re-posting here:

– Rielly has produced and played well in Dion’s absence, but when it comes to the power play Kessel is getting a lot more pressure on the half-wall because there is no shot up top from Dion Phaneuf that teams have to respect. Cody Franson was another strong PP contributor, and losing two guys that were both going to push for 40+ points would hurt any top power play unit, but even when Franson was playing without Dion, teams sagged on Kessel and cut the middle pass, leaving the top wide open because they don’t need to respect Gardiner or Rielly’s shot. Phaneuf only has two goals this season, but even as a decoy he brings a lot of value to that power play unit. The power play is 5/36 since Phaneuf has been out, a shade under 14%. That would be the third worst PP in the league right now.

Quotes

“If you’re saying something good about a player, he’s a rock star, and if a guy has a tough night and you want to deal with the media honestly, you’ve got to be careful about how hard you go at his play because then the next day or maybe even that day, it’s a drive-by shooting. They’ll find something that’s not going and it’s 40 people in the stall figuring out whether they should trade him, play him more or execute him.

 Paul Maurice, on coaching in Toronto.

One thing Randy Carlyle did well, generally speaking, was that he simply didn’t say a heck of a lot during his press conferences and he was very friendly with the media members. Pat Quinn has the reputation for the last Leafs coach to be really great with the media, and he was, but I wonder how much of that was due to having a really good team to fall-back on. This is a tough market that will beat down on just about anyone, the secret is either not saying interesting and thus not getting yourself into trouble, or simply not caring what others think.

“The Leafs also have some interest in Alexander Burmistrov, the troubled high draft pick playing in the KHL, whose rights are owned by Winnipeg.”

Steve Simmons, on the Leafs interest in the checking center the Jets own that is currently playing in the KHL

Not to turn this into a rumour blog, but we know the Jets have had interest in Daniel Winnik, and just recently we found out the Jets have made Burmistrov available. I’m sure the Leafs are pushing for this move and would love to do it, but would Winnipeg? It’s a long-term win for the Leafs if they can get him to come over.

“My heart is here and I’d like to stay here, but if I’m not in the plans then you show other teams that you can certainly be someone that fits in. When you’re not going to the playoffs, there’s going to be rumours.”

Joffrey Lupul, on where he stands with the team.

Saturday was a nice reminder of how effective a healthy and playing Joffrey Lupul is. It’s easy to forget because he is hurt all the time.  It is also a good look at how little secondary scoring the Leafs have. Other than the first line, not one player on the team is on pace to crack the 50 point plateau which was partly why I was so confused in the utter lack of interest in Evander Kane. Lupul has three years left on his deal and next season he’s making almost $7M in real dollars, which will be tough to move, but after that his salary starts to decrease. Contenders generally look for two things at the deadline—depth defensemen, and goal scorers. The question with Lupul is do you simply cut bait because he can’t stay healthy, or keep him and hope his value spikes up a year or two from now? A lot of teams would want a healthy Lupul for a Cup run, and you don’t want to give him away for free only to watch him score big goals pushing a Cup run in May for some other team.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think, when it comes to a possible Roman Polak trade, if you can get a 2nd or legitimate prospect it is worth it, but if teams are offering 3rds or 4ths the Leafs should hold onto him. He has another year left on his deal, and he’ll have value next season as a rental, so there is no pressure to trade him now. The value is at a 2nd or good prospect because the Leafs don’t have a 2nd this year and that’s a high pick for a third pairing defenseman (keep in mind the Leafs traded a 2nd for a point producing #4 D-man in Liles just a few years ago). Alternatively, a good prospect is cost controlled young talent and helps build up a team. Polak has done his job in Toronto and if they can’t get the value now he’d be more than fine to keep, but if the value is there it’s a simple decision to bite the bullet on the current roster and keep building for the future.
  2. I think one thing I’d like to see this year is Morgan Rielly paired with Dion Phaneuf. In the summer I thought the team would play Phaneuf with one of the two puck movers, but when they decided to switch Dion from RD to LD it nixed that idea. Now with Dion out Rielly is getting more responsibility and he is showing he is able to handle it, but also (and maybe more importantly) he is showing that when he does make mistakes he is able to rebound from them. And he’s doing this playing with guys like Roman Polak. Phaneuf would give Rielly a veteran to lean on, and a legitimate top four defenseman as a partner. For Phaneuf, it would move him back to the side he has played on his entire professional career, and gives him a guy that can actually wheel when, you know, he yells wheel.
  3. I think the Leafs need to sit Petter Granberg for at least a game, because the play is moving much too fast for him. Through six games he’s averaging 10:58 of ice time, with one SOG, and 3 minor penalties stemming from holding onto players or tripping them as he’s getting taken wide. Granberg is turning 23 this year, so he’s really not that young, but he is inexperienced and looks way out of his element at the moment. It doesn’t help either that they have been playing the right handed Granberg with other right handed defensemen. When I ran the numbers last season, under 35% of D-men that played a game last year were right handed; they are in such high demand that they hardly ever playing the left side save for the PP, but the Leafs have been running righties on the left and they are really struggling. Between Granberg not being ready and the players he’s partnered with playing out of position, it’s been a disaster.
  4. I think I would be really pushing to make some depth deals between now and Thursday (the date of the Leafs next game) if I were management. Guys like Holzer and Booth, if you can move them now do it. You’re not getting a great return either way, but what moving them now does is give you a few extra days to freely call-up players and figure out who you want up after the deadline. Don’t forget, teams only have a limited number of call-ups they can use after the trade deadline and the Leafs have to prepare for that now. The rule is there to try and help prevent tanking, which is somewhat understandable, but if you’re the Leafs you have to plan for that now because there are more than a few players on the Marlies worth seeing up with the team before the season ends.
  5. I think, if the Leafs are trying to build this thing right, they have to keep players accountable now. Against the Jets, the best line of the night was clearly Winnik-Kadri-Lupul, who went head to head against Winnipeg’s top line and scored twice, yet it was not Kadri and Lupul starting the power play in overtime, it was the top line. It took them over a minute to gain the zone successfully in 4v3 hockey, and they never seriously threatened to score. There is going to be a much higher pay off down the road if you are playing the players who deserve it, not the players that have contracts or names that dictate they should be getting the ice time. When you have a high end team you throw out the guys who got you there all the time, without question, but the Leafs don’t have that team. Play the guys that deserve it. Make players earn their ice time.

TORONTO, ON- OCTOBER 7 - Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan during a sit down interview in his office at the Mastercard Centre. (Photo: Tara Walton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs completed their first trade of the season with something expected: Moving out a couple of pending UFAs they were in tough to retain.

There are essentially two ways to view the move. You can say this as an indictment on the Leafs for not locking up Cody Franson long-term earlier, or that he is not worth the money he is about to get and they cut bait at the right time.

Brian Burke Mastercard Center Board

Rumour season is in fine form as the Toronto Maple Leafs, yet again, limp to the finish line.

There are a lot of big names being thrown around that carry big contracts, and while we don’t know if any of them will be moved we can reasonably assume at least some of the Leafs pending UFAs will be gone by the trade deadline. In particular, the three players that are getting the most attention in Toronto are Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson.

The trade market has not been set yet, but we can look back at previous deadlines to get a rough sense of what to expect in return. Below are some forward deals pertaining to Winnik and Santorelli specifically:

TradedReturn
Lee Stempniak3rd
Marcel Goc3rd+5th
Dustin Penner4th
Ales Hemsky 3rd+5th
Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick2nd, 2nd, Torrey Mitchell
Tuomo RuutuCond. 3rd, Andrei Loktionov
Derek RoyKevin Connauton 2nd
Raffi Torres3rd

Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli are both legitimate top 9 forwards on any contender. They are each versatile, cheap, and can produce without PP time. They are going to have value. Winnik is playing to a 32 point pace, Santorelli a 44 point pace. But as we can see above, that value is maybe not as high as some people would like it to be.

There are a few things working against getting extremely high returns on Winnik and Santorelli. First off, they were both available this summer and nobody was jumping through hoops for either. They’ve both shown to be undervalued players worth more than they signed for, but it’s doubtful that teams will do complete 180s on either player. Winnik will probably be acquired to play on a third liner, and fill in spot duty on L2. If Santorelli is played as a C it will be on the third line, but he has a chance to be a second liner on a good team on the wing. He too is likely a L3 player, though.

The second point is that history shows us not to expect a great return. Above we see not much of a return on similar players who can play up and down a top 9 in various roles. When Brian Burke first came to the Leafs he was able to trade a similar type player, Dominic Moore, for a 2nd rounder. That would be the ideal return here considering previous history.

The third factor is that there are a lot of sellers this year, and that could drive the market prices down (your basic supply and demand scenario). The East playoffs are all-but decided. We have a good guess as to the current eight playoff seeds, although there is at least a chance Florida can swoop in. With the injury to Steve Mason, the Flyers are seemingly all but done. So, we’re looking at 6-7 sellers from the East alone to pick apart. The West is a different story though, with only Edmonton and Arizona truly out of it. Even if nobody else falls off and sells, you’re looking at nine harder sells, nearly a third of the league (and remember, 53% of NHL teams make the playoffs). Nobody is giving up high draft picks for good but not great players in that market.

On defense, though, it’s a different story. Good defensemen rarely get traded because they are so hard to find, but here are a few recent examples of deadline defensemen trades:

TradedReturn
Andrew MacDonald3rd, 2nd, Matt Mangene
Robyn Regehr2nd, 2nd
Andrej Meszarous3rd
Jay Bouwmeester1st, Reto Berra, Mark Cundari

As we can see with defensemen, two things are readily apparent: Not many “quality” (I say that loosely considering the names there) get traded, and when they do, they net high returns. There are other potential strong defensemen getting traded this season too though, including Zybnek Michalek, Mike Green and Andrej Sekera. That means Franson might not be the player certain teams covet most and that could hurt, or even help, his return depending on how you look at it. It’s easy to see that the asking price should at least start with a 2nd round pick, but it is up to the Leafs to create a bidding war and drive his price up. He’s currently tied for 16th league wide in defensemen scoring, he’s right handed, 6’5, and only 27. A return of more than a 2nd, say a 2nd and reasonable prospect, or even a 1st round pick is not out of the question here.

