Devils Advocate

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a lot of comittments yesterday, signing a couple of free agents, bringing back a few players, and letting a few walk. This comes shortly after a pair of buyouts and a trade acquisition. Opinions are all over the place: Some people hate the end result, some people are okay with it, some like and dislike certain parts, and others are taking the "waait and see" approach. Myself? I feel that this offseason will be seen as Dave Nonis’ defining moment here, the one where he let a glimmer of hope and his personal reputation for being cautious to get to his head, making brash choices that only suit the short term.

But something I will admit, now that everything has sunk in? The Leafs are better suited for the now then they were a few weeks ago. 

What The Hell Happened Anyway?

Here’s how the offseason looks so far.

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  • Leo Komarov signed a 1 year contract with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL. The Leafs retain his rights, and Leo has repeatedly mentioned interest in returning to the NHL at a later point. The Leaf retain his rights as an RFA.
  • Jonathan Bernier was acquired on June 23rd in a trade with Los Angeles, for Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens. The Leafs retain $500,000 of their former players’ salary next year, and came to terms with Bernier on a 2 year, 5.8M deal yesterday. This means his essential cap hit next year is $3.4 million.
  • David Bolland was acquired on June 30th in a trade with Chicago, for 2nd and 4th round picks in the 2013 draft, and a 4th in 2014. 
  • Both allowed compliance buyouts were used on Mike Komisarek and Mikhail Grabovski. Komisarek has since signed a 1 year, $700,000 contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • Qualifying offers were sent to Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Mark Fraser, Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, and Spencer Abbott, who are restricted free agents.
  • Kevin Marshall and Trevor Smith signed undisclosed but likely small, 1 year contracts.
  • Clarke MacArthur was allowed to walk, and signed for 2 years, 6.5 million with the Ottawa Senators.
  • Will Acton and Ryan Hamilton both left the organization to sign with the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Ryan O’Byrne, Mike Kostka, Tim Connolly, Tyler Brenner, Mark Owuya, Mike Mottau, and Jussi Rynnas have all been allowed to test the open market.
  • T.J. Brennan was signed to a 1 year, $600,000 contract.
  • Fraser McLaren returns to the team with a 2 year contract that sees him getting paid $700,000 per year.
  • Tyler Bozak signed a 5 year extension that carries an annual cap hit of 4.2 million per year, with exact year-by-years of 3.5 / 4.0 / 5.0 / 4.5 / 4.0 million per.
  • David Clarkson joined the team on the longest contract in Leafs history, signing for 7 years. Breaking the deal down he is paid 4.5 / 4.75 / 5.5 / 7 / 7 / 4.75 / 3.25 million per year.

This Is Possibly Okay For Now

Before we get into the obvious, let’s try to take a positive approach here.

  • People would be very excited about the David Clarkson contract without a salary cap. Clarkson is a good posession player, and loves to get pucks to the net (something the team seems to not do much of). For those of you who deal in intangibles, we’re talking about a player who’s very happy to be back at home, is willing to throw the body around, and can stick up for his linemates without being totally outclassed by them. While he’s not super productive, he keeps up without the need for elite linemates and can both take care of other responsibilities and get to the front of the net while his linemates (likely Lupul and Kadri) do the super-skilled work. He’s legitimately a good player, one who fits into Randy Carlyle’s system, but a bad contract will have people quick to dislike him.
  • If Randy Carlyle is an [expletive] idiot who refuses to play Mikhail Grabovski where he should be, there isn’t much point in having him on the roster. We all know he’s a better player than he was allowed to be this year, but if the plan was to put him into exile again, David Bolland is better suited per dollar to play that role than him. The Leafs definitely defined "selling low" here, and Grabovski will likely be a success elsewhere, but a glass cage of defensive zone starts wasn’t going to be the place to do it.
  • James Reimer is probably good enough to be the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ben Scrivens was a capable backup, and I think that Matt Frattin will be a solid lower-tier power forward sooner than later. But make no mistake, the Leafs have improved between the pipes. Jonathan Bernier is ultimately no slouch, and the two worst case scenarios would be having to choