The Maple Leafs offseason has had a central theme of analytics and ‘Moneypuck’ due to their off-ice hirings and firings, but they have also followed this mantra with their on-ice additions. One of, if not the, main original concepts of ‘Moneyball’ is finding undervalued players due to perceived flaws and maximizing your spend on quality contributors.
This clip from the movie sums it up nicely:
Shanahan’s “island of misfit toys,” in this case, refers to the signings of David Booth, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, and Stephane Robidas. They all have flaws that have been highlighted time and again, but they are solid contributors who the Leafs are, quite frankly, underpaying.
Cap Hit and 2013-2014 production: One year, $1.1M. 66GP- 9G-10A-19PTS.
Cap hit comparables: Maxim Lapierre, Dale Weise, Joe Vitale, Ryan Reaves, BJ Crombeen, Brad Richardson, Cody McLeod.
Perceived Flaws: Booth’s biggest issues stem from a horrible concussion via a blindside hit from Mike Richards in 2009. Since then, Booth has not come too close to the 31 goals and 60 points he put up in 2008-09. Mason Raymond had a similar label on him last summer as he struggled to return from a fractured vertebra suffered in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Beyond Booth’s injury history and drop in production, he has also come to be known as an interesting character, to put it kindly. John Tortorella called him a “weird dude,” and he has done some bizarre things on social media such as his hunting “controversy” and a curious wedding picture.
Contributions: One of the knocks and radio-talk show comments you will probably hear all year regarding Dave Booth is that he’s “not the Florida Panthers” Dave Booth anymore. That will probably be true, but the Leafs are not paying Booth to be that guy. When Vancouver was paying him $4.25M a year and subsequently bought him out, they were paying him for that production, but the Leafs here and now? No. Booth had the worst shooting percentage of his pro career year last season, and he may be tenured at 29 (turning 30 this calendar year) but he is not old and broken. Brad Richardson is the only cap hit comparable listed that produced more goals and points than Booth, but otherwise we’re looking at a scrappy group of fourth liners; even Richardson, who had a decent year, has never shown the ability to produce the way Booth has. A simple 10 goal- 10 assist season would be bang for the buck with Booth, but he is capable of so much more. Booth went into the summer healthy for the first time in a long time, is on a prove-it deal coming off his worse full-season shooting percentage, and is one of the Leafs only effective board players with skill.
Cap Hit and 2013-2014 production: 1 year, $1.5M. 48GP- 10G- 18A- 28PTS.
Cap hit comparables: Eric Fehr, Ben Smith, Trevor Lewis, Gregory Campbell, Cody McCormick, Marty Havlat, Nate Thompson.
Perceived Flaws: Santorelli has a few issues that stick out like a sore thumb. He has yet to be able to consistently produce year-to-year and he has been unable to stick with a team for an extended period of time. Besides his scoring outburst in half a season with Vancouver, the only other time he’s contributed at a legitimate rate was his one 20 goal season in Florida in 2010-2011, which was followed by a weak year that saw him get traded. When players struggle to consistently produce and hop around from team-to-team (this is fifth team in five years) it usually sets off alarm bells. Add in that he was originally a 6th round pick and that he’s on the smaller side, and that’s an uphill battle.
Contributions: Other than Eric Fehr, Santorelli out produced all his salary comparables points-wise and he only played 49 games while most of that list played relatively full seasons (save for Havlat and McCormick). If we prorate his numbers over an 82 game season, he would have been in the top 10 forwards scoring wise in free agency. Santorelli is also strong at the dot, winning 51.3% of his draws last season, and 60.8% the year before. However, he is able to play both the wing and center, and he was a penalty killing regular for the Canucks, playing 1:43/game shorthanded. He’s not overly big at 6’0, 190, but he’s fast and goes to the dirty areas. John Tortorella absolutely loved him. Santorelli has played 257 career games and put up 87 career points, which averages out to about 28 points per season. A healthy Santorelli playing to his average is worth $1.5M easily, but more than that, he brings a lot of other positives to the table such as skill and speed at the center position, penalty killing, faceoff prowess, and some scoring upside.
Cap Hit and 2013-2014 production: 1 year, $1.3M, 76GP- 6G- 24A- 30PTS.
Cap hit comparables: Derek MacKenzie, Dan Paille, Mark Letestu, Erik Condra, Drew Miller, Vernon Fiddler, Mike Brown, Marcel Goc.