All in all, when it comes to selling off some rentals, management should be able to expect something along the lines of a 2nd, prospect, and some 3rds or 4ths on the way. Can they get creative with these deals and get even more in return? Perhaps packaging players together to drive up the price, as Buffalo did when they added Cody McCormick to Matt Moulson and took back a salary? Trading the rentals one by one will net value, and the team does not have their 2nd round pick this year, so adding more to their group is not only positive, it’s somewhat of a necessity. Getting creative is where things could get really interesting, because, as we can see, selling off rentals isn’t all that enthralling.

Notes

  • For those keep tracking at home, the Leafs and Bolts have combined to essentially swap David Broll and Carter Ashton for Richard Panik and a conditional 7th round draft pick. A year ago Carter Ashton was crushing the AHL (16 goals in 24 games), and David Broll was a promising “new fourth liner that can hit, fight and play a little.” His point totals weren’t much in the AHL, but he had a decent showing with the Leafs and had the label of an “elite possession player” from his former OHL GM and current Leafs AGM. Now the Leafs have Richard Panik, who has 8 goals and 9 points total in 48 games shooting over 17%. He’s done a decent job driving play when you look at his WOWYs, and his hustle has helped draw a noticeable amount of PPs. Tampa Bay’s farm team needed help so that was their primary reason to make the move, but it will be interesting to look back on these swaps of assets a year or two from now. Are Ashton and Broll having awful years, or are they washing out of pro hockey altogether? Panik has some promising games, but his shooting percentage is far too high to believe he’ll keep scoring at this rate (which overall, isn’t impressive as is), and he isn’t exactly a smooth player to watch.
  • The real sticking point for the Leafs is going down from 50 standard player contracts to 48. A few weeks ago, for example, the Florida Panthers put an at least intriguing young defenseman on waivers and the Leafs could not have picked him up freely if they wanted to because they couldn’t have absorbed another contract. Now they can add two players without having to send a single player back the other way. They can also absorb unwanted players to get greater players from opposing teams.
  • A lot of reports coming out lately that the Leafs are “very ready” to move Jonathan Bernier, so let’s take a look at the Leafs two goalies, who are the same age. A debate that has happened time and again since Dave Nonis acquired Jonathan Bernier. Reimer is bigger and heavier, plays a blocking style that isn’t always pretty, but he’s a battler in the crease; he was drafted 99th overall and worked his way up through pro hockey benefitting from some injuries within the Leafs organization and seizing opportunities. Whereas Bernier is on the smaller side for goalies, playing a cleaner style of goaltending using his athleticism and swallowing up rebounds calmly, along with some puck handling abilities. Here are their respective career numbers to this point in time:

CareerGPSAMINSV%GAA
Bernier154444286090.9172.57
Reimer163485587990.9132.88

  • For reference, here is an excellent article from Eric Tulsky on predicting future goalie success using save percentage. Both goalies are in that range of starts not (150+) with save percentages we can use to guess future success. It is worth wondering and mentioning that Reimer’s overall numbers may be skewed slightly to the negative side because the two worst save percentage seasons of his NHL career have been the last two seasons, when he has been a backup seeing spot duty.
  • It would be reasonable to say Bernier has been a slightly better goalie than Reimer to this point in their careers. Let’s call Bernier an 8 and Reimer a 7.5. The betting would be that the Leafs can acquire a return that’s, say, a 7 or 8 back for Bernier, but only a 5 or 6 for Reimer. Bernier, a first round pick, once considered the best goalie not in the NHL and extremely talented, versus Reimer, who kicks out rebounds, has no real pedigree, and has been a backup for a season and a half now. So, logically you net out ahead by trading Bernier. At least, that’s the thinking anyway, as many have noted in the comments sections over the months as I have voiced criticism towards Bernier’s play this season.
  • 2015 UFA goalies, by the way: Antti Niemi, Michal Neuvirth, Devan Dubnyk, Thomas Greiss, Jhonas Enroth, Viktor Fasth, Curtis McElhinney, and Ray Emery are the notables.

Quotes

“Even if Evander Kane was a sterling individual who kissed babies the Leafs have too many wingers who can score. Need centres & D.”


– Bob McKenzie, on the possibility of the Leafs being interested in Evander Kane.

The Leafs have two wingers that can score well—JVR and Kessel. Lupul can rack up points too, but struggles to stay healthy. Other wingers signed next year: Leo Komarov, David Clarkson, Richard Panik (RFA). Wouldn’t exactly say they are flush with scoring wingers over here. Should they go all out for Kane? Of course not. The overarching point is not a bad one. But the idea that they have enough scoring wingers is false. Acquiring Kane would also allow them to trade a current winger to help plug another problem and shift around assets positively.

“There were a lot of songs that were overused. We’ve cleaned all that up. We used some tried-and-true market radio research to determine Toronto’s favourite radio songs. We found there was a much broader consensus about what music works at a hockey game. It goes across all genres: rock, pop, hip-hop and country — heavily rock. There are some favourites, and some songs people never want to hear again.”


– Alan Cross, on his new job with the Leafs overseeing in-arena music.

I wrote about The Extra 2% earlier in the year and noted how part of it was enhancing the arena experience to attract fans and make noise. This is hardly the Leafs first attempt and hopefully, for them, another way to turn attention away from the on-ice product. Many of you will probably remember all the ceremonies under the Burke regime as another example of this.

“I don’t really look at the contract. I know it, I understand the political ramifications of everything that goes on. I have to try to push myself into just staying as a coach and doing what I think is best for the team.”


– Peter Horachek, on scratching David Clarkson.

Sounds like a coach with nothing to lose, first and foremost. The reality of the matter is this, Clarkson is killing whatever line he is on. He doesn’t have the skill to play on a scoring line, and he isn’t heavy or strong enough to play on a good grind line. What will have to happen is the following: The team is not good enough to justify buying him out now, nor will they be good enough to do it anytime soon. They’ll have to pay and play him until they actually need to open up the cap space once they’ve built the roster back up. Then, they’ll buy him out. The only other alternative is trading him by retaining money and sweetening the pot by attaching an asset back.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think I’d just keep pouring minutes on Rielly the rest of the season. In the 14 games Horachek has been behind the bench, Rielly has averaged 23.5min/game. For the overall season he’s playing just over 19 minutes. Looking over the 2012 draft class, Rielly has a chance to be among the elite D of that class which includes Jacob Trouba, Hampus Lindholm, and Ryan Murray. I’ve eyeballed development arcs of current top end defensemen, and they almost always get thrown into big minutes immediately and build their game up through that. Rielly had a quietly solid rookie season, and now he has an opportunity to rise to the occasion where he’ll either succeed carrying that into next season, or he’ll falter and you can build him back up during the summer with a collection of lessons to teach from. With the season all but over, it’s a win-win situation.

  2. I think we’re starting to see the Jake Gardiner we thought the Leafs signed in the summer. The first three games under Horachek he played sparingly, but since that he’s played over 20 minutes in 9 of 11 games and has 5 points in them with an overall CF% over 57. The Jake Gardiner rumours were all over Toronto earlier in the season, but that has to give management pause. I wrote back in December arguing we had to let Gardiner play out the season and see how he bounces back, and right now it’s happening. With Franson all but gone and Phaneuf rumours running rampant, you can only change your defense so much. Let’s revisit Gardiner rumours at the draft after the season concludes.
  3. I think another guy I’d like to see get increased minutes is Peter Holland. He’s playing only 14:25/night and just under a minute on the PP per game. He has 18 points in 44 games, which is nothing to sneeze at, and although his underlying numbers haven’t been the strongest, he’s the biggest C option the Leafs have right now. Some might snicker to the idea of Holland being a top 6 C, but he’s playing to a 34 point pace in limited minutes with little PP TOI, but what happens if you increase that? Nobody is going to confuse him to be a Selke candidate, but can he center a secondary scoring line successfully? That seems very plausible. Let’s find out by heaping more responsibility on the player.
  4. I think the Clarkson situation is really tough. As I said above, he’s not skilled enough to play on a scoring line, and he’s not heavy or strong enough to play on a grind line. He’s basically a fourth liner at this point and when he comes back into the line-up that’s where he should play. The Leafs can roll three reasonably-okay lines at the moment without him and if I was Horachek I wouldn’t be putting Clarkson in my top 9 just to make people happy at this point. So, stick him on the fourth line as an energy player and make him force his way up the line-up, the same way he broke into the league.
  5. I think I’d get Stuart Percy up as soon as he’s healthy and rolling to get him NHL reps. He had a good showing earlier in the year and there’s reason to think he’s a solid NHL defenseman, but he’s not the fleetest of foot. He needs reps against NHLers, at NHL speed, as much as possible to adjust. His timing is just a little off as someone who likes to slow the game down, and these are the times you work out those kinks. They are trying out Granberg and Holzer, and they are right handed which is always a need and I get that, but Percy figures to be the more important piece in the future.

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

Since the hiring of Peter Horachek, the Maple Leafs have reduced their shots against, but have been ice cold offensively.

Horachek has begun implementing a 5-5-5 system where the team is about moving in units versus cheating for odd man rushes and hanging out at the far blue line, and it has taken some time adjust.

One of the most interesting quotes on the team and their changes came from Ken Hitchcock before the Leafs played in St. Louis. “Everything I see is Nashville,” Hitchcock said. “That’s the way Nashville played for years. You can see the implementation of it. I told our coaches you could show Nashville clips from last year, the year before, five years ago, that is the way they are going to play. There is going to be a tight gap. You’re going to have to get the puck behind them because there is not going to be any room in front of them. You can see that.”

Now, many people will see the link to Nashville and think to themselves, “no wonder they can’t score any more,” but the idea “Trotz wants grind it out defensive hockey and his teams can’t score” is a myth. Since the 2005 lockout, this is how Trotz’s teams have ranked in 5v5 goals for: 17th, 3rd, 5th, 22nd, 11th, 12th, 10th, 26th (lockout year), 12th. On a budget team with not many stars, they were hardly unable to score, and in fact were consistently above average (only 3/9 times in the bottom half of even strength scoring).

