While there is said to be continuity between the two managers given their close working relationship for several years in the Leaf front office, Brian Burke was always more transparent and vocal than Dave Nonis when it came to how he ran his hockey team. For that reason, I’ve decided to research Nonis’ time with Vancouver in order to see if I can come up with some logical ideas of what to expect from Nonis in the upcoming months.
Last summer, before the draft, we were able to look at Brian Burke’s own quotes and pretty well nail that Lupul-Kessel would be on the top line to start, Grabovski-Kulemin would be on the shutdown line, and Kadri, along with Frattin eventually, would be on the second scoring line. That’s not exactly how the Leafs ended the year, but if I could tell you how the full season would go I’d be playing the lottery and blogging from a beach in Europe.
–Note: The signing of McClement caused me to think he would be the shutdown line center afterward, but the decision to play Kadri at center instead of the wing brought things back in line with what I originally predicted them to be.
Now that Nonis is in charge, can we expect a few changes in philosophy? What follows is a look back at the transition from the Burke era in Vancouver to the Nonis era in order to see if we can decipher any new wrinkles or notable changes Nonis brought about.
We’ll start with the Canucks roster from the start of the 2003-04 season. Please note that these lines aren’t exactly perfect, but this is what I’ve gathered from memory with the help of some old newspaper articles and the time on ice numbers. At the very least, it’s a gauge:
Brian Burke – 2003-04:
NOTE: King started on the Sedin line, but he only played 41 games there. Arvedson eventually replaced him here before blowing out his knee. Burke traded for Martin Rucinsky and Geoff Sanderson eventually.
Nonis History – 2005-06:
Magnus Arvedson was forced to retire due to injury problems and Artem Chubarov refused to comeback from Russia after the lockout. Brad May left via free agency, meanwhile Jason King had a serious concussion in the AHL during the lockout and was never the same.
Nonis signed Richard Park to a one-year contract on August 8th and added Anson Carter on August 16th as the Canucks promoted Kesler and Burrows internally, played the Sedins more, Trevor Linden less, and generally speaking got younger while identifying their core for the future. Cloutier got hurt, which is why Auld became the starter. Baumgartner and Bieksa were promoted to the big club after strong AHL seasons during the lockout, although it is worth noting Bieksa started this season in the minors and was sent down in the beginning of April when Jovanovski returned.
The Canucks as a team, however, went from winning their division to finishing ninth. In response, Dave Nonis fired head coach Marc Crawford and hired Alain Vigneault.
Dave Nonis – 2006-07:
Sopel –was hurt—
This was easily Nonis’ biggest summer with the Canucks, marked by him acquiring Roberto Luongo, Lukas Krajicek and a sixth round pick for Bryan Allen, Todd Bertuzzi and Alex Auld.
Willie Mitchell was signed to a 4-year, $14M contract to go along with the Vigneault hiring.
After refusing to give Anson Carter the money he wanted – which turned out to be the right move — Nonis worked quickly to bring in Taylor Pyatt for a fourth round pick to replace Carter on the Sedin line. Pyatt responded by potting a career-high 23 goals, but that was 10 less than what Carter put up, and his 37 points were notably fewer than Carter’s 55.
Kesler was signed to an offer sheet by Bobby Clarke that was matched two days later.
Bieksa was promoted full-time this year and responded by playing the most overall minutes of any Canucks defenseman, and by leading them in points. Even though Bieksa had a year left on his contract following his first year with the team, Nonis signed him to an extension that kicked in after his original deal expired for 3 years and 11.25M.
Marc Chouinard and Jan Bulis were also added, while Josh Green was resigned after a decent showing as a role player in the previous year. He was an AHL mainstay for the Canucks before that.
The Canucks responded by winning their division, beating Dallas in the first round – despite having fewer points than them — and then losing to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Ducks.
Dave Nonis – 2007-08:
Pettinger, Shannon, Rypien, Brown
With Pyatt not really working out on the top line, Naslund was given more time there; although, according to most reports, Vigneault really had the line blender out all year.
Kesler played a full season after being hurt for half of the prior season and he responded by playing over 19 minutes a night and scoring a career high 21 goals along with 37 points.
The Canucks brought up Raymond and Edler, who acquitted themselves well. Both went onto become strong players for Vancouver in the years ahead.
Past that, Nonis attempted a handful of minor signings and acquisitions, bringing in guys like Ryan Shannon, Matt Pettinger, Aaron Miller and so on. None of them particularly had a notable impact for Vancouver.
