Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Alec Brownscombe, Anthony Petrielli, and Declan Kerin recently sat down and graded the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2020 offseason so far.
Consider the final grade at the end of the article a progress report or an incomplete grade of sorts, as GM Kyle Dubas still has irons in the fire according to multiple reports.
Chris Johnston on SDP: "I think that they remain very interested in Joe Thornton, and I think that he's open to the idea… I think that there's some mutual interest there".
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) October 13, 2020
Be sure to cast your own vote in the polling menus below.
Kasperi Kapanen trade: A
We wrote in late August that Kyle Dubas was smart to get out ahead of the market on this deal, striking while the iron was hot (i.e. when Jim Rutherford was fuming and pining for a change), and that has only proven truer over time as the oddball 2020 offseason has played out. Good players with term, even those of far greater value at more important positions, have gone for significantly less: Nate Schmidt for a third-round pick, Devon Toews for two seconds. Even using an in-house example, the gap between Andreas Johnsson and Kapanen isn’t so much that one should flip for Joey Anderson straight up and another for Fillip Hallander and Rodion Amirov (originally the 15th overall pick in a deep draft). This is an A return on Kapanen considering the futures and the cap space, with the caveat that the Leafs’ immediate roster is obviously impacted in terms of scoring depth.
Zach Bogosian signing (1 year, $1 million): B+
- Full analysis: Zach Bogosian signs with the Leafs: one year, $1 million
Signed for one year at $1 million, Bogosian adds depth and diversity to the mix on the Leafs’ backend. He’ll fight, block shots, punish players on the wall and around the net, and while his career did hit rock bottom last season in Buffalo, he looked like he could keep up well enough with the skill and pace of the playoffs to play 16-18 minutes a night during Tampa’s Cup run. He adds a second fighter and a second veteran with a Cup ring to the roster. He might be able to stopgap next to one of the Leafs’ top-four talents if injuries strike, and he’ll kill penalties and hopefully earn Sheldon Keefe’s trust in the defensive zone when it comes to closing out periods and games. The key here is the coaching staff knowing his limitations and showing a willingness to sit him in favour of superior skating and puck-moving options if he struggles to keep up.
TJ Brodie signing (four years, $5 million AAV): B
- Full analysis: TJ Brodie signs with the Leafs: four years, $5 million AAV
He’s not Alex Pietrangelo, and he’s not a physical right-handed shutdown prototype, but he’s a credible top-four defenseman for $3.8 million cheaper than Pietrangelo and three years fewer, allowing the Leafs to return all of their star talent up front. It’s still about a half-million more and a year longer than ideal, but the Leafs desperately needed top-four RD help, and Brodie, on paper, provides Morgan Rielly with his best ever partner as a Leaf. Many said the same of Tyson Barrie, in fairness, but Brodie has actually played tough minutes before, won’t require prime power-play minutes to find his groove, and has a track record of staying above water in difficult usage, even when isolating his impact from stud Flames partner Mark Giordano.
Wayne Simmonds signing (1 year, $1.5 million): B-
You are forgiven if the hype around the homecoming of a former 30-goal-scoring, past-his-prime pugilist is triggering bad memories, but this is a low-risk one-year, $1.5 million addition and Simmonds is not expected to play and produce at a top-six clip. Bottom-six minutes are in store along with secondary power-play time.
One concern at the moment is that the Leafs might not have the pieces to build a full line with the kind of identity that would bring the most out of a player like Simmonds. Based on his recent play in Buffalo and New Jersey, there may be periods where he does not look like he can keep up with the skill and speed on the Leafs’ roster, and there is a possibility that he isn’t anything more than a fourth-liner who shouldn’t see regular top-nine minutes at this point in his career.