So, what is the problem here? Why are they not scoring?

First of all, it’s been 11 games. Eleven. In that span they went to the West coast to play the hardest four game set in hockey– at Anaheim, LA, SJ, and STL. Of those 11 games, only four of them have been at home. I wrote about this right after the Christmas holiday, but the Leafs played an absurd amount of home games early in the season and it was a real possibility that it would catch to them. It has.

Beyond the fact that they have played a lot on the road and faced some very good teams, there has to be some time allotted for things to sort out. Bruce Boudreau did not save Anaheim in a single day. The Ducks started 3-14 under Boudreau and it took him about 20 games to get their possession game up:

Since that time the Ducks have won their division and are on pace to do it again. We live in a world of instant gratification, but you can’t snap your fingers and change a team. In a market like Toronto’s these things only get exacerbated tenfold.

The other interesting thing is how the Leafs are playing, and how it now affects their ability to score goals. A 5-5-5 system is predicated on zone time and movements as a unit, the antithesis of taking home run swings trying to get breakaways and 2v1s. How are they going to score goals in this system? Cycling, zone time, point shots, rebounds, goal mouth scrambles, so on and so forth. The Patric Hornqvist goals in Nashville, so to speak. Because of that, I went through last season’s goals to get an idea of how the Leafs were creating their goals 5v5 and how big of a challenge this would be.

I broke down all the 5v5 goals into three categories; the first being off the rush (breakaways, 2v1s, 3v2s, etc.), the second is shots in zone such as a one timer in the slot or point shot with no screen, and the third is a dirty goal (rebounds, tips, traffic in front, battle winning). To give you an idea, here is an example of a dirty goal from last season, where the Leafs won a battle and Gardiner took a point shot with two, almost three, Leafs in front screening the goalie. Here is an in-zone goal; zero screen, prime scoring opportunity, and the shooter beats the goalie cleanly. Here is the breakdown from the numbers:

In a past Notebook I showed how Horachek is trying to get the team to break out properly and move out of their zone cleanly. The one thing that is already readily apparent is the team has really cut down the time spent in their own zone, not just in terms of shots against, but in terms of getting cycled to death. Against the Devils, for example, the Leafs had a shift where they made an entire line change while possessing the puck in NJ’s end; unheard of in the Carlyle era. But where they are really getting hurt is they just won’t go to the dirty areas. There is a lot of perimeter hockey at the moment with shots from poor angles. Here is the shot location chart from the Flyers-Leafs game; the Leafs were a 60% possession team that night, but you see a good amount of shots from the points and boards, and rarely was there traffic:

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Philly Flyers

In the last three games the team has scored two goals—a breakaway and a 3v2. They’ve had good players miss prime scoring opportunities, which does get lost at times here, but they also don’t show a willingness to go to the net and get a dirty one. And, in this system, if they won’t cycle the puck to the point and then go to the net to cause havoc, the team is not going to score. It shows.

The first eleven games under Horachek have been a disaster record wise; the team is all but out of the playoffs, and tanking seems practical to cheer for. But there are still important things the team needs to work on correcting to get ready for the future. The commitment to defense and clean breakouts is starting to show, but the commitment to getting dirty in the offensive zone is not. One step at a time.

Notes

    • Decided to officially look into this—Reimer with his $2.3M cap hit is the second most expensive backup goalie in the NHL to Calgary’s Reto Berra ($2.75M). He is technically tied for second with Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens. In terms of games started, Reimer is 40th in the league across all goalies. That number though is a little inflated because the Leafs are tied for the second most games played in the league and Bernier is 16th in goalie starts this year. So, through 51 games, Bernier has started 69% of the games and had a fairly average season, while the Leafs employ one of the most expensive backups in the league on a cap team that is in lottery territory.
    • Spoke with Marlies man Kyle Cicerella on David Broll and he had no good reason for why the once promising plugger has completely bottomed out. He has 0 points in 21 AHL games, and 8 points in 14 ECHL games with 4 of those points coming in one game.  He had 16 points in 63 games with the Marlies last season, but he was noticeable on the cycle, with his physicality, and pushing play up ice. On the Leafs he didn’t look completely out of place. According to Kyle –he has watched the Marlies much more than I have, and live—what makes Broll a player is his cycling and forechecking, yet he has inexplicably not been able to do that this year, and without those two tools the rest of his game has fallen off completely. He just turned 22 this year, but the clock appears to be ticking here.
    • While reading this piece on sports and media and how Rogers is putting pressure on their hockey and broadcasting departments due to low ratings, I couldn’t help but wonder how that impacts the Leafs. This is the sticky part of media outlets owning the Leafs. I’ll speak for myself as a diehard fan of the team—I have almost no interest in watching this team currently. So, using my own watching as a gauge, I can only imagine how fair-weather fans are approaching this team. Short of getting a top 2 pick in this year’s draft, it’s hard to envision this team being suddenly strong next year (even if they do get a top 2 pick, they still won’t be, to be honest), or even all that exciting save for a magical rookie year from William Nylander. In saying that, what will the mandate be from ownership moving forward? Is Rogers going to be happy sinking all this money into broadcasting rights when the flagship team and primary attraction is rebuilding and viewers couldn’t be any less interested in them?
    • In the summer I wrote and wondered if it was ever 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 the team making the playoffs in the lockout year and missing them the following season only after a few brutal weeks in March, it was easy to be fooled into thinking this is a good team on the verge of breaking out. Here is how they have finished in the standings the last 5 seasons: 23rd, 9th, 26th, 22nd, 29th. This is truly a bad team and the core is going nowhere. It could not be any clearer.

    Quotes

    “You can’t make excuses. You’ve got to say that’s his job.”
    – Peter Horachek, after Bernier let in a floater from the far blue line against Arizona.

    Well, he’s right. How many times has this happened to Bernier in Toronto already though? Whatever you want to call it – not paying attention, not focusing enough, being too casual — it’s happening far too often to just chalk it up to fluke and coincidence anymore. I’ve written about this before, but I’ll say it again: This is his second year in Toronto, and in the first he got hurt and missed the last quarter of the season. This season he’s struggled. He was never the true starter in LA. And he wants to get paid this summer? No chance.

    “There’s always been speculation about the future of Nonis and whether he’s Shanahan’s guy and what he’s going to do here. Yeah, when Mark Hunter got hired I think there was a widespread presumption he could be a general manager in waiting, if and when Brendan Shanahan makes a move to terminate or put Dave Nonis out to pasture, whatever the case may be. But I’ve also heard, over the course of time, that Brendan Shanahan’s first choice if he were to hire a general manager other than Dave Nonis would be Rob Blake, who worked with Shanahan at Player Safety, and now of course works for the Los Angeles Kings under the Dean Lombardi regime. I personally don’t think Rob Blake has any interest in leaving Southern California. He’s a surfer. He likes working with the Kings. And as much as maybe one day he wants to be a general manager, I’d be absolutely shocked if he wants to do it in Toronto. Even though he’s from Simcoe, Ontario.”

    – Bob McKenzie, on the Leafs GM position.

    Everyone seems to be focusing on who will get traded because the deadline is near, but who the GM is moving forward is by far more important. The organization is directionless right now and there is no voice in the front office that has done this before. Putting someone in charge that actually knows what they are doing should figure to be priority number one before the other dominoes fall, shouldn’t it?

    “This is where I want to be and I hope to be for a very long time. [But] it’s not an easy job that they’ve got upstairs right now. It’s always a big numbers game.”
    – Cody Franson, on potentially re-signing with the Leafs.

    Franson is saying all the right things to position himself as the good guy and the Leafs as a bad guy should they part ways. Ultimately the Leafs need to make strong business decisions right now, versus getting caught up in a guy wanting to be a Leaf.

    5 Things I Think I’d Do

    1. I think it’s fine if the Leafs are playing guys like David Booth and Trevor Smith in order to move them, but once the deadline passes they need to put an end to this experiment. The team wanted a fourth line that could play and contribute a little which is fine, and you don’t cover your eyes completely when they are on the ice, but Smith has 3 points in 36 games. Booth has 2 in 28. Enough is enough. Give a few Marlies the opportunity to get some NHL experience and potentially be part of the solution moving forward. Smith and Booth mean nothing to the future of this team.
    2. I think discussing line combinations is a largely fruitless exercise at this point so I won’t do it, but I would like to see Peter Holland continue to get good ice time. Since returning from injury he has played 18:15, 15:42, and 17:52. He’s the biggest center on the team, and he’s still relatively young. Any experience and opportunity he can get to improve his game moving forward would be excellent.
    3. I think the only moves that make sense at the moment are trading pending UFAs because we don’t know who the GM is moving forward. If a deal falls in the Leafs lap where they can get an absurd return from a desperate team trying to win now (SJ? STL?), so be it, but otherwise, don’t let a guy you are maybe -probably – firing in a few months be making more big decisions.
    4. I think, if you didn’t read the first note, I’d move Reimer for the best draft pick I can. It’s clearly not happening in Toronto and he’s making too much money for his role. It was time to cut their losses in the summer, but they signed Reimer to a two year deal and said he’d have a chance to compete for starts, which hasn’t really happened.
    5. I think the next few years is the time to load up on draft picks, but maybe not for the reason you think. In the NFL, I saw the Seahawks take steal after steal in the late rounds because Pete Carroll knew the college route so well and had the inside scoop on hundreds of players. Many of the players he brought over to the Seahawks were players he openly tried to recruit and at times was unsuccessful in doing so (Richard Sherman, for example). Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas are going to know the OHL like the back of their hand right now. For this draft, and the next draft, they’ll have firsthand knowledge of what these prospects were like playing minor midget, to how they transitioned to the OHL, to what their ceiling is. Evaluating is about putting all pieces of information together to make a judgement, and the amount of information they will have on the two upcoming drafts, at least for the OHL, will be second to none. I am curious to see how many players they take from the OHL, and if they will be able to load up on picks. Now is definitely the time to do it. Teams value draft picks the least at this time of year.

by -
50
Dion Phaneuf
TORONTO, ON- DECEMBER 17 - Dion Phaneuf watches a scrum in the corner in second period action as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Florida Panthers at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. December 17, 2013. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

More than ever before, NHL management involves getting out of bad contracts. Always better to move a contract a year early, than a year late.

When the full season lockout lifted, free agency was an event with the capacity to shift team’s trajectories and quickly push them up or down the ranks. For example, the Anaheim Ducks signed Scott Niedermayer, their Captain, when they won the Cup. The Blackhawks—and Red Wings—signed Marian Hossa, who was a key piece in their Cup quests. Other teams did not win the Cup, but the Philadelphia Flyers signing Peter Forsberg; the New York Rangers signing Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Brad Richards; the Flyers signing Daniel Briere, and even the Wild signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were all huge, franchise-changing moves.

When Brian Burke came to Toronto he famously said “July 1 will be our draft,”  yet he was unable to ever bring in a true top line talent via UFA (except, maybe, Francois Beauchemin). In large part, that was because there were hardly any big fish to even catch during Burke’s tenure. Free agency, while still important, is now more than ever about finding secondary players to fill out your top 6 or top 4 at the lower end, or your depth lines. This summer, for example, the top UFA C is Antoine Vermette, a nice two-way C on any team, but nowhere near a true 1C. Other top free agents, at the moment, include players such as Martin St. Louis and Johnny Boychuk. Good players, to be sure, but not exactly young players you can use as building blocks for years to come.

Teams now have the ability to lock up their own UFAs for an extra year that other teams in free agency can’t offer, and the league is quickly going the way of the NBA. What that means is that teams are retaining their own players and mid-level players are reaping the benefits in free agency, as the only strong options available. Part of the repercussions of that is that teams are getting locked into deals with players by overpaying them, and the next step is teams trading contracts, regardless of the player.

In the NBA, it is a common occurrence for teams to make trades that almost entirely revolve around salaries, contracts, and clearing space for the future. We are starting to see the same thing seep into the fabric of the NHL front offices.

No GM has embraced this and took advantage of it better than the Montreal Canadiens’ Marc Bergevin. In his tenure, he has traded the two remaining years of Erik Cole and his $4.5M salary for pending UFA Michael Ryder (and somehow got Dallas to tack on a third round pick, too!). In the summer he traded the remaining four years of Josh Gorges’ contract to the Buffalo Sabres for a second round pick in 2016. This year he moved Rene Bourque in-season and sent his $3.3M cap hit, which runs until next season, for Bryan Allen and his $3.5M hit that expires this summer. Bryan Allen is toiling in the AHL, while Bourque has 7 points in 22 games for the Ducks, but do you think Bergevin cares? It was a bad contract—and he knew it—so he bit the bullet, got rid of it and will hope to take advantage of that cap space in the summer. This past summer the Philadelphia Flyers got in on the action, trading a much better player in Scott Hartnell, for RJ Umberger—straight up—because he is signed for two less years.

Conversely, Mike Gillis didn’t understand the value of cap space and clearing a deal when he could have traded Roberto Luongo to the Leafs for Ben Scrivens and a 2nd. He wanted more, but the deal was never about getting the value in return; it was about the value of clearing the contract. Instead, he held onto Luongo, a gongshow occurred in Vancouver, and he ended up losing Cory Schneider and Luongo for Bo Horvat, Shawn Matthias, and Jacob Markstrom. Having cap space in and of itself is an asset, and any time you can clear a contract that isn’t worth it, provided you’re not getting a worse contract, you win at some point.

More than ever, the league is about drafting, developing, and retaining your own players. Manoeuvring the cap and managing your assets when they do develop is the biggest hurdle of all, as the Avalanche are finding out at the moment.

This is the way the league is going, and it is prevalent to a Leafs team that will possibly/probably want to move guys like David Clarkson, Dion Phaneuf, and Joffrey Lupul. As a lottery team right up against the cap, they can’t justify that dollar amount and it’s squeezing out good players because they can’t afford it. For Clarkson, in particular, the Leafs would have to take back a bad contract to move him a la Hartnell-for-Umberger, but at least the Flyers could easily find takers for Hartnell because he’s still a good player.

Below, not in relation to trading Clarkson, I have listed off bad contracts as a resource for the types of deals that can be exchanged:

NHL Long-Term Deals (Potentially) for Trade

PlayerExpiresCap HitComments
Chris Phillips2016$2.5MThird pairing D-man turns 37 this year and is becoming a frequent healthy scratch. Decided to stay in Ottawa last time but might not have a choice any more if he wants to play regularly.
David Legwand2016$3MVeteran center was a favourite of old coach Paul MacLean but isn't getting the same treatment under Cameron. Makes $3.5M in actual dollars which will make him even hard to trade. Turns 35 this year but can still push for .5PPG production.
Rene Bourque2016$3.3MAlready dumped once and Anaheim is probably starting to see why. They've tried him with just about everybody and he has 7 points in 22 games with mediocre possession numbers. Depending on the cap crunch, good thing they have a tonne of young prospects.
Nic Grossman2016$3.5MCurrently injured, but a third pairing defenseman on the Flyers who have an extremely weak defense to put it nicely. So that tells you everything you need to know. A bottom pairing guy but more of a 6 than a 5, and extremely overpaid to do it.
Luke Schenn2016$3.6MIn the same boat as Grossman, except younger. Schenn was never able to develop his game after going to the Flyers and the 25 year old is enjoying the dollars while he can. Being right handed with size should ensure he toils in the league for a bit.
Tuomo Ruutu2016$3.8MWas decent when NJ got him last year with 8 points in 19 games, but only has 8 in 43 this season and turning 32 shortly. Making low end top 6 money-high end top 9 money and is nowhere near that.
David Jones2016$4MHe has 15 points in 34 games which is reasonable production, but his possession numbers are weak, he needs to be sheltered, and he blocks ice time for the younger players so they'd love to move him.
Brayden Coburn2016$4MA solid top four defenseman making reasonable money and only turning 30 this year with limited term left. Problem is, the rest of their contracts are so bad they might have to move him to clear space.
Nikita Nikitin2016$4.5MHas been a healthy scratch. On Edmonton. And he's a defenseman. Contract and player has been a disaster, and you'd only take him back in a pure salary dump to make dollars work.
Shane Doan2016$5.3MNot the player he once was for the money he is making, but can still play a second line role on a good team. Expiring big contracts have all sorts of value for cap opening purposes. Makes less than his cap hit too.
Cam Ward2016$6.3MBounced back a bit this year with a .911sv%, but making an above average goalie salary for and $6.8M in actual dollars next year. An expensive ticket you eat to get Carolina to take a deal with term.
Eric Staal2016$8.25MSimilar to Ward, it's an expensive deal you absorb to get Carolina to take a smaller deal with term. Staal can play, but it's not only is his cap hit $8.25M that's concerning; he's actually making $9.5M in real dollars next year.
Colin Greening2017$2.65MHas 1 point in 20 games this year, is turning 29, and signed for two more years. No team can afford that, but especially not a budget team like Ottawa. Expect him to go on waivers soon.
Viktor Stalberg2017$3MCurrently in the AHL, so not much to say. Hasn't worked out in Nashville under two coaches, so he's done there. Nashville would love to get rid of him, but what poor contract do they need to take back to do so?
Stephane Robidas2017$3MStruggled returning from injury, then got hurt and played hurt for two months. Tough to say how desperate the Leafs are to move him, but with two years left in the deal instead of one I'm sure they wouldn't mind doing so.
Andrew Ference2017$3.25MJonathan Willis covered this at Oilers Nation pretty well here. He's an overpaid third pairing defenseman that has some value, but also term.
Rob Scuderi2017$3.375MThe Pens have Letang, they want to bring back Ehrhoff, they have Despres, Maatta, and Bortuzzo who they seem to like. There are three kids in the AHL they think are NHLers. Doubt they move Scuderi now but they might want to dump that deal soon.
Ladislav Smid2017$3.5MAnother third pairing D-man making second pairing money (see the trend here?). He's not even playing 14min/game, they'd love to get rid of him.
Ales Hemsky2017$4MHasn't been great in Dallas, but the truth is that $4M is now low-end top 6 money, and 18 points in 43 falls roughly in that range. Hasn't meshed well in Dallas but the whole team has struggled. If they want a big money defenseman they'll have to send money the other way.
Brooks Laich2017$4.5MOnly 11 points in 31 games and looks like a borderline top 9 forward at times with flashes of his former self. They have to pay Johansson, Kuznetsov and Wilson before his deal expires at forward alone.
RJ Umberger2017$4.6MWas traded once in a cap move, but the Flyers need all the help they can get. Has 12 points in 41 games despite the team doing everything they can to get him going. A fourth liner making top 6 money.
Dennis Wideman2017$5.25M12 goals this year, playing over 23 minutes a night but gets crushed in the possession game on the second pairing. If someone wants the offense it's a deal they should give away.
Mark Streit2017$5.25M34 points in 48 games, positive possession numbers, playing over 22 minutes a night. It's actually still a pretty good contract, but like Coburn they need cap space badly so something has to give.
James Wisniewski2017$5.5MThe Blue Jackets might not know it yet, but all these contracts they are giving to mid-level players (Foligno, Dubinsky, etc) are going to catch up to them. When that happens eyes will turn to the big deals to older guys with little term left. He's a second pairing D-man.
Patrick Sharp2017$5.9MPatrick Sharp is still a really good, borderline elite player, but the Blackhawks are tight on cap space and need to pay Saad, Kruger and a few others, so here we are. An easy to move contract and the kind of move they've done before.
Patrick Marleau2017$6.667MOn pace for one of the worst seasons of his career points wise and turning 36 this year, so some will wonder if this is the beginning of the end. They have cap space, but they want to change their team and they need to clear space to do that.
Alexei Emelin2018$4.1MWonder if he'll be in the same boat that Gorges was in-- Played a lot and is a decent a Hab, but Bergevin trades his contract a year too early not a year too late. Emelin turns 29 this year.
Fedor Tyutin2018$4.5MJack Johnson, David Savard, and James Wisniewski all play more. Ryan Murray hasn't been healthy or else he would too. Columbus can't afford to pay a third pairing guy that money the way they are handing out long-term deals lately.
Vinny Lecavalier2018$4.5MBeen on the fourth line a lot this year, been a healthy scratch, the Flyers are in cap hell. They should have traded him after his 20G campaign last year for literally anything.
Ryan Clowe2018$4.85MTurns 33 this year and has been unable to stay healthy (although reasonably worth his contract when he has played). The Devils are in a similar boat as the Leafs-- mediocre team with too many long-term deals to show for it.
Stephen Weiss2018$4.9MWhen he got to Detroit he was hurt and didn't tell anyone, and his first season was a write-off. This year he finally got into action and looked good, then got hurt again. The Wings are full of young talent that they'd love to keep up, but a contract and roster spot like this hurt.
Joffrey Lupul2018$5.25MLeafs have cap problems, Lupul is productive but can't stay healthy. If someone else wants to deal with the injury problems then the Leafs might want to move on and use the saved cap space elsewhere. Also another pure offensive player on the team.
Matt Carle2018$5.5MDoubtful the Bolts move him anytime soon as he's a solid top 4 D on a contender, but he has term and dollars left and the Bolts will have young players to play soon. That's the cap squeeze that gets teams.
Tobias Enstrom2018$5.75MI don't think the Jets will move him, but the D has Trouba, Bogosian, and Byfuglien yet Enstrom makes more than all of them. They need some scoring help and he has term and dollars left, and is 31 soon.
Mikko Koivu2018$6.75MThe Wild are third last in the West and changes might be coming. They have a lot of young talent, and Koivu has had his head called for before because of poor playoffs. Now his production isnt that strong and the team is struggling. They might change direction.
Alex Semin2018$7MStarting to be a regular healthy scratch, he has 8 points in 26 games and is turning 31 this year. Still insanely talented, and he wouldn't be the first skilled player to shut it down on a poor team. The Canes can't afford this deal for what he's giving them.
Cody Hodgson2019$4.25MRemarkably has 7 points in 46 games at 25 and looks like he's basically just shut it down. Ted Nolan has tried everything he can here, but this looks like an unmotivated player that they just wouldn't have a reason to want around.
Brooks Orpik2019$5.5MLike the one right under it, this contract made the list the second it was signed. The Caps use him as a top four and give him tough match-ups, but he's turning 35 this year and is already a poor skater.
Dave Bolland2019$5.5MThis contract made the list the second it was signed. A third line center that struggles to stay healthy making top 6 money, and on a team with a ton of good young centers. At least Florida has cap space… For now.
Johan Franzen2020$3.9MThe cap hit isn't poor and he's still a solid player (and a tank), but he's signed until he's 40 and taking a key spot that a plethora of Wings prospects could take. He could help a lot of teams and he's easy to afford. It's the term that's a killer.
David Clarkson2020$5.25MEssentially a fourth liner making top 6 money for the forseeable future and his contract actually is backloaded. This is a deal you can only exchange for another listed poor deal.
Dan Girardi2020$5.5MRangers don't regret this deal at all right now as he leads the team in ice time per game, but defensive D tend to age poorly. It's also a front loaded deal. Classic Sather to sign the guy and move him later (Richards, Gomez, etc).
Andrew MacDonald2020$5MBeen a healthy scratch this year despite being paid as a top four defenseman on a poor defensive team. Like all the other Flyers, they are in cap hell and love to move any and everything with a remotely poor contract.
Mike Richards2020$5.75MPut on waivers and has won everything you can possibly win in hockey. Maybe he's done… Or maybe he just doesn't care anymore. That contract is an albotros either way.
Marian Hossa2021$5.23MAn awesome player, and one of the best two-way wingers of all-time, but the Hawks have been cut throat when it comes to trading away contracts so who knows.
Travis Zajac2021$5.75MStrong two-way center turns 30 this year and just doesn't produce enough to justify his money. The Devils need offense badly and they have a lot of bad contracts, so it's a matter of what they can actually move.
Dion Phaneuf2021$7MStill produces as a top 30 defenseman in the league, but his skating has fallen off a cliff and he's only turning 30 now. The Leafs are in cap trouble and might want to cut bait before it gets worse.
Dustin Brown2022$5.875MTurning 31 this year and is already under a .5PPG player, and it will probably only get worse. They wont trade their captain anytime soon, but they should want to get rid of that deal immediately.
Jordan Staal2023$6MHe's only turning 27 this year and is a strong two-way player, so despite his production woes, for $6M he's not awful considering he lines up reasonably well against any C in the league. But he's signed until 2023!!