Vancouver finished 11th and Nonis was fired.
– It really goes without saying, but Nonis has changed as a manager since his time with Vancouver, so you have to keep everything in perspective. Brian Burke won a championship building a team his way, so it was easier to draw similarities, come to conclusions, and prognosticate what he might do. Conversely, Nonis is still discovering his winning formula.
– Also: Keep in mind that throughout Nonis’ tenure he was up against the cap in Vancouver. That’s a large reason why his moves were so miniscule. In the season ending press conference, he spoke about not having to spend right up to the cap, and after knowing what it’s like to be right up against it for years I’d be shocked if he didn’t leave himself a cushion going into the year. He’s also well aware Phil Kessel needs to be resigned soon.
– When Nonis took over in Vancouver, he lost Arvedson and Chubarov to extenuating circumstances, but that allowed players like Kesler and Burrows to get into NHL action. With the Leafs, Nonis was forced to be more proactive and ended up trading Lombardi and sending Connolly down in order to make room for Kadri and Frattin. Mike Komisarek was eventually sent down as Holzer, Kostka, Gardiner and Fraser were all given shots. Dave Steckel was also eventually moved out.
– Ed Jovanovski was allowed to leave at 30 years old. Phaneuf will be 29 when he’s a UFA next year.
– Nonis stayed loyal to the core in Vancouver, consistently introducing more and more youth to the line-up each year and having the young players on the roster consistently graduate into bigger roles. That bodes well for a guy like Colborne who was with the Leafs at the end of the regular season, plus the playoffs, and looked good. If Nonis’ history is any indication, it seems like Colborne will be a Leaf right from the get-go next year.
– In the end of year press conference, Nonis said we can probably expect a pattern of introducing young players into the line-up and seeing if they can stick. That bodes well for Rielly, Percy, Blacker, Biggs, McKegg and so on.
– In his tenure, Nonis consistently went bargain hunting, signing guys after all the splashy UFA deals went down. I’ll be curious to see if that continues to happen; other than Anson Carter he never really got much bang for his buck and that’s a large reason he got fired. His best signing was probably Willie Mitchell, and to get him he handed out a big deal.
– The other side to that coin is Nonis signing guys to cheap, short deals in order to buy time for the young kids to get ready. For example, maybe he brings in a guy like Ian White on the cheap until Jesse Blacker is ready to play on the right side of the Leafs defense.
– It’s worth pointing out that the Leafs are at a different stage of development than the Vancouver Canucks Nonis inherited. Vancouver was a team in transition from the old guard to the new with the Bertuzzi incident hanging over the entire organization whereas the Leafs are young and up and coming.
– Nonis identified the core of the Canucks and stayed loyal to the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Naslund and Morrison while Trevor Linden finished out his career. On defense, Ohlund and Salo were always present, while Bieksa was brought through the organization, Mitchell was added, and Edler began working his way up the roster.
– We’ll see what Nonis identifies the Leafs core to be, but you’d have to assume Kessel, Lupul, JVR and Kadri are included in it. Chances are Kulemin, Grabovski, McClement and Frattin are too, and if Colborne plays well he will also probably be included. Gardiner is clearly part of the defensive core, but we’ll wait to see what happens with Gunnarsson and Franson’s contract negotiations before including them in there just yet. Dion Phaneuf is there for now as well.
– Unlike Vancouver at the time Nonis inherited them, the Leafs have a young number one goalie in the fold. They also have a high-end talent in Morgan Rielly on the way. Obviously one situation isn’t going to be exactly like the other, but it’s still worth noting the differences.
– The Canucks also never had a full-time enforcer, but they did have Matt Cooke and, for a bit, Jarkko Ruutu as well. However, with Randy Carlyle as coach, I would expect at least a part-time enforcer. Maybe Mark Fraser assumes that role rather than having a pure enforcer under Nonis.
– Nonis was gifted a young shutdown center in Ryan Kesler, but he has no such luxury here in Toronto. Against the Bruins the Leafs were matching best vs. best without a real shutdown line and it had mixed results. They shut down the Bergeron line more or less, but got eaten alive by the Krejci line. By the looks of the Leafs make-up and strengths, I’d bet he tries to form a solid defensive line by finding a strong guy to play with Komarov and McClement, while rolling three other solid two-way/scoring lines. When things got tough for the Leafs down the stretch they put Kulemin with those two.
I’m going to do a question and answer mailbag later in the week, so feel free to tweet me questions, email me them, or write them in the comments below. I’ll get to as many of them as I can.