The old saying goes that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, but perhaps sometimes the opposite is true.

This season the Leafs conducted a fire sale because they had no other choice; the team is bad and had a collection of pending unrestricted free agents. Three players in particular that the Leafs would have loved to keep, had the team been doing well, were Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson.

In Nashville, Franson has gone from playing on the top pairing in Toronto to under 16 minutes per game and secondary power play time. Mike Santorelli has played just under 13 minutes on average (top nine forward ice time). His commons line-mates are Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Wilson, with whom he’s nearly a 54CF%, but he has just four points in 20 games. In 20 games with Franson and Santorelli, the Predators are 8-9-3, with three of those wins coming against Buffalo or Arizona (and two of those were in extra time).

Maybe they will have interest in retaining Santorelli, but Franson is hoping for a big pay day and can’t crack the Preds top four, so it’s certainly not happening for him there. In a separate article I also wondered how Franson’s time in Nashville might hurt his price tag.

In Pittsburgh, Daniel Winnik has been a different story. He’s playing 15:26 per night, has been bouncing between playing on the Sutter line and the Crosby line, and his CF% is over 57 with both to go along with seven points in 15 games. Winnik has been very good as a Pen so far, but with over $57 million already committed to the cap and them wanting to bring back Christian Ehrhoff along with almost half a forward corps to fill out, it would be tough to bring back Winnik, who will want a raise on a multi-year extension.

At this point it seems like a strong possibility that all three will hit the open market this summer.

For the Leafs, it is fair to wonder if they should be interested in bringing any or all three of them back. Some will look at Santorelli and Franson’s time on their new team as an indictment of their play once they are on a stronger club, but don’t let a small sample size, in a situation that might not be a good fit for either, totally fool you.

Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik are both 30, meaning they are on the wrong side of their prime but not old enough to think that they don’t have multiple good years left ahead. They can each play every forward position and in any situation. Cody Franson is turning 28 and was arguably primed to be one of the hottest free agents on the 2015 UFA market. His time in Nashville might serve as a bit of a reality check on the open market, but he’s still a good, productive, right-handed defenseman with size, which is a difficult asset to find.

Toronto has a lot of problems and people will prefer the idea of never going back and always looking forward, but Santorelli, Winnik and Franson were players who were part of the solution. Unfortunately for them and Toronto, the logistics and struggles of the team forced them all out. The aftermath of each of their situations might just make them cheaper or more available than previously expected, however, and for the Leafs the opportunity to bring some players who we know can be successful here, will improve the team, and can still be gotten for relatively cheap -– particularly Winnik and Santorelli — will be worth exploring in the summer.

They can look for the “next” Santorelli or Winnik, but for the right price there should be some consideration for going back to the well.


  • Kessel has six games left to get six goals in order to reach 30 goals for the seventh season in a row (including pro-rating his lockout season). If it holds, his 9.4% shooting percentage would be the lowest of his Leafs career, and lowest since his 18 and 19 year old seasons in Boston. He has shot under 10% once in Toronto, and still managed 32 goals that season. One of Kessel’s biggest positives has been his ability to block out the media and fan noise and consistently produce. This season he has done anything but, feuding with the media since basically day one. Maybe it is simply a down year, maybe a season gone wrong has compounded matters, but the nose-dive in his production has to be investigated.
  • One thing that is sure to get attention is his workout habits. Kessel made headlines for saying he skated maybe ten times over the summer. It wasn’t a big deal at the time because he was an elite producer. But it will catch up to him; he’s human. He made $10 million this year and he will finish with roughly 60 points, playing with the same line-mates he put up 80 with last season. His line mates take blame, too, to be sure, and a season gone wrong did not help, but Kessel is a huge question mark going into the summer and this is just the beginning of this can of worms.
  • It is not getting a lot of attention, but Christopher Gibson is putting together a quietly solid season with the Marlies. The average AHL save percentage this season is .913%, and he is 10 points above that at .923%. That is good enough to rank him ninth in the league, but only one goalie ahead of him is younger than his late ’92 birthdate. Gibson was drafted in the second round by the LA Kings, but when they chose not to sign him the Leafs swooped in and brought him to the organization. Last season he only played 12 games in the AHL, with 20 of them coming in the ECHL (where he strangely had a much lower save percentage). This season, though, he has carried the workload and performed very well, becoming a player to keep an eye on.
  • Frederick Gauthier won the Guy Carbonneau Trophy for best defensive forward in the QMJHL last week. Here are the last 10 winners of that award:
2013–14: Felix Girard, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2012–13: Felix Girard, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2011–12: Frederick Roy, Quebec Remparts
2010–11: Phillip Danault, Victoriaville Tigres
2009–10: Gabriel Dumont, Drummondville Voltigeurs
2008–09: Jean-Philip Chabot, Gatineau Olympiques
2007–08: Olivier Fortier, Rimouski Océanic
2006–07: Marc-Andre Cliche, Lewiston MAINEiacs
2005–06: David Brine, Halifax Mooseheads
2004–05: Simon Courcelles, Québec Remparts


[pull_quote_center]When you’re practising & working day after day the littlest thing can turn into a big thing[/pull_quote_center]

– Dion Phaneuf on the Kessel-Booth dust up.

