July 16 2014 10:28AM
With the focus now during to Restricted Free Agents, the Toronto Maple Leafs had some of their work done for them today, as Carter Ashton accepted his 1-year, $850,000 qualifying offer from the team this morning.
What Does This Mean?
For those completely new to the concept, teams have a set single year contract that they, barring an arbitration filing, have to offer their potential RFA’s to keep their status while negotiating with them. Typically, this is based off of the previous year’s salary. Players can accept them whenever they want, or hold off in hopes of earning more salary and/or term.
What Happened Here?
Most likely, Ashton discovered that his relatively undecided status in the system didn't give him much leverage on either point.
The issue with him is this; we know what his raw physical talents are, and theoretically, he should be the perfect offensive bottom sixer. He can hit, he can (attempt to) fight, he can shoot, and he can get into position. But he hasn't done much of anything yet at the NHL level, notching no goals and 3 assists in 47 NHL games to date.
"It's definitely a fine line between the AHL and NHL. It was a learning experience every time I went up or down this year" said Ashton last month. "You adjust to the roles, the level of hockey, and the speed of the game. I think I've matured as a player by going through those situations."
Role is a major factor in his NHL struggle. Ashton played exactly 1 minute on the powerplay the entire season, and just 3 on the penalty kill. When playing at even strength (for 6:08 a game), his main linemates were Jay McClement and Colton Orr. If we're being real with ourselves, no forward on this team other than Phil Kessel would be able to put up even respectable numbers if paired with those two.
On the Marlies, he's been a different beast. While his first two years were slow (22 points in 60 regular season games, 8 points in 15 playoff games), Ashton had a spectacular if not brief season in the AHL this year. In 24 games, he scored 16 goals and added 7 assists, and followed up with 9 points in 13 playoff games. While his SH% was likely too high to sustain next year, he seemed more aware of where to be on the ice than he's ever been, and seemed to be more aware of what it takes to play at the professional level. A lot of of that comes from his top-line usage from the Marlies coaching staff.
"I couldn't have asked for anything better than that. Spotter and King were great. Not only that, but they stayed on top of my game and worked with me, through video and other details. To come down and have those guys trust me and put me in situations to succeed was great."
With this one year contract, Ashton will come into this year with something to prove. What the Leafs get out of him will likely have a strong attachment to what they give him; linemates who drive the play more would do him wonders. One has to think that with him doing everything they asked of him during last year, and now-assistant coach Steve Spott's knowledge of what he can do when given a chance to play his game, he'll find his way back onto the Leafs roster this year.