July 11 2013 06:31AM
Slowly but surely, the Toronto Maple Leafs are chipping away at their remaining unsigned restricted free agents. Yesterday, Joe Colborne joined the family of players returning to the organization, signing a single year one-way deal that pays him $600,000.
So.. has he earned it?
As I talked about in an article back in February, Joe Colborne is a case of a player who managed to set expectations high, swiftly crush everybody's hopes, but is rebounding back into original form. Colborne joined the Leafs organization in 2010/11 via the Tomas Kaberle trade, and scored 16 points in his first 20 games with the Toronto Marlies, before notching an assist in his first NHL game. He began the next year by scoring 16 points in 9 games and being named AHL player of the month, but disappointed many by only adding 23 more in the next 56 games.
What wasn't publically known was that Colborne had suffered a wrist injury, severely limiting his ability to disperse the puck and use his reach to get around other players. Granted, you can still blame him; the proper thing to do would have no doubt been to get surgery immediately rather than struggle through it from late November until the Calder Cup Finals in mid-June, but a tangible reason was out there for his failures. But could he recover?
The answer, at first, was not really. He still struggled to heal correctly post-surgery, which was the exclamation point on a poor start to 2012/13. However, Colborne had his wrist "pop" (scar tissue heal) in December. Guess what? It turned out that maybe he wasn't kidding, scoring 19 points in his next 21 games and 36 in his final 43.
It may not be fair to bring Colborne back up to the "potential star centre" hype again. At this point, that's behind him. But he's still well on his way to being a legitimate NHL player, that can play in both top six and bottom six situations. A contract like this gives him the ability to prove that he's worth keeping on the team moving forward, with a cap hit low enough to have him on the roster whether they want to play him every night or not. It also gives him some guaranteed money. A 2-way that makes you $900,000 in the NHL and $150,000 in the AHL has more potential, but if he plays half a season in each league, he comes out with $525,000. It's the same reason you see so many fringe NHL/AHL vets go to Europe for a little less than NHL league minimum.
UGH, It's a 1-Way!
I feel like EA Sports has made it impossible to talk about lower-tier signings, thanks to the horrible waivers rules it had between the introduction of the AHL until this year's game finally used the real system. In short, a two way contract doesn't mean that you can send a player down to the American Hockey League without waivers.
What a 2 way contract accomplishes is a risk/reward for both parties in terms of actual payment. As I mentioned in the previous point, a player could probably squeeze out more money on the NHL end with a two-way deal, but if they get sent to the AHL, they earn drastically less. It's a money thing. For a smaller market team, this is important, but for the Leafs, they can afford to promise Colborne his $600,000. Since his cap hit is under $925,000, the Leafs wouldn't retain salary if he was sent down.
That said, he actualy would have to clear waivers to play in the AHL next year, though that has to do with how long ago he signed his original contract and how many games he's played since. It would have been the case no matter what contract he signed. So don't expect him on the Marlies next year, because unless he plays top six minutes with the Leafs, scores 0 points in 25 games, says he'll refuse to report outside of the Leafs organization, and does that press conference in blackface, some team will see a 6'5, 23 year old centre, and be willing to take him on as a reclamation project. Hey, if Nino Niederreiter could get Cal Clutterbuck in return after scoring 1 point in 55 NHL games, anything can happen.
Why A Year?
Pretty simple reasoning, and it helps both ends. Colborne gets a full season to prove he's worth more than just over league minimum, playing all over the place on the Leafs roster in the process. The Leafs, on the other hand, still retain his rights at the end of the year, as he'll still be restricted.
This is a smart signing for both sides. The Leafs look within to get a cost-effective forward that has had a solid comeback year, and can play both offensive and defensive minutes. Colborne gets a year to prove himself in the NHL. A win-win, as long as he isn't waived in December because the Leafs need a fourth enforcer.