Perceived Flaws: Winnik has a few notable flaws that many Western Conference hockey fans can tell you about. Despite being 6’2, and nearly 210 pounds, he does not use his size consistently. Furthermore, he also struggles to put the puck in the net with just 49 career goals in 490 games. That means he is strictly a grinder and can’t really be relied upon to move up into the top six when injury hits. Beyond those two main sticking points, some also believe that Winnik has had a tendency of overvaluing himself, which could be why he moves around so frequently. Call it the Dominic Moore syndrome, if you will.
Contributions: It is true that Daniel Winnik does not physically pound on D-men with his imposing frame, but that does not mean he does not use his size consistently to his advantage. Having gone over Winnik’s tape the last few weeks, he excels at using his reach to close off passing lanes quickly in the defensively zone and to cycle in the offensive zone. He has a history of strong possession numbers against quality competition, but that does not include quality scoring numbers. Winnik’s career shooting percentage is 5.89%; being 29 with nearly 500 career games played, it’s safe to say that is what he is offensively at this point. However, that does not mean he doesn’t contribute offensively. Last season he had 30 points, the year before that he played at a 32 point pace, and the year before that he had 23. He’s a legitimate contributor who is also an NHL penalty killer in a 6’2 body and he can skate. Winnik is a legitimate third liner who has played all three forward positions and is good on the penalty kill, but he’s making fourth line money.
Cap Hit and 2013-2014 production: 3 years, $9M total, 38GP- 5G- 5A- 10PTS.
Cap hit comparables: Robyn Regehr, Marc Methot, Barret Jackman, Bryce Salvador, Andrew Ference, Jan Hejda.
Perceived Flaws: Robidas is a good player and most people are aware of that, but his flaws come down to two pretty basic things: He’s 37 and he just broke his leg twice in one season. It is fair to wonder whether his body will hold up over the 82 game grind to give the Leafs a large chunk of quality games played, and he is signed for three years, taking him to 40. At $3M, he is making too much money to just hope for the best. He needs to stay healthy and play well.
Contributions: Going into free agency, Robidas reminded me of one free agent years ago: Willie Mitchell. After the 2009-10 season, Mitchell hit free agency after a serious concussion caused him to miss the final 46 games of his season with Vancouver. Nobody wanted to give him any sort of term, but the Kings finally stepped up and did with a two year deal, and he went on to win two Cups in four years in LA playing a pivotal role. It is not exactly a secret that the Leafs brought down Robidas’ short term cap hit by adding term to his contract, but — at least for the upcoming season — a healthy Robidas playing over 20 minutes a night is worth more than $3M/year. There is a reason his flaws are generally limited to recent developments; he has done a lot of things very well for a long period of time. He’s not a superstar, but Robidas has consistently played in a shutdown role on the top pairing, been able to contribute enough offensively to help justify his minutes and role, and he’s a mean piece of business. Robidas has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per year for the last eight seasons running. Until this past season, he has played at least 72 games since the lockout (he played all 48 in the shortened year). Even at 37, Robidas was not showing signs of dropping out of the top 4, his minutes were still solid, and his play was still strong. You simply don’t find established top 4 D-men for $3M anymore (and most of his peers in his salary range are fringe top 4’s at best), but, like Mitchell, he can either stay healthy and make it worth it or get injured and come up empty.
The Leafs also made a few other moves with upside – Petri Kontiola is a wildcard with almost no risk and all reward. In a similar boat is Matt Frattin. Peter Holland is coming up after ripping up the AHL playoffs and along with the history of strong AHL numbers in general to suggest he’s going to be at least a reasonable NHL contributor.
As rookie and training camps are starting to come into focus, hockey talk is finally beginning to pick back up. Whether in conversation on or offline I have heard a lot of fans tell me the team hasn’t done much and will probably stink again, but I’m not sold on that by any means. I haven’t analyzed the East enough yet to predict them to make the playoffs confidently, but they have added a lot of value for minimal money, and they have retained most of the positives on the roster. They still figure to have top 10 goaltending, they have a top 10 scorer, they have some scoring depth, and now some actual depth, period. The defense will hope Robidas can stay healthy while Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly take a step in their developments. Randy Carlyle’s biggest challenge will be figuring out how everyone fits together and how to get the best out of this group from top to bottom.