We could also envision him elevating in the lineup now and again, providing a much-needed spark when the team is going through the motions — which it could do with the best of them last season. His value might be most felt come playoff time. There will no doubt be the odd game where he sparks the team with a fight, bangs in a goal, and receives a standing ovation in Scotiabank Arena for his efforts (in a world where there are fans in the stands) during the Three Stars announcement. Simmonds is 32 (not 37), he’s had a full offseason of training, and he is the healthiest he has been in a long time.
It’s hard not to compare Mikko Koivu signing for the exact same terms in Columbus and think there were other options that offered more utility than Simmonds for this cap allotment. That said, while the cap space is tight in Toronto, it wouldn’t necessarily be an either-or choice given the relative affordability of the deals, and Simmonds fits a need.
Andreas Johnsson trade: C
First off, if we were grading solely on a bell curve, this trade might score a little higher given how underwhelming the returns were on other cap-related trades of good players. We aren’t privy to what the offers might have been like earlier in the offseason and whether they were any stronger. Rather than flip him for a pick, though, the Leafs acquired a player who is closer to NHL ready and has already achieved more than the average mid-round pick would typically amount to in Joey Anderson. For that, a trade where the Leafs knowingly sold low in a buyer’s market gets a C (by this point, the Leafs knew they weren’t hitting any home runs here as a consequence of the flat cap). Combined with the Kapanen deal, it takes a chunk out of the Leafs’ established scoring depth up front — a trade-off the Leafs made in order to revamp their defense core with $6 million worth of additions in TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian on top of the raise handed out to Jake Muzzin on his new contract last February.
Jimmy Vesey signing (1 year, $900k): C
- Full analysis: Jimmy Vesey signs with the Maple Leafs: one year, $900k
This is one struck as us odd considering Vesey can’t provide center cover, isn’t a defensive presence or a penalty killer, and isn’t overly physical or fast (Note: the Leafs do employ his father on their scouting staff). That said, he is big (6’3), can score some, and he should be hungry to keep his career in the league alive. It’s the type of signing that felt like it should be more of a PTO favour than anything else, but the contract can be waived and stashed in the minors (or off the active roster, depending on whether there’s an AHL season) if it doesn’t work out. We may also see a whole new set of “taxi squad” rules depending on the circumstances of the NHL’s 2020-21 season. Vesey did score 15+ goals three times in New York and the Leafs just lost two 20-goal secondary scorers in Kapanen and Johnsson. Perhaps the Leafs like the idea of putting him to work with their skills development staff — skating consultant Barb Underhill, in particular — in the months of on-ice sessions that will take place before the season eventually gets underway.
Overall Grade (incomplete): B
- Further analysis: Why the Leafs blue line is in better shape than it was a week ago
It’s a solid start. The Kapanen trade was a tidy bit of business that set the table for subsequent moves. On paper, a top three of Rielly, Muzzin, and Brodie on defense stacks up pretty well league-wide. Holl, Lehtonen, Dermott, Sandin, Bogosian, Marincin, Rosen, and Liljegren gives the team a deeper, more diverse, higher-quality group of supporting-cast options than the Leafs ran out on their blue line last season. The defense is upgraded — potentially significantly so — and that was goal #1 this offseason. The added jam of Bogosian and Simmonds is also much needed.
The forward depth uncertainty remains a noteworthy concern, as their bottom six underwhelmed last season, has been outmatched in three straight playoff exits, and now has fewer proven quantities than last year with Johnsson and Kapanen shipped out. The Leafs are currently banking on some combination of Alex Barabanov, Nick Robertson, and Joey Anderson being ready to make an impact, while Jimmy Vesey doesn’t provide an overly reassuring insurance policy. The situation down the middle in particular — with Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, Jason Spezza, and Travis Boyd in the mix for the team’s bottom-six center spots — should be addressed before the offseason is through or the grade could be downgraded.
The Leafs are said to be expressing interest in Joe Thornton as veteran C depth, while there have been rumblings about continued dialogue with the Panthers about right-handed defenseman McKenzie Weegar. We do not have the full picture here yet, and Kyle Dubas has plenty of time yet to turn a solid offseason into a great one.