Crafting a winning vintage

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Alec conducted a terrific interview with Marlies GM and VP of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, earlier this week.  While the article that touched on several great topics, Poulin raised the comment of acquiring ‘like-aged’ players to construct a winning team.  He stressed that to build a perennial winner everything must move like clockwork, from the crease womb out.

This quote from Alec’s interview jumped out at me:

“There’s so many different variables, besides the cap going down nine percent, that go into a final product of a hockey team. The timing has to be incredibly efficient on every single front of what I just described. You have to have a like-aged team; it’s no good for us to have a player who fits in good now but isn’t going to be available in three years from now or two years from now. You’re trying to grow a group of players.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this said about the Leafs roster.  Here’s what Poulin said to me about roster construction from the 2012 Maple Leafs Annual a little over a year ago:

“If you look at the top end of the age of the team, there’s a lot of balance.  You have to grow like-age players to be successful at the NHL level. People are stunned when I tell people that Phil Kessel is still just 24.  And he’s scored 30 goals four straight seasons.  So if you look at him as the median, and that’s probably a fair point to look up and down from, you want players around that age.”

 

It may not sound earthshattering, but basing the composition of the Leafs roster on players of a similar age, much of the team’s recent strategy can be gleaned.

Taking a quick look at the Leafs roster, Poulin’s comment about using Kessel as the franchise cornerstone for player acquisition appears to hold water.  Practically everyone on the team is between the ages of 22 and 30, falling within four years of the soon-to-be 26 year old Kessel.  The only outliers are graybeards John Michael Liles and Colton Orr in their early 30s and are usually maligned much more for their marginal value to the club than their age.

That tidbit becomes important given the Leafs cap crunch.  I can’t say for certain what the future holds for either player, but by the numbers they do appear to be the most expendable. It could mean that Orr, with his cap-friendly if debatable contract, could end up in the minors to make space for Carter Ashton or Jerry D’Amigo.  Both are closer in age to Kessel and should warrant a look on the fourth line this season.  It could also mean that Liles, could be bought out for being a relic from the previous regime with decreasing value.  It could be done to ensure that Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri can get re-signed and this team can retain some of its offensive dynamism.

It’s not without precedent.  Last season, Dave Nonis moved or demoted David Steckel, Mike Komisarek, Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly to make room for younger players closer to Kessel’s age range.  Kadri, Leo Komarov, Matt Frattin, Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and Mike Kostka all got to see ice time (for better or worse) in 2013 because of Nonis’ efforts to move old dead weight.  It’s looked at as a youth movement, but it was certainly a ‘like-age’ movement.  And it did help make the Leafs a playoff team last season.

But the age-specific roster also serves to explain some of Dave Nonis’ acquisitions in the past couple of months.  All of David Bolland, Jonathan Bernier and David Clarkson are of an age with Kessel, and have a lot of recent Cup Finals experience to varying degrees.  Bolland is 27 and twice a cup winner, having scored the series clincher for the Hawks just two months back.  In Clarkson, the Leafs are paying a premium in term to get a tough, former 30-goal scorer in the short term.  He’s someone with Cup experience that actually wanted to play here.  Bernier has more dubious honours as a Cup-winning backup, but he provides the Leafs with a highly regarded if contentious tandem in nets.  He also comes with a ceiling as high as any goaltender the Leafs have had… since James Reimer.

What the Leafs gave up to get them? It could be costly – but even if it is – it won’t be immediately costly anywhere outside of the salary cap.  In giving up Frattin, Scrivens, two second round picks and two fourth round picks, the Leafs either gave up on like-aged talent with minimal championship pedigree or distant futures.

Now, there’s nothing to say that Frattin won’t become a 20-goal scorer, or that the picks given up won’t become meaningful NHLers four years down the road.  But they won’t be meaningful contributors to the Leafs in the present, and that’s probably why they were shipped out.

In growing this like-aged team centred on Phil Kessel, the Leafs have indicated that they’re looking to win now.  The Leafs brass are hoping to develop into a Stanley Cup contender.  But MLSE sees their ‘cup window’ as about to open, with Kessel near or at his peak of ability right now.  The team has a mandate to ‘grow’ a winner, and have tried to do just that with an infusion of prime or near-prime talent with a winning pedigree to do it.

We’ll soon learn if an infusion of past success begets success.  But make no mistake: Nonis and Co. are banking on it.

LINKS:

An Inside Look at the Leafs’ Approach to Advanced Stats:
Pension Plan Puppets spoke with Chid Finds, who does all manner of statistical analysis for the Leafs.  Turns out that the team tracks scoring chances, who shows up first to practice AND wins.

