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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
[pull_quote_center]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.[/pull_quote_center]
– 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.
[pull_quote_center]It’s pretty screwed up in here; you’d think things would change. No one notices what’s going on here.[/pull_quote_center]
– 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.
[pull_quote_center]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.[/pull_quote_center]
– 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
- 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 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 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 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 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.