Dave Nonis Leafs
Tom Anselmi (right) announces Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations, Dave Nonis, left, as the new GM after it was announced that Brian Burke was fired in Toronto, January 9, 2013. (Photo: TORONTO STAR / BERNARD WEI)

The evaluation period might not be over, but the reality has hit Leafs Nation.

This team is not very good, and it needs a face lift. Not a face lift to the bottom six this time, but to the top players on the team.

The real question, though, is who is going to do it?

The Leafs have nine players making at least $3M as a capped-out, lottery team, and current-GM Dave Nonis signed every one of those deals save for the JVR contract, which is easily the best bang-for-the-buck deal the team has locked in. Talk around town has centered around Burke’s mess needing to be cleaned up, but when he was fired he left cap space and two clear needs (a top 6 center and a partner for Dion Phaneuf); instead, the management team doubled down on wingers and traded for a goalie. He misread the team after success in the lockout year, he thought the D in particular was a lot better than it was, and last summer he didn’t promise the team would be strong but did want them to get back to being a hard working team. Who has watched the Leafs and thought that they work hard any time recently? The David Clarkson deal has been an unmitigated disaster, and is turning into a legacy contract for Dave Nonis (similar to how the Ryan O’Reilly fiasco hurt Jay Feaster). If the Leafs keep Nonis, they will do so with the hopes that he can help clean up his own mess, but the last two summers are an indication it is time for a change.

But can they replace the GM now? The NHL trade deadline is on March 2nd, only 39 days away. That is hardly enough time to hire a new guy and let him evaluate the roster and make a few shrewd trades. The current management group is inexperienced at the NHL level, with none of Brendan Shanahan, Brad Pridham, Kyle Dubas or Mark Hunter ever working for an NHL team in an official capacity before or really being ready to step in and be a GM.

What is more than likely is this: The Leafs finish the year as is, possibly trading a few pending UFAs they don’t want to bring back for some value versus losing them for free. Players who can become UFAs this summer include: Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, Cody Franson, David Booth, Korbinian Holzer, and Trevor Smith. The question with all of them is pretty simple; the Leafs will need at least a year or two to get the mix right with this group, so can these players help the team win when that time comes? Both Santorelli and Winnik turn 30 this year, while Franson is turning 28. The team has to build for two or three seasons from now, and all three are in line for hefty raises, so if they can’t get them for a reasonable number or think they can’t be solid contributors down the road, they will have to cut bait.

As Pierre LeBrun noted yesterday, “Other teams [are] trying to take advantage of [the] Leafs’ situation. I think you’ll see moves before March 2 but bigger, more drastic moves [in the] off-season.” Everyone in the hockey world sees and hears what is happening in Toronto, from another collapse, to jersey tossing, to Kessel and Phaneuf being run out of town. Nobody is calling to save the day for the Leafs; they are calling to fleece them. So the team will have to wait until the draft, when things settle down and teams have a better idea of what the cap is going to be for next season. The Leafs only have three deals expiring after the 2015-2016 season (Frattin, Polak, Reimer), meaning they will be trying to move substantial contracts with dollars and term left on aging players.

Ultimately, the team is going to have to take a step back before it moves forward; that is the price you have to pay to clear contracts. This isn’t Muskoka-Five level bad, but it is going to take a lot of work and possibly require the taking back of some other dubious contracts to facilitate it. Leafs Nation is generally divided, but almost everyone can safely come to that conclusion at this point.

The first question, though, is who is going to be the guy in charge to do so? The current GM has his fingerprints all over this team; does it really make sense for him to be the guy trying to get them out of it?

Notes

  • It was revealed Stephane Robidas has been playing hurt with an upper body injury since November 1st. On that day the Leafs played the Blackhawks, and in his final shift he got crosschecked from behind in front of the net then sticked while on the ground here. He got up okay, so it’s tough to say definitively if that was the moment he got hurt, but the next game against Arizona he played a season low 11:48 three nights later. Nonis said earlier in the season Robidas is the first contract he would do-over, but the first year so far has essentially been a write-off. The 37 year old was understandably rusty to start the season coming off summer surgery, but when he began rounding into form (by my metrics his gap control increased drastically and he stopped giving up the zone so easily), he got hurt November 1st and played banged up from there on out. Robidas has been a solid top four for years, and was last season. Maybe this is the beginning of the end for him, maybe it’s just a write-off year due to injury.
  • Wrote about this earlier in the season, but it is readily apparent now—the team can’t come back from deficits. The Leafs have been scored on first in eight straight games. This season their win percentage is 25th in the league when trailing after the first period, despite being in the upper half of the league in goals per game. Against Anaheim, the team went into the third period down 3-0 and we had them recording one scoring chance in twenty minutes, which came when they pulled the goalie. Against St. Louis, they were down 1-0 going into the third and got out-chanced 11-4. St. Louis scored early to make it 2-0 that period, but the team didn’t record a home plate opportunity in the last 7+ minutes of the game. The team has a lot of deficiencies, but scoring power is not one of them. Sometimes, though, we’ve seen teams go up on them early and the Leafs just deflate.
  • Conversely, they have had a few strong efforts and not been rewarded. The dangers of Toronto are that losses get lumped together. Against LA, the team played very well on the road against an elite team, essentially losing 1-0. Against the Sharks, they pushed back at the end of the game (they were out-chanced, but only 7-6 in the third), and on their third game in four nights probably deserved a better fate than a regulation loss. The following game on Saturday against St. Louis, they started with one of their stronger periods of the season, throwing up 15 SOG and beating them in scoring opportunities 11-9 (10-6 at evens). The Hurricanes? The Leafs had 27 scoring opportunities to Carolina’s 17, while they dominated Ottawa last night in the final two periods. That doesn’t mean the team has been fine, and everything is okay, but we can also see how things are getting blown out of proportion here, too.
  • Putting Peter Horachek in charge right before the toughest road trip in hockey is just about the cruellest thing you can do to a coach. The team will be happy to have seven days to regroup and get healthy. How they look after this stretch when they settle into the system and get some practice time will be much more indicative of Horachek than this initial run of play.
  • Know someone who works with players on the mental side of hockey – I won’t name the player – and he had a kid who wanted to quit playing AAA hockey growing up because he was struggling and getting yelled at. The psychologist put together a highlight package of all the goals this player scored to remind him of how good he can be, and he decided to stay and keep playing. He plays in the NHL now, and has won a Cup. I bring up this story because things are never as bad as they seem, and I’ve always believed, “you’re never as good as you think when you’re winning, and you’re never as bad as you think when you’re losing.” The most important thing right now is for Leafs management to block out the noise and make smart, logical, prudent moves. Because right now in Leafs land, it is hard to find those three things being done.