Dave Bolland brings Stanley Cup to Mimico
Turned out this was a pretty big deal, because…

Leafs Twitter Says Dumb Thing
Jeffler won’t let the Leafs twitter off the hook, and good on him.

Can the Leafs afford a lame duck Kessel this coming season?
Looks like we’ll find out.

Do these Leafs look better than the old Leafs?
Ryan Fancey asks the million dollar question.

Why you don’t want your team’s goaltender to play in the Olympics
Turns out that that Reimer snub could be a good thing.

  • Dink

    oh

  • Burtonboy

    Good article Mike and I agree with your thoughts. Management seems to be indicating a window might be opening in the next couple of yrs.  Totally goes against the grain of all the other protagonists that seem to think the Leafs are totally devoid of talent and their corsi sucks . I’ve said for over 2 yrs now this team is far more talented then they were given credit for. This year should prove whose right or wrong.

  • Uncle Otis

    Some good  thoughts,but still  trying to figure out how Orr’s contract is “cap friendly yet debatable”?
    Randy clearly likes what Orr brings..uber toughness and contagious swagger
    So best get used to seeing Colton patrolling the wing….he isn’t going anywhere.

    • Burtonboy

      Uncle Otis I would be willing to bet McLaren is waived before Orr.

      • Uncle Otis

        Burtonboy 
        Ditto BB

    • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

      Uncle Otis yep orr isnt goin anywhere , if one is demoted mclaren will go first ….. just common sense really .

    • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

      TheCanucksnaphook Uncle Otis no softies allowed anymore ……. good times

    • Alec Brownscombe

      Uncle Otis I wouldn’t say that excludes it from being up for debate.
      With Clarkson coming in and Fraser back in the mix, I cannot see the logic in having 2 enforcers again.
      But it is true that Leafs management and coaching staff is less high on McLaren than they are Orr and it would be FM who would be demoted in favour of an Ashton or D’Amigo

      • Uncle Otis

        Alec Brownscombe 
        I’m not sure its debate but rather a slag against enforcers in general.
        I base this on the contradictory term of “cap friendly yet debatable”
        If the contract is such,why bother to bring it up? Are there not bigger fish to fry?
        You know there is a camp that sees Orrs and McLarens as  ineffective goons with little merit on a team..this is the not so subliminal message I read most often
        Fortunately,we have a Coach and managerial staff who do not.

  • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

    so , who is predicting liles on waivers today ????

    • Burtonboy

      unclejakescards I think they wait till Sunday . Might as well try till the last minute to make a trade

      • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

        Burtonboy unclejakescards could they put him on waivers today in hopes of someone claiming him , then if he doesnt get claimed put him back on waivers sunday to be bought out if not claimed again ??? that be legal ??? lolol

        • Burtonboy

          unclejakescards Burtonboy Don’t know if they even do the waiver thing in this situation tbh

        • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

          Burtonboy unclejakescards ya me neither , thx

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/KyleTheReporter
    Petter Granberg will play this season with Leafs or Marlies. Tom Nilsson will stay in Europe for at least one more season https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Leafs&src=hash

    • Burtonboy

      hoolihan TheCanucksnaphook Burtonboy Tweeted 22 hrs ago

  • dutchman27

    heading to grand bend for weekend. Hope we get a few signings done and move off some cap. I think liles might be staying a kulemin and his 2.8 might be on way out. i love his ability on the cycle and on boards but not a fan of his dzone play. Never blocks shots.

    • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

      dutchman27 if your goin with the wife i recommend dark sunglasses so she cant tell where/who you lookin at ……… eye candy galore there ..

      • playoff nut

        unclejakescards dutchman27 cany tell eh .she knows u r a sneaky peaker lol

    • Alec Brownscombe

      dutchman27 we are moving Kulemin because he doesn’t block shots? He is one of our strongest wingers on the half wall, and I don’t know anyone that would argue with you about his weak dzone play.

  • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

    heres an interesting thought …… everyones always open to trades , but after/if liles is gone , who are the expendables that could be put into a big deal ????? gunnar , kulie ??? lupul ????

    • Alec Brownscombe

      unclejakescards no, I wouldn’t use the word expendable on any of those players….

      • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

        Alec Brownscombe unclejakescards so who would you say are the expendables ?????

    • Burtonboy

      unclejakescards Trades are becoming really really hard to do. Most all the teams are signing up all their top end talent long term . Trading is becoming relegated to mid tier talent

      • http://stores.ebay.ca/UncleJakesCards?_rdc=1 unclejakescards

        Burtonboy unclejakescards unfortunately that is the truth ….. just stirirn the pot , too boring ……..

  • MaxwellHowe

    I certainly don’t think its out of line to believe the Leafs could challenge for the cup this year.  The personnel is there.  You get the right chemistry, goaltending, and everyone hitting their stride the same time,  why couldn’t the Leafs win like the Hurricanes did a few years back, or the Ducks?  Or the fuckin’ Habs, who won cups out of nowhere in 1986 and 1993?
    Look thru the League.  With very few exceptions (Hawks and kings for instance), no team is without issues and weaknesses.  The Bruins rely heavily on Chara – he is slowing and that team will begin to show its age.  The Pens have huge problems in goal and with the cap.  The Habs goalie, Price, has been faltering.  The Caps are weak at D and Ovechin is inconsistent.  The Red Wings have an aging core.  The Rangers are perinneil underachievers.
    No one can deny that each of the top 6 forwards are capable of excelling.  The dmen were a weak point last year, but they are capable of playing much better.  And Bernier or Reimer seem capable of providing solid, if not exceptional goaltending.
    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Leafs catch fire this year.  Not at all.

    • Burtonboy

      MaxwellHowe Optimism ……Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

      • MaxwellHowe

        Burtonboy MaxwellHowe If u look at the other teams in the east (even the West), you have to ask:  Why not us?

    • Alec Brownscombe

      MaxwellHowe I’ll settle for proving we are as good as last year over 82 games.

  • Knights2Leafs

    From Ryan Fancy:”Grabovski turned in to Bolland, who doesn’t look to be on the same level in terms of skill. Even if you’re from another planet and argue that Bolland is as good, there’s no upgrade here.”
    Complete and utter bullshit.  Grabovski could do one thing very well; get the puck and skate at full speed with it under relative control most of the time.  Not that Bolland is bad at doing that but when it comes to other skills like shooting, -Bolland is at least equal, passing – Bolland is better and being aware of players around you – Bolland is way better.  Oh, and defense – pretty sure Davey gets the edge there.
    Bolland was an elite scorer and two way player in junior.  Not that that means he carries that over at the same level at the NHL, but he has way above average skills across the board.

    • Alec Brownscombe

      Knights2Leafs Difference in PPG isn’t actually massive… Bolland .51 PPG vs. Grabovski .59.
      However Grabovski has broken 20 goals 3 times, 29 once, and 50 points twice… Bolland has not broken 20 goals or 50 points.
      If we are to assume Grabovski was never going to get placed in a scoring role under Carlyle, Bolland is an upgrade at shutdown centre given it’s a role he’s more suited for.

      • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

        hoolihan Alec Brownscombe Knights2Leafs Exactly.

      • Alec Brownscombe

        hoolihan Alec Brownscombe Knights2Leafs I suppose that’s true if we ignore important facts. 
        Bolland played primarily with Sharp and Kane last season and played 2 minutes and 28 seconds a game on the powerplay.
        He put up 14 points in 35 games.
        I am a fan of Bolland but I think we’re being grossly unfair to Grabo here.

      • Alec Brownscombe

        On a PPG basis, Bolland was only marginally better playing with Kane/Sharp and playing nearly a minute more on powerplay per game than Grabovski, who played with Kulemin and McClement.

    • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

      Knights2Leafs @bobsyouruncle posted a beauty goal by Bolland in the previous thread, turned Ryan Suter inside out. Bolland looked like he had plenty of speed going and full control. No doubt you saw plenty of him in London. The kid can skate from what I’ve seen.

    • Uncle Otis

      Knights2Leafs 
      Once again another neophyte who only measures “worth” on points, excluding other areas of play
      “Utter bullshit” is bang on.

      • Alec Brownscombe

        Uncle Otis Knights2Leafs If we are debating on skill, production is a good place to start, lol.
        If you want to make the argument that Grabovski is an inferior shutdown center, that makes sense. Not sure there’s much to back up the claim that Grabovski is a less skilled player though other than the complete stripping down of all of his value on the basis a bad 48 games in a miscast role

        • Uncle Otis

          Alec Brownscombe
          Fancy didn’t mention “offensive” skill..only the latter.
          To assume being a superior defensive center doesn’t require “skill” is supremely ignorant of hockey.

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe Except Knights2Leafs began arguing on both offensive and defensive bases that Bolland is the better player.

