As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, yesterday Mark Fraser came to terms with the Leafs just before his arbitration hearing for a sum of $1.275 million on a one-year contract.
From Fraser’s standpoint, as he was both arb-eligible and it made sense (here’s why it didn’t for Cody Franson), filing maximized his leverage as a restricted free agent by not allowing the the club to take all summer to nickel and dime him due to the looming third-party arbitration ruling. Fraser named $2 million as his price, while the Leafs were concerned the settlement would come in half-way between at around $1.4 million and were thus willing to settle at $1.275 million just before the hearing. In the end, a player and club should try to avoid the ugly arbitration process if they can and all the power to Mark Fraser, an honest player who will likely always go from short-term contract to short-term contract and has managed to more than double his last season’s salary on a one-way deal.
Now, good for Fraser and all, but did the Leafs have other options? With Fraser being arbitration eligible and having taken the route before, likely at the advice of The Honourable Mr. Justice Hugh Fraser, one option was that the Leafs could’ve seen it coming, not qualified Fraser to begin with, and banked on a Petter Granberg coming along and taking over his role on the bottom pairing for cheaper. Not only does it seem like a reach to bank on Granberg being NHL ready with no time to adjust to the North American game and rink size in the AHL, the Leafs would only be saving about $375,000 to do it given Granberg would make $900,000 in the NHL. A second option was to forget Fraser and run with Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Liles, Gardiner, Ranger and Franson as the top 6, but this would leave the Leafs defence light on defensive D and penalty killing options. A third option was to go bargain shopping in UFA and dip into the unknown to save a few hundred thousand.
For me, though, there’s definite value in sticking with a known quantity who filled the #6D role pretty effectively, and – laugh at this intangible if you want to – has the type of character to his person you like to have in your favourite hockey organization. The deal on its own isn’t really an overpayment. Closest comparables in his pay range are fellow bottom pair guys like Sheldon Brookbank, Mark Fayne and Justin Braun. When Fraser filled the soft minutes third pairing role he played for the majority of the year, and not the top-4 role he flirted with at times toward the end of the season exposing him as out of his depth against faster more skilled players, he made the Leaf net a tough place to hang out, played two minutes a game on the vastly improved Leaf penalty kill, and was strong down low and on the boards against the other team’s grinders. Last season, playing with Cody Franson gave him an outlet for keeping it simple and passing off the puck handling responsibilities on his pairing, and he’ll need, if not Franson because he’s moved up a pairing, someone who can do the same. A possible fit is beside Paul Ranger.
If the Leafs wind up moving a piece we rather not see them move to make the cap work, it’s the necessity of the Bernier deal and how the team used its compliance buyouts that will get the attention and rightfully so. We’ll have to wait and see.
With Fraser now on the books at $1.275m, here’s how the Leafs cap situation looks, dropping the likely Marlie-bound Trevor Smith and Korbinian Holzer from their capgeek page:
Joffrey Lupul ($5.250m) / Tyler Bozak ($4.200m) / Phil Kessel ($5.400m)
James Van Riemsdyk ($4.250m) / Dave Bolland ($3.375m) / David Clarkson ($5.250m)
Frazer McLaren ($0.700m) / Jay McClement ($1.500m) / Nikolai Kulemin ($2.800m)
Joe Colborne ($0.600m) / Colton Orr ($0.925m)
RFA: Nazem Kadri
Dion Phaneuf ($6.500m) / John-Michael Liles ($3.875m)
Carl Gunnarsson ($3.150m) / Mark Fraser ($1.275m)
Jake Gardiner ($1.117m) / Paul Ranger ($1.000m)
RFA: Cody Franson
Jonathan Bernier ($2.900m)
James Reimer ($1.800m)
Buyout: Darcy Tucker ($1.000m)
Buyout: Colby Armstrong ($1.000m)
RETAINED SALARY TRANSACTIONS (0.778% of upper limit)
Matt Frattin ($0.437m—0.5%) Ben Scrivens ($0.062m—0.1%)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $58,366,667; BONUSES: $300,000
CAP SPACE (19-man roster): $6,233,333
- I don’t think the Leafs are going to move Franson. My one worry is that, even if the Leafs find a way to wedge everyone in with some relatively cheap settlements on Kadri and Franson, they may not be flexible enough to accommodate a surprise training camp/preseason performance from, say, a Jerry D’Amigo or Carter Ashton earning one of them a spot on the team. Both would earn over a million in the NHL. Scott Gordon wondered aloud yesterday if the limited cap space would allow the Leafs to add another guy into the mix for a lower roster spot – “As far as adding another guy, that would come down to what happens with the players that aren’t signed, and where the salary cap is, and if we have room or not.”
- If the Leafs feel they could move Liles at any time, they may wait to see how the competition plays out in training camp. They can be up to 10% over the salary cap until the final day of camp.
- You would obviously prefer to retain salary and trade him, but the John-Michael Liles buyout isn’t horrible as a Plan B or C. Year 3 is ugly, but you’re saving $3 million immediately and between the Tucker and Armstrong buyouts coming off the cap and Liles being jettisoned, they would have $5 million freed up for a huge 2014 off season (Phaneuf, Kessel, Reimer, Kulemin, Gardiner and potentially Bolland all needing contracts).
- Here’s the JML buyout calculation. The post-arbitration buyout window opens on August 2nd.
- 2013-14: $875,000
- 2014-15: $875,000
- 2015-16: $2,375,000
- 2016-17: $1,250,000
- 2017-18: $1,250,000
- 2018-19: $1,250,000
A few Wednesday morning links…
An interview with assistant coach of the Leafs Scott Gordon
ICYMI, Anthony’s interview from yesterday.
Cody Franson still unsigned and unsure of what the future holds
Cody doesn’t really express doubt here so much as he says his agent is handling it.
Top 25 under 25
PPP is starting their off-season series on the young Leafs.
Dave Bolland is taking the Stanley Cup on a parade route through Mimico
How does Lieweke feel about this? On the one hand he loves planning Stanley Cup parades, on the other he hates those who coast on past accomplishments.