This is really a non-story to me. These things happen all around the league, but, alas, this is Toronto…

[pull_quote_center]We have to make sure we’re taking care of the defensive side so he’s a well-rounded player. He’s not so gifted that he’s going (to the Leafs’) second line right away— so he has to make sure defensively he’s solid… He’s a guy that’s got so much potential because he has a certain skill set that translates to the NHL.[/pull_quote_center]

Marlies Head Coach Kevin Dineen on Josh Leivo.

There used to be this notion last year that Leivo could be the next Lupul, despite Lupul being a former top-10 pick who made the NHL in his draft +2 year. The general benchmark in production that a player needs to hit to go from the AHL to the NHL is .7ppg according to some work previously done by Tyler Dellow. Leivo is just under that at .67. Learning to be a dependable defensive player is what is going to give him a real opportunity to stick on the team and develop. He’s a lanky 6’2, but he’s strong and can cycle.

[pull_quote_center]I think part of what’s gone on here is that they’ve managed to produce a team that is not just bad, but appears not to give a damn. It’s almost rubbing it in people’s faces—the lack of try, the lack of effort. They are the least likable group of professional athletes I think I’ve ever been around. Just the way they play, outside of the arena, the way they come across—they come across as the opposite of plucky underdogs that are trying really hard even if they’re not quite good enough. This is talented guys who are getting paid enormous amounts of money who stopped trying a long time ago and are kind of laughing at everybody. That’s a bad vibe if you’re a consumer.[/pull_quote_center]

– Stephen Brunt on the Leafs.

I agree, to an extent. Personality wise I think Dion Phaneuf just has the worst reputation in this market for being dry and aloof, but really we’ve seen flashes of his personality and sense of humour whenever he isn’t being interviewed. Sometimes I try to put myself in his shoes; if I was captain, how would I answer some of the nonsense thrown his way? He never gets in trouble for speaking out because he gives cookie cut answers. Honestly, I would probably do the same thing. What’s the alternative? Being open and honest? That’s a recipe for disaster in this market.

The second point that I think is noteworthy is the talent portion. The team started the year as a talented group, there is no question about that. They had scoring and goaltending. But the mix has never been right, and I wrote about this to end last season. There is not one line you would feel comfortable matching up against the top lines on other teams on a nightly basis. Until those changes take place, you can have all the talent in the world and it won’t get you anywhere.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1.  I think I understand the general sentiment of what Don Cherry said regarding Casey Bailey getting to go right to the NHL while the players in the AHL finish the season on the bus. Cherry played in the minors, so for him it’s personal. If you are Connor Brown, who is lighting up the league and carrying the Marlies, it’s frustrating. However, that’s the price of doing business here in order to get Bailey in the first place, so there really isn’t an alternative if the Leafs want to pursue all avenues to improve their club. I actually like the Leafs healthy scratching Bailey because he clearly needs time to adjust to this pace and style.
  2. I think Sam Carrick is playing his way into having a leg up for making the starting line-up next season. In preseason I thought Carrick got the short end of the stick a bit because he was an impact player but was stuck with the Leafs enforcers for the majority of the tryout session. Now in the NHL, he hasn’t been spectacular by any means, but he’s noticeable every game and as his ice time has grown so has his contribution. In the AHL a player should be around .7PPG to push up to the NHL, and Carrick is around a .5PPG player, but lucky for him the team has nothing immediately emerging down the middle, and his game is well rounded enough to play on the fourth line as a right handed center capable of producing the odd point and grinding it out. He can also play wing, which is a nice bonus.
  3. I think, in terms of veterans, David Booth is the only guy who stands out as potentially playing his way into a contract for next season. Although I will say Joakim Lindstrom should get some credit for his play because he has been crafty and a contributor with good line-mates. Since the trade deadline, David Booth has played 14 games, has eight points, and has 48 shots on net. He is showing he can still be a reasonable top nine forward and was miscast on the fourth line, which was in part due to an injury to start the season. Whether it is with the Leafs or someone else, he’s playing his way into another contract for next season, which wasn’t the case earlier in the year.
  4. I think, as much as anything, the goalie trade market should dictate which of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer stays or goes. The gap between the two just isn’t that big, which has been discussed in this space numerous times. But, the goalie market is set to be a buyer’s market yet again and I am not sure you will get much in return for either. Complicating matters is Bernier needing a new contract. If you can sign Bernier for cheap and the market for him is not much different than Reimer’s, I’d lean towards Bernier. If Bernier still holds high value and wants to get paid, I’d lean Reimer. But I can’t help but think of when the Habs had Price and Halak. Halak was the sentimental pick while Price was the more talented goalie with a bit of an arrogance to him. The Habs went with talent and won out. I’m not saying Bernier will be as good as Price, but picking the more talented player usually is the right call.
  5. I think it is noteworthy that this is the second straight year Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are closing out the season as a pairing and playing very well together. Phaneuf has played a little over 153 minutes with Gardiner and has a CF% over 48 in that time, while with Rielly he’s played a little over 56 minutes with him and is over 49%. There isn’t a lot to learn from that, but they seem to be shifting to playing the talented duo together, which is telling in multiple ways. I think, if they could ever find a solid partner for Phaneuf, Gardiner-Rielly could run run over teams as a second pairing.