        • Uncle Otis

          Yaknowwhat 
          Exactly..and people will soon come to that conclusion once the games begin.
          Well,some will 😉

        • Uncle Otis

          Alec Brownscombe 
          But Fancy wasn’t..and that’s my point.

        • rustynail

          Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis I agree with him and he didn’t say Bolland was a better offensive player, mentioned better passing and awareness of players around him. I take that as complimentary to Bolland not a slam on Grabo.

        • Uncle Otis

          Yaknowwhat 
          Haven’t seen that “philosophy” since the Pat Burns era…and that got us closer to Stanley than any other method of play.
          ‘Bout time…doubters be damned.

        • Knights2Leafs

          Alec Brownscombe
          Maybe I’m making too much of Bolland’s offensive skills, but I guess I was trying to say he does have offensive skill and IF Grabbo is better in that area it’s rather marginal whereas Bolland is clearly the better 2 way player.

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Knights2Leafs Alec Brownscombe Ok.
          Complete and utter bullshit.  Grabovski could do one thing very well; get the puck and skate at full speed with it under relative control most of the time.  Not that Bolland is bad at doing that but when it comes to other skills like shooting, -Bolland is at least equal, passing – Bolland is better and being aware of players around you – Bolland is way better.  
          Just took that as a statement that Bolland is a superior offensive player when, as much as I’d like to see it, I don’t think it’s the case.

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Yaknowwhat Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe Sorry YKW, if you’re going to make a statement about one player being superior to another offensively you kind of need some evidence in the production.
          I know it doesn’t fit the narrative you’re trying to push about Grabovski, but still.

        • Uncle Otis

          Yaknowwhat 
          I know..it bugs me too.
          Which is why stats can be very misleading,and complete conclusions based on stats alone is folly
          Where have we seen that before? (not here often thankfully)

        • Dink

          Alec Brownscombe Yaknowwhat Uncle Otis The teams coaching staff does have something to do with how well a player looks…Bolland probably would look out of place playing for the Leafs previous coach where Grabovski fit right in his style (or lack of style)

        • Uncle Otis

          Alec Brownscombe 
          Who is it pushing the Grabovski narrative again?

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe My “narrative” comes with facts.

        • mcloki

          Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis and a banhammer. lol

        • Uncle Otis

          Alec Brownscombe
          No,it wasn’t
          The debate was about Fancy’s general overview of Bolland not being a  “skill” upgrade..and then you henpecked the “offensive skill” point with KTL
          That’s ignoring the main point to further a pretty consistent narrative..one that is getting kinda old.
          IMHO

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Yaknowwhat Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis Yes, I do know this, if you read further up the page at all. I’ll copy/paste.
          Bolland played primarily with Sharp and Kane last season and played 2 minutes and 28 seconds a game on the powerplay.
          While he wasn’t always in that role in Chicago, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire with 14 points in 35 games.
          On a PPG basis, Bolland was only marginally better playing with Kane/Sharp and playing nearly a minute more on powerplay per game than Grabovski, who played with Kulemin and McClement.

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe How is that henpecking? K2L implied Bolland is a better player in every facet of the game. I disagreed with him.

        • B_Leaf

          Yaknowwhat Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis 
          All I know is that three years ago Grabovski was one of the best forwards in the NHL. He could pass, shoot, and defend way better than given credit for at the time. Two years ago he was still good but something didn’t look the same especially near the end of the year. Last year he had some resemblance of himself…he brought the intangibles but he was losing puck battles all over the ice…this is something that never happened before, he looked slower at times…this something that never happened before. I can’t believe that his role, or the coaching had anything to do with these things. I can only assume a soldier like Grabovski had health issues, ie: stomach?
          I would have loved for this team to move forward with Grabovski if they felt he could get back to himself. The Grabovski from two, three, four years ago is better than Bolland. But I think the team felt he wasn’t bouncing back so they made a decisive move. An excellent shut down centre with upside, with 2 cups, were available and they went that way. No problem here. The Frattin trade is another story…don’t like that one.

        • Uncle Otis

          Alec Brownscombe 
          But you directed your comments at me.
          And like Rusty,I didn’t read what you saw in 2 comments
          Better question..do you agree with Fancy?
          This is what you seem to be ignoring in all this.

        • Uncle Otis

          mcloki 
          brown noser 😉

        • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

          Yaknowwhat Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis Or look at it this way, if Bolland and Grabo were both in the open market right now which one would sign first? I know my answer.