Quotes

“Sometimes in the OHL, you can regroup on one big trade. We did that with sending Steve Mason to Kitchener. You regroup right away. But you can’t do that in the National Hockey League. You have to be very patient, and you have to develop players and draft properly. (For Mason, 19 at the time, Hunter’s Knights got 18-year-old forward Phil Varone and 18-year-old defenceman Steve Tarasuk plus picks in the second, third and fourth rounds of the 2011 OHL draft and a second-rounder in 2012.)”
– Mark Hunter, on the differences between the OHL and NHL.

The full Q & A with The Star can be found here, but this is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while. The Leafs have an extremely inexperienced management group on the NHL side of things, and the OHL is just a completely different league in terms of how to manage it (you can draft for need and get players from the draft that help immediately). Add in that the team currently isn’t that strong — and that the fans are getting restless, to put it nicely—and this is a pretty hectic job to get, quite literally, on the job training.

“He’s been basically our offensive catalyst most of the year and for a guy coming in as a rookie, there were question marks about him. Obviously he had a great resume with what he’d done in junior, (but) he’s just carried that over into pro hockey. He’s been defensively responsible, plays a complete game and is a guy that’s so easy to coach. If anything you have to reign him back. That’s a credit to him for his desire to be a better hockey player.”
– Marlies Head Coach Gord Dineen

The full article can be found here. I don’t have much to add because I’ve talked about Brown a lot this year, but I just thought it was important to note how strong of a rookie season Brown is having in the minors.

“Under (Randy Carlyle), we used the walls more. The weak-side winger could blow the zone early if the puck was sent around the opposite side.”
– James Van Riemsdyk on the coaching difference for the breakout.

“We know they play one dimensional … Cheat for breakaways.”
– Drew Doughty, on the top line last year.

“I don’t think any of the top teams play that way.”
– Peter Horachek, on the team’s breakout and if he would revert back because of the sudden inability to score goals.

I think all these tweets pretty much go hand in hand, don’t you? “Culture change” is an overused term in sports, but it is pretty clear the Leafs need one due to how they approached the game under Carlyle. Right now we are seeing just the (painful) beginning. There is a lot of damage that needs to be worked through at the moment.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think, for the time being, I would keep William Nylander and Connor Brown far away from this team. Both are exciting young players that can score in the Leafs organization, but the NHL team is a mess right now and the negativity swirling around the team is only increasing. Let them develop with the Marlies and get their reps under moderate to low attention. Maybe at the end of the season you can entertain the idea of having them play a few games in the NHL just to get their feet wet, but that’s about it.
  2. Conversely, I think I would give guys like Josh Leivo, Sam Carrick, and Stuart Percy every opportunity to play. All of them have flashed the ability to play in the NHL and the Leafs can use every cheap bit of production they can get for next season, and making next year’s team can, to a degree, begin now. Even Matt Frattin has strung together some good games, and I would like to see his play explored more. He’s older and the upside is no longer there, but he is signed for next season and I still find it hard to believe he can’t hold down a regular fourth line spot.
  3. I think Horachek has done a good job shuffling lines and experimenting, and that it should continue. Whether it’s moving Richard Panik up the line-up, splitting up JVR and Kessel, or whatever, it is worth trying new combinations and beginning to look forward. One thing I would like to see in particular is each of Gardiner and Rielly getting an opportunity to play with Dion Phaneuf.
  4. I think it sort of goes without saying, but the Leafs need to move quickly if they are going to bring back any of Franson, Santorelli, or Winnik. All three would really help a team in the playoff race that is contending this year, and since they are all cheap contract wise I bet a mini bidding war can be created. Especially for Franson.
  5. I think Bernier’s contract should come a lot cheaper than originally expected, and perhaps not with a huge term either. This is only his second year in Toronto, yes, but he’s turning 27 this year. He’s never proven he can be a full-time starter, play well, and stay healthy. At best he’s shown he’s very talented and he is still relatively young for a goalie, but how can you commit heavy term and dollars to a guy who has played 155 NHL games to this point and never had one good season, healthy, as a starter? He hasn’t earned it. That’s going to be a tough negotiation.

Peter Horachek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Peter Horachek, Toronto Maple Leafs

When Peter Horacek was hired in the summer, it was a reasonably safe bet that at some point the man who served as interim head coach of the Florida Panthers last season would be doing so again for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

While many Leafs fans dream of the Mike Babcocks and Todd McLellans of the world, Horachek is the guy in charge right now and he is a possibility to be the guy long term. In Shanahan’s presser he said, “Peter will be one of the options that we will consider.” It might be a good thing if he is.

Most Leafs fans are probably familiar with the chart below showing how Florida’s possession game shot right up under Horachek and only tapered off at the end due to injury:

Credit: @Hope_Smoke/ExtraSkater
Credit: @Hope_Smoke/ExtraSkater

Three games into the Horachek era, the Leafs have yet to surrender 30SOG in a game, and while they are only 1-2 and will need to figure out a better way to score in this system (some goaltending and PP help would be nice, too), that’s the foundation the team needs to build on to truly be successful. What has been impressive so far, though, are the slight changes he has made and the tweaks to their play overall.

Earlier in the year, Horachek spoke about how the league doesn’t have shutdown lines anymore and teams need to be able to roll three lines. Instantly he has made tweaks to get the team there. The top line scored a ton, but gave back more than they provided, so Horachek broke them and placed the defensive minded Daniel Winnik on the top line. With Lupul out, he rewarded Richard Panik — who is not the prettiest player to watch — for his work on the forecheck (he’s third on the team in penalties drawn/60), while also trying to better balance out the lines. He placed Santorelli, one of the team’s best possession players, back at center to control the middle of the ice, and took Trevor Smith out of the top six, sending him to the fourth line. As much as systems will be talked about, the Leafs are going to be a great case study for deployment and how it can affect a team’s performance.

But there are also a few minor tweaks already readily apparent. The easiest to spot: How they break out of their zone after defensive zone faceoff wins.

Excuse the raw footage, but I captured some videos of Carlyle’s last game against Winnipeg vs. Horachek’s game against LA to note some of the differences.

Here is a classic faceoff breakout under Carlyle after a faceoff win:

Here we see the Leafs win the draw to Franson and immediately rim it all the way around the boards. Dion Phaneuf is not even considering the possibility of a pass. When Leo Komarov picks the puck up off the boards, neither of his forward linemates present an open outlet. Kessel released the zone, and Bozak was far apart from Komarov while being covered, so Komarov throws it up the middle to get it out, and Winnipeg recovers the puck. A faceoff win quickly turns into possession loss.

Here is another example:

Trevor Smith wins the draw and immediately JVR bails the zone. Phaneuf is covered by Wheeler and is content to just stand there and let Franson, who made a nice move to create some space, figure it out. Santorelli also bails the zone, and that leaves Trevor Smith frantically trying to figure out where to go. The pass is off, and Winnipeg recovers. A faceoff win, again, quickly turns into possession lost.

Now let’s watch against LA.

Here is the first example:

When the Leafs win the draw, Polak immediately has purpose, but the real key here is Kessel. He opens up and cuts so low he almost touches the goal line, the exact opposite of the zone bailing we see above. Bozak also cuts low for a center option, so Polak has his options here. Because Kessel, the best player on the team, is winding up for the puck, LA overloads the side and that leaves Morgan Rielly wide open for a reverse; using D outlets was a rare occurrence under Carlyle on D zone wins. Rielly, an electric skater, now has time and space, skates it up ice, and once he draws in the forecheck, Kessel is wide open for a neutral zone rush, and the Leafs best player now has the best puck with speed, time, and space. The Leafs had a scoring opportunity off this play.

Here is example two:

This draw is eerily similar to the one against Winnipeg where Franson rimmed the puck to Leo; the difference being, instead of Robidas shooting the puck around, he tapped it to Gardiner, who was able to curl, look and hit JVR. JvR then moved it to Kadri. Three passes, and a clean exit with possession.

Here is the last example (for now):

This is another example of not rimming the puck around the boards (and although I didn’t show an example of this above with Carlyle, Phaneuf was basically famous for this). Franson gets the puck and curls around the net, and he has two options. Franson can pass to a back peddling David Clarkson, who is low and open for an outlet, or Mike Santorelli cutting hard through the middle of the ice. Because the Leafs cut around the net so fast and everyone knew where to go, that left the Kings scrambling to get across the ice and Dwight King was basically left to decide between staying in the middle of the ice and cutting off Santorelli, or going to the wall and taking away David Clarkson. As soon as he pushed toward Clarkson, the puck was on Santorelli’s stick and turning up ice, where the Leafs got it in deep with speed.

This is the simple hockey Horachek has been implementing, as well as making the team collapse more to cut off opportunities in the slot. The points are a little too open, but you can’t expect Rome to be built in a day; chances are he is starting from the basics and going to work his way out to point coverage.

