July 24 2013 10:34AM
As per Darren Dreger and Damien Cox, the Toronto Maple Leafs have agreed to terms with Paul Ranger on a 1 year deal worth around 1 million dollars. A bit of an unexpected move considering the cap crunch, but a very shrewd one nonetheless. Read on:
What's he been up to?
To start, Ranger isn't unfamiliar to the Leafs organization. After disappearing from professional hockey early in the 2009/10 season, the 28 year old defenceman decided to make his return by signing a 1-Year, AHL only deal with the Toronto Marlies last August. Many thought he could get a team to risk a two way contract, but assuming an NHL return was his end goal, signing with the Marlies allowed him to be close to home (Whitby, ON) while being able to make his own destiny, essentially meaning the Leafs couldn't trade him.
While the main story of training camp was Nazem Kadri being in slightly worse shape than his teammates, Ranger showed up atop almost every chart, knowing that being in supreme physical shape was a necessity after spending so much time away from the game at a high level. With this known, it was a little less surprisng when he instantly became the team's top all-around defender. While he didn't keep up with Mike Kostka offensively (who, believe it or not, put up 34 points in 34 games), Ranger produced at a half point per game clip while being the hardest player to get past on the team. This is before the lockout ended too, meaning he was outplaying the likes of Kostka, Jake Gardiner, Korbinian Holzer, and Mark Fraser. While I'm not a fan of the stat, his +16 rating lead the team.
Ranger shows a lot of versatility in his play. His stickwork is solid, he's not afraid to throw his body around, and he's frequently in good position. While Randy Carlyle has his philosphies and will likely stick Ranger on the left side due to his shot handedness, he's capable of playing on both sides. In fact, his time with Kostka involved him being on the right, and was left there on the powerplay due to his hard, accurate point shot.
I have lots of reason to believe that this is the same Paul Ranger that people saw as an emerging young defencemen with Tampa Bay years ago. I fully believe that Ranger will be in the Leafs' top four very quickly, and be looking for a massive raise next season, with good reason.
It is worth noting, though, that Ranger missed significant time as the result of a concussion suffered on January 13th, missing 15 of his 25 non-played games as a result of it. (The other ten were from minor bumps and bruises, and typical Dallas Eakins roster rotation)
Why the departure/return?
This is a frequently asked question. The answer? We don't really know. Speculation ranges all over the place, lots of it involving personal issues and is borderline libellious. With that said, the most sensible explanation and current front runner? He simply lost interest in the professional lifestyle, and wanted to go home. This further supports the contract he signed last year, as it allowed him to play hockey at a higher level while near home while seeing if his heart was still in it.
The reality is though, it doesn't really matter at this point. If there's anything particularly concerning, it will probably come up.
As much as I am a fan of this signing, it really makes you wonder about what's coming next. After all, the Leafs now have less than six million dollars to sign Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, and Mark Fraser. Even if a couple of players in that list end up in the AHL, I can't see the Leafs being able to go into next season this close to the cap. Another move, bluntly, is inevitable.
There's very little breathing room for the Leafs as a result of this signing, but it's a very smart one to make. Teams often make their shrewedest, most efficient moves with their backs against the wall; it's not even a first in recent Leafs history. Ranger is fully capable of being a player worth triple, if not more, of what he's going to get paid, and Toronto's commitment to helping him get back to the NHL will pay off quite nicely.
Photo courtesy of @erinmapleleaf