        • Dink

          B_Leaf Yaknowwhat Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis The day Burke signed him for over 5Mil was the start of his exit, he could not live up to the contract…

        • Uncle Otis

          ingy56 Yaknowwhat Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis 
          I think you speak for the vast majority Ingy

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe In the shutdown role, is Bolland better than Grabovski? Very possible. I tend to say yes. If Grabovski was only going to play that role under Carlyle, Bolland is an upgrade.

          Is Bolland a better player than Grabovski overall? No.
          You are correct that Bolland does some things better, but you do understand that offensive skill is valued more highly than defensive skill and physical play, and for a reason?

        • B_Leaf

          @Dink B_Leaf Yaknowwhat Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis 
          I dont really get that. If his play was similar he would be fine. His health went downhill and couldn’t perform the same. The same thing could happen to any player with a serious stomach problem or head injury etc..

        • Uncle Otis

          ingy56
          And that’s NOT taking into account that Bolland comes almost to 2 million cheaper

        • Alec Brownscombe

          Uncle Otis ingy56 Also a separate argument.
          In the shutdown role, I take Bolland at 3.3 or whatever  it is over Grabovski at 5.
          We were just talking about a genera comparison of the players though.

        • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

          Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis ingy56 I understand, I’m talking from scratch though basically, as UFA’s…no existing contracts to consider.

        • rustynail

          Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis ingy56 well Grabo isn’t an ex Knight either. I will admit my view on Bolland may be tinted just a teeny by watching him in junior. I still think he is the fastest Knight I ever saw play.

        • Uncle Otis

          Alec Brownscombe 
          And wins are the most desired.
          Bottom line,Bolland helps this team achieve WINS better with his overall play than does Grabo IMO and is an upgrade under Randy Carlyle’s style of play…you don’t disagree with that do you?
          Oh,and I liked Grabo

        • B_Leaf

          Alec Brownscombe Uncle Otis ingy56 
          When comparing Grabovski….I really think the debate is more about which Grabovski. Grabovski prior to a year and a half ago OR Grabovski last year?? Two different players in my opinion in that the Grabovski of late wasn’t able to do what he could do before.

        • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

          Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe I really liked Grabo too, but it became clear that he was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole and we’d seen enough of that under that old coach who shall remain nameless.

        • rustynail

          ingy56 Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe man its been ages since I read square peg round hole and I don;t miss it. :)

        • Knights2Leafs

          Alec Brownscombe
          What I took offense to was Ryan’s comment that “…even if you’re from a different planet….” Unnecessary cheap shot.
          “…..there’s no upgrade here”. On this he’s at least entitled to his opinion, but this planet aside, there seems to be many on this site who disagree.

        • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

          rustynail ingy56 Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe There’s a few other phrases I don’t miss too.

        • Uncle Otis

          Knights2Leafs 
          Bang on..it was Fancy’s inflammatory comments that started this.
          Don’t know why Alec felt compelled to defend him,albeit indirectly.
          His Grabo love knows no bounds 😉
          Jk boss

        • Knights2Leafs

          Uncle Otis
          I was and remain a big Grabo fan, but his big salary and the reduced cap hit in the short term made him a less valuable player in the eyes of the Leafs management.  I don’t intend to diss him at all, but the skills he has or had didn’t fit in as well in RC’s system.

        • Mind Bomb

          Uncle Otis ingy56  Morning O, yes Bolland comes in cheaper, This year, but we could lose him to UFA after this season depending on the amount he wants.
          If Bolland is as good as everyone is implying, he will want Grabo Money

        • Mind Bomb

          Uncle Otis Alec Brownscombe  Bolland has not helped us win Jack ATM :) And walks in to a Stacked Leafs team, Grabo pretty much had us on his back, now he is casually tossed aside

        • Knights2Leafs

          Mind Bomb
          Agreed, but I meant Bozak vs Grabo salary.  If Kadri develops into a 1C, then Bozak is the more flexible player compared to Grabo in terms of playing 3C at some point.

        • Mind Bomb

          Knights2Leafs Mind Bomb  Kadri is a Winger :) P
          And Agreed, Grabo needs to be playing top minutes to be effective, he is not a 3C

    • Ratzshite

      Knights2Leafs people are placing to much importance in one individual (Grabageski) and not enough in how we made the play-offs last year under Carlyle’s leadership. Grabov biggest point season and no play-off’s, Grabov least point season we make the play-offs with a fourth line having Orr and Mclaren on it.

      • Dink

        Ratzshite Knights2Leafs lol

  • Dink

    CanuckUKinToronto TheCanucksnaphook I don’t see any future as a Leaf for Blacker, Holzer or even FInn 
    Be tough for those boys