Horachek has discussed his 5-5-5 system, meaning five guys are always in each zone where the puck is, and these videos are a quick snippet into how he is pushing for shorter passes, more outlet options, and less long bombs whether it is a stretch pass or a shot around the boards.

Many people are ultimately going to judge Horachek on whether he can make the playoffs this year, but the test has to be how he maintains the team’s cleaner play and handles everything else that is required to be the head coach of the Maple Leafs. Using players like Morgan Rielly more and developing them stands to his benefit. Evening out lines with strong possession players to offset the skill that doesn’t like to play D (as well as demanding them to come deeper into the zone) will help him, too. In terms of media, so far he has been enlightening and firm in his interviews; in my opinion, he’s the most interesting Leafs head coach to listen to since Paul Maurice. That can change in a hurry, though.

While everyone focuses on who is available this summer, I am going to spend a lot of time focusing on Peter Horachek and the job he is doing. A non-flashy hire that does excellent work and stays out of trouble would be a welcome addition in the fishbowl always looking to bring in a shark. So far, Horachek has had a promising start, to some degree, but it has only been three games.

Notes:

  • In his 30 Thoughts column last week, Elliotte Friedman noted:

    The two new coaches made one slight adjustment at their first practice, asking their players to defend the slot better in the defensive zone. Like Claude Julien prefers to, give up the outside and jam the middle? “Yes,” Jonathan Bernier replied.

    It’s interesting, because last week another NHL coach pointed to that location as Toronto’s main area of weakness:

    “They need players who have a mentality to defend. When you get a middle drive against them — with or without the puck — you can break down their defence. Several of their forwards cheat for goals, so you can exploit that.”

    Low and behold, what was the first goal the Leafs gave up in the Horachek era? Evgeny Kuznetsov driving wide and hitting Marcus Johansson as he drives hard to the slot for a one timer.

    The next two games the Leafs were much better, with CBJ scoring one PP goal, and the other one a breakaway, while LA scored the first shift on a scramble in front. You can see the Leafs are visibly selling out to protect the home plate.

  • Another interesting Horachek note is that he is having weekly meetings with Toronto’s leadership group including Dion Phaneuf, the three to four designated alternate captains, and Jonathan Bernier. Players who have worn the A primarily are Lupul, Robidas, Bozak, as well as Franson. In the Toronto media hotbed, that could turn out to be a very smart and effective way to consolidate messages and essentially provide week-to-week PR training on the issues at hand. There have been a lot of crazy storylines this year, and the sideshows need to be reeled in.
  • Unless there is something we don’t know, one person who is absent from those meetings based on not sporting a letter? Phil Kessel. Not suggesting he’s going to get traded because of this, but simply, your best and highest paid player is a leader and someone other players look up to by virtue of his standing with the team. Even if he doesn’t say a word, he has to be there.
  • On that note as well, I thought Reimer might get a new lease on life without Carlyle around, but Bernier being part of those leadership meetings and getting the first three starts suggests otherwise. All indications this year point to Reimer being considered a true backup on this team, and you can’t have backups making $2.3M when good backups elsewhere are making around $1M and your team is cash strapped. Eventually they are going to have to part ways.
  • Bernier has started just about 70% of the Leafs games, and by my count is 14th in the league in save percentage. The team on the whole is tied for 18th with two other teams in 5v5 save percentage. In general, the goaltending has been fairly average this season so far, a reasonable distance from the near elite goaltending they got last season.
  • Interesting to see Tyler Bozak’s usage under Horachek so far: He has played 21:33, 22:23, and 19:19 under the new coach. In all three of his games he has been a positive possession player, averaging a 53.66CF% with varied zone starts (70, 45, 40%). With Winnik on that line, Kessel is free to roam regularly, high or low, while Winnik and Bozak get after the puck. On this goal Bozak made numerous strong reads and won a few battles for an excellent shift:

    Would be quite the story if this keeps up.

Quotes

“Some of them can do it and some of them are just not capable of grasping it. Some have a difficult time dealing with the pressure that comes at the critical times. If there’s one thing you cannot do with this group, it seems you cannot apply more pressure to them. You’ve got to try to pick them up. It’s always about making them feel good.”

– Randy Carlyle, on coaching this team and how they need to be treated.

How Carlyle grew up playing hockey, and the type of environment surrounding the sport along with the politics and what you was expected of a player/coach, was a lot of different than the environment the current player/coach grows up in. I think Carlyle had a really tough time relating to some of these players and the discipline measures of his time were not effective or even allowed in this day and age.

“If I made a mistake with Randy it was a bigger deal than it was with Ron.”

– Jake Gardiner, on the difference between being coached by Wilson, and Carlyle.

This is sort of an example of what I just referenced, but there are a few caveats. A rookie is always going to get more rope than a guy in his third year making the same mistakes he did as a rookie. It wasn’t as if Carlyle benched Gardiner and sat him after mistakes. He regularly threw him out after blunders and he averaged over 20mins/game under Carlyle. How Gardiner plays now will be really interesting. So far, he has yet to play over 18 minutes in three games under Horachek, the first time in his career he has ever went three games in a row without eclipsing the 18 minute mark.

“Because it’s hard work. It’s always tough to do something you know you don’t like to do. I think we have lots of guys that just want to play offence.”

– Roman Polak, speaking frankly about how the team plays, and wants to play.

I agree with the gist of what Polak is saying, but it’s pretty interesting that Horachek has been able to sell this to the team and the team has responded, don’t you think?

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think I generally like the current lines, with a lot of things discussed here previously generally being incorporated now. Winnik is on the top line to cover defensively and work the wall, JVR is with Kadri for a secondary unit, and Santorelli is the 3C again. One thing I will say, though, is that when you’re down by a goal with under 5 minutes left, you should probably reunite that top line instead of putting a guy like Panik on the top line. That top line has its warts, but they can score. Let’s not forget that.
  2. I think if Komarov is now out during this road trip, the easy thing to do is bump David Booth up a line, and insert Sam Carrick as the 4C while Trevor Smith moves over to the wing. That’s a bad fourth line, but the team doesn’t have many options. I would consider calling up Matt Frattin, who has 10 goals in 22 games with the Marlies, if they want another option.
  3. I think we all know why David Clarkson is on the power play despite his lack of production there, but eventually you have to put Mike Santorelli on that unit. Santorelli is tied for fifth on the team in scoring, despite playing under 15 minutes on the PP for the entire season. In those 14 minutes and change, Santorelli has actually managed two power play points; Clarkson is closing in on 90 minutes of power play time this season and has one point to show for it.
  4. I think – if the Leafs continue trending in this direction in terms of how they are playing the game, how they aren’t getting dominated anymore, and how the team is actually playing hockey the right way – it will be very hard to trade anyone in the next few months before or at the deadline. The draft will be much more likely to provide a better opportunity make moves, after the Leafs get 40 games with a new coach to evaluate what is going on here. Save for trading guys due to reasons other than player performance (contract issues, cap issues, etc).
  5. I think Peter Horachek deserves some credit for implementing some readily apparent decisions and working on exits with the team. Seeing Rielly get top 4 icetime has been really nice as well; while he will have problems, like the empty netter he gift-wrapped last night, there is going to be a long-term payoff there. Putting Santorelli back at center has helped stabilize three lines, and while the Leafs aren’t exactly coming at teams in waves of power, they can at least roll three lines that can take a regular shift and not get dominated. Would love to see what Horachek does with Lupul, Holland and Komarov all in the lineup, too. Hopefully he gets that opportunity.

by -
191
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 06: Head coach Randy Carlyle of the Toronto Maple Leafs leads his team against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 6, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Maple Leafs 4-3 in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Randy Carlyle’s inevitable firing brought about as crazy a day in Leafs land as any in recent memory.

Rick Madonik/Toronto Star

With the NFL playoffs currently unfolding, the storylines in football circles revolve around the usual topics—Can Peyton Manning win another Superbowl, can Tom Brady get a step closer to winning the most of all-time, can Aaron Rodgers do what Brett Favre couldn’t (win two), can Tony Romo win one?

Even though we do not get quite the same amount of NFL and NBA coverage in Canada as we would in the States, it is still common to hear about the globalized stars in those sports and how many championships they have or have not won. Perhaps it is the influence of those major sports and their massive media followings that have had a trickledown effect on hockey, causing people to discuss players and Stanley Cups together as if they are one in the same, in a sport where it could not be any harder to relate the two.

by -
687

The Leafs play their first game of 2015 at the same time as Canada takes on Denmark. After a big win against the Boston Bruins, things took a turn for the worse with Joffrey Lupul being put on IR, Peter Holland going back to Toronto because of injury, and Nazem Kadri now being listed out too. Tyler Bozak had a death in the family and missed practices, but he is in for tonight.

The good news is that Minnesota has not had a strong start to the season and is actually sitting 11th in the 14 team Western Conference after a strong showing in the playoffs last year. They are, however, 9-4-4 at home but they have goaltending problems. Minnesota is fourth in the league in fenwick percentage, and 7th in corsi percentage, and seeing as they are at home, that is not a combination that meshes well with the Leafs and their style.

How Randy Carlyle handles the sudden bullet shot to their center position remains to be seen, but the Leafs have recalled Greg McKegg and he is expected to play tonight. He has 15 points in 23 games with the Marlies, and was traded for by one of the Leafs new hires Mark Hunter.

Stephane Robidas is also a healthy scratch for the night meaning the Leafs stay with Korbinian Holzer in. The Leafs do play tomorrow though, so this could be their attempt to keep him rested and healthy as much as anything else.

Projected Leafs Lines:

JVR-Bozak-Kessel

Komarov-Smith-Clarkson

Booth-Winnik-Ashton

Panik-McKegg-Santorelli

Phaneuf-Franson

Gardiner-Holzer

Rielly-Polak

Bernier is starting.

Projected Wild Lines:

Parise-Koivu-Pomminville

Vanek-Brodziak-Fontaine

Niederreiter-Haula-Coyle

Graovac-Carter-Cooke

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Spurgeon

Prosser-Bickell

Kuemper

Franson is wearing an ‘A’ with Lupul and Robidas out.

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

For the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Maple Leafs won 20 games before the official NHL winter break. But, in the eight full seasons between accomplishments, never had the team played over 60% of their games before the winter break at home.

YearHome GamesTotalPercentage of home games
2014-2015223563%
2013-2014213954%
2011-2012173549%
2010-2011183355%
2009-2010193850%
2008-2009163447%
2007-2008183650%
2006-2007193751%
2005-2006203557%
2003-2004153543%

The Leafs went into Christmas with a 14-8-0 record at home specifically; nobody else in the league had more than 13 wins at home. According to Sporting Charts, “Over the 2013 NHL season, the average Home % – Away % among NHL teams was 0.08.” It was a 0.11 difference in 2011-12. This tells us what most people can already guess: Teams, on average, win more at home than on the road due to a litany of reasons one can think of such as line matching, faceoffs, familiarity, etc. The average winning percentage at home in the NHL during the 2013-14 season was .557% and the Leafs at the moment have a .636w% in the ACC, which is perfectly fine and sustainable in a vacuum, but how will they do on the road?

Since the lockout lifted, the Leafs have had a road record winning percentage over .500 exactly once in full 82 game seasons (the 2006-07 season). For a team with 27 road games left, including the road trip they are on now — which technically started against Chicago (loss) and includes Dallas (win), Florida (loss), Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota and Winnipeg — crunch time is coming sooner than everyone thinks. After this road trip, the team comes home for two games before going on another road trip and playing six of seven on the road against LA, Anaheim, San Jose, St. Louis, Carolina (the one home game), New Jersey, and Ottawa.

When that stretch is over, we’ll really get a clear indication of good or bad this Leafs team really is. And, truthfully, that works out perfectly because that will give management enough time to figure out how to proceed with this team and whether they should be buyers or sellers come the deadline.

You can’t blame the Leafs for having a home-loaded schedule to start the year, or for taking advantage of it, but you have to keep it in mind when looking at their overall record; the truth is, it is a little misleading as soon as you look under the surface.

Notes

  •  Back in the summer, I wrote about whether Joffrey Lupul or JVR should play with Kessel. In the analysis, we can see that Lupul’s scoring numbers stand to benefit from Kessel much more than JVR’s, and that Lupul had reasonable possession numbers with Kessel, albeit with a different coach. Meanwhile, JVR stands to play better if apart from Kessel and Bozak and instead with Kadri and whoever else flanks them. What was not said in that post but what everyone is also thinking—worst case scenario, it’s going to boost Lupul’s point totals and inflate his trade value.
  • Earlier in the year I noted how the Leafs have actually been getting results with the lead but struggle when trailing. Gus Katsaros demonstrates this perfectly with this chart.

    The interesting thing about that is the Leafs currently leading the league in goals. Yet, seemingly, whenever teams pop a few in, the entire team deflates. Out of 36 games played, 21 Toronto games have been decided by a 3+ goal difference with the team winning 13 and losing 8.

  • Some of the analysis on the Leafs really highlights how much of a fishbowl the Leafs play in, but over 58% of the team’s games being in “blowout” range really indicates how this team is one of the most difficult to get a read on in the league. One of the worst possession teams in the league, with one of the best goal differentials. The toughest task will be sorting out who is part of the solution, and who is part of the problem. There are some obvious answers on both ends, but a lot of middle ground players that can be debated either way.
  • There are generally three reasons you healthy scratch a guy: 1) You have someone else to play that is better; 2) You don’t think the player is playing well enough, and you are trying to spark him; 3) The player is a rookie and he needs to reset/veterans ahead of him/is hitting a wall. When it comes to scratching Jake Gardiner a few weeks ago, the reason pretty clearly is option number two, so it is always strange to see the debate. Gardiner is on pace for a career worst season points wise and to be a negative CF REL player for the first time; he is playing poorly, and that is not debatable. The team hardly believes Holzer is a better player; the scratch was entirely to do with Gardiner and hoping he would respond and play better. Last year Gardiner was scratched against Carolina, the Leafs lost 6-1, he went back in and was one of the best players on the team for the rest of the season, especially down the stretch. Comparatively, there is nothing to really gain from scratching Robidas unless he needs rest; his issues are he had offseason surgery and he’s long in the tooth, the only way he is going to improve is by playing and getting into a routine. Gardiner’s issues are clearly mental.
  • For more extended thoughts on Jake Gardiner, go here.

Quotes

“He gives coaches trust. When I had Danny and I put him out there, I felt good nothing bad would happen. I think Randy feels the same way. He knows how to play the game, he’s in the right position all the time. He might not score you 30 goals, but he does all the little things that help you win. Blocks shots, good skater, big man.”

  • Bruce Boudreau, on Daniel Winnik.

Winnik was my top bargain free agent after the initial free agent frenzy in the summer, and I don’t think he has disappointed. He is essentially a cheaper Nikolai Kulemin. There is no doubt these cheap depth additions have helped the team, but in the big picture here is the situation: If they play on the team for a season and then leave for free after a year in which the team does not make the playoffs (ala Mason Raymond), all that has happened is the Leafs will receive a slightly worse draft pick in a possibly historically good draft. The Leafs could also retain these guys and they can be used as part of the solution moving forward (like Leo Komarov), they can be traded for picks, or they could even help the Leafs make the playoffs and then leave. Preventing option one there is imperative.

There are only so many people you can have in a decision making process. There’s only so much information that you can integrate effectively in what you are doing. It wouldn’t be a “more” question for me, as far as, I’d take that money and hire 20 more analysts, and we’d do nothing but ideate about all sorts of different topics. This isn’t the primary reason, but you need to have some organizational focus. When you become bloated in your ideation, just implementing and utilizing those ideas becomes more difficult. Which ones are the good ideas?”

  • Nick Ennis, Director of Operations for the San Diego Padres.

I highly suggest reading the entire interview with Nick Ennis here. The line on Burke was he had too many cooks in the kitchen, and yet Shanahan has hired an awful lot of people in under a year already. Some people in the industry believe more people means more information and better decision making, while others believe it gets too crowded with too many different opinions. I don’t have a feel for what will occur with the Leafs new regime, but this is a storyline I am interested to see unfold.

“He’s the engine in the break out. He will be the ‘quarterback’ and set up his (teammates) from his normal position on the left side in the offensive zone.”

  • Tommy Boustedt, the development chief of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association.

Based on the early stages of the WJCs, it would be hard to say Nylander isn’t in the elite class of players at the tournament this year. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I think it is pretty clear to everyone that the Leafs have something here.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think I would take David Clarkson off the second power play unit. Even if you ignore that he has one PP point in nearly 77 minutes of PP time on the season – which in and of itself makes it almost crazy to do — the dynamics of the unit don’t work. The second unit is completely centered on Nazem Kadri playing the right half wall, just like he did in London. With this set up, Lupul plays in the slot and Clarkson roves as an outlet below the goal line and going to the net. The problem lies with Kadri making that pass to a right-handed shot; it is extremely difficult because Clarkson’s stick is closer to the net than the corner, and Kadri now has to fit that pass into a tiny hole, where the challenging defender can easily pick it off, versus a pass to the outside to a left handed shot that he can cycle with. Logistically, it just makes absolutely no sense and it is tough to watch. Everyone probably understands the only reason Clarkson is still on the power play is because of his paycheck, but eventually enough is enough.
  2. I think I would give Carter Ashton an extended look regardless of who else is healthy and not playing. The game against Florida is a good example of what I like in Ashton and see in him; he won a battle around the defensive blue line which drew a penalty, and multiple times he recovered dump-ins as he was strong on the forecheck. He was an even possession player last night with 0% offensive zone starts. Ashton is a first round pick, he has been a solid scorer in the AHL and it appears to sour people on him that he (probably) won’t reach that potential in the NHL, but who are the Leafs of all teams to turn down a cheaply-priced 6’3 kid who can skate, hit, and will fight and forecheck? We’ve seen him get looks before, but from what we’ve seen this year I think he’s stuck out like a sore thumb on this team for all the right reasons. I’d keep him in and try to grow his confidence in this league.
  3. Similarly, I think I would also just ride Reimer as long as Bernier is out. Reimer has proven he is at worse an average NHL goalie, but he has also shown when he gets thrown to the wolves he can carry the team at times. I’d rather roll the dice with that pedigree versus a goalie who has never played in the NHL. They will have to rest Reimer at least a game because coming off a holiday and having not played all too much in general increases injury risk if you ride him too hard, but I’d give him as many starts as he could physically handle as long as Bernier is out.
  4. I think, if Richard Panik is out, I would call-up Sam Carrick and play him as the 4C. The Leafs have been sticking with Trevor Smith, who is going to turn 30 in a few months and has yet to crack 100 games. You can’t fault the effort, but he’s not an NHLer; there’s no other way to put it. For a team like the Leafs especially, I’d rather see what I have in a 22 year old who could potentially be a long-term depth piece than kick tires with a 30-year-old career AHLer who should frankly be in the minors boosting the Marlies (who desperately need it, even though they did win three straight this weekend). Looking long term, maybe with a dash of wishful thinking, if Carrick were to show well as a 4C, it gives the Leafs Kadri-Holland-Carrick as three young centers in the NHL, with one legitimate top six center in the group. That’s not a championship center group, but it is at least a start, and in the short term there is no real downgrade from Smith to Carrick anyway.
  5. I think, looking to the 15 games from now until the end of January — 11 of which are on the road — and looking at the wildcard standings with Washington, Florida and Boston nipping at the Leafs’ heels, where the Leafs are at by the end of January should tell Shanahan what he needs to know to start making some real decisions 51 games into his tenure. Across all sports, most GMs believe you are either going up or down with no middle ground; I think this core is at max a bubble team but in a weak Eastern Conference. An extremely tough January should be a good indicator either way in the weak East. On the topic of January, I’d also like to quickly wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Please drink responsibly and do not drive if you do indulge. Thank you very much for reading.