June 28 2016 06:23AM
When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Frederik Andersen to a five-year contract with a $5 million cap hit, they made a pretty bold statement. It's clear that they see Andersen as a goalie who will backstop the franchise to success over a long period of time, not as merely a stop-gap. A five-year contract for a goalie is a major gamble. If you sign a winger to a big deal and it doesn't work out, you can put him on the 3rd line and shelter him from difficult competition in order to try to salvage some value from the contract. On the other hand, if a goalie is signed to a hefty contract that doesn't work out, you're trapped. Look at Detroit's situation with Jimmy Howard or Dallas's with Kari Lehtonen as examples.
It's clear that the Leafs think Andersen will be able to keep up a high level of play over the long haul. The key question is: are they right?
June 20 2016 07:29AM
One area where the Leafs have been very successful over the past two seasons is in signing undervalued veterans to short-term contracts, then trading them for draft picks or prospects at the trade deadline. For a team that badly needed to stock the cupboard with some prospects, it was a smart way to go about building future value off the back of short-term investments. Toronto is still firmly in rebuild mode, having finished last in the NHL this season, so they may decide to go that route again, building up value and then moving players at the deadline for futures.
But even if they aren't looking to flip veterans at the deadline any more, finding players who are under-priced by the market is still an important tactic for teams to pursue in a league with a hard salary cap like the NHL has. In a sense, the NHL has become an efficiency competition, so adding players who provide value on-ice above what they're being paid is wise for contenders and rebuilding teams alike.
June 14 2016 07:00AM
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 2015-16 NHL season without a clear #1 goalie in the organisation. Over the past few years, Jonathan Bernier has failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him by the management team that acquired him, while James Reimer was traded to San Jose for a draft pick. Garret Sparks put up impressive numbers in the AHL, but wasn't able to replicate that success in his first major NHL stint. So it seems quite likely that the Leafs are going to look outside the organisation for at least one NHL goalie this summer.
Over the weekend, Jeff Veillette argued that the Leafs should just run Jonathan Bernier again next season, and it wasn't that long ago that I also wrote about how Bernier could still be an NHL starter. That's certainly one option. But if the Leafs do look to bring another goalie in, who might they target?
June 06 2016 07:00AM
After signing David Clarkson to a 7-year contract, Dave Nonis infamously told reporters, "I’m not worried about [years] six or seven." Nonis has been widely criticised for the remark, which was ridiculous in the case of Clarkson, who wasn't even worth what the Leafs were paying him in year one. And yet, because of the way the salary cap works, NHL general managers are frequently forced into decisions that involve trade-offs between up-front costs and longer-term sustainability. Nowhere are those trade-offs more apparent than when trying to sign (or re-sign) a top free agent.
Barring a last minute change with the Lightning, it looks like this summer's top UFA is going to be Steven Stamkos. It's widely believed that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be one of the teams bidding for Stamkos's services, with TSN's Bob McKenzie saying, "there’s no doubt in my mind the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to take a hard run at Steven Stamkos." Some people would argue that every team in the league should want to sign Stamkos. I don't believe it's that simple, though. Whether it makes sense to sign a top free agent depends on a number of factors. Let's take a closer look at what those are.
May 30 2016 08:30AM
On May 27 TSN published an article arguing that the NHL and CHL should modify their transfer agreement to allow "exceptional" drafted CHL players to play in the AHL, which they currently can not do until their 20-year-old season. The focus of the article is on Mitch Marner, who just finished tearing up the Memorial Cup with the London Knights. Gary Lawless, writing of Marner for TSN, says:
He may not, however, be ready for the NHL. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 164 pounds, it’s quite possible Marner will need some time in the AHL to adjust to the pro game. But that’s not available to him next season.
. . .
Marner, almost all would agree, would be best off adjusting to the challenges of the pro game in the AHL.
Size is a frequent theme in discussions of Marner. Despite the way he continues to put up huge numbers in the OHL, many people believe Marner will struggle in the NHL because he is smaller than most NHLers. I think that line of thinking is wrong. While no one can predict the future with certainty, all of the available evidence suggests that Marner will be able to jump into the NHL next season and contribute at a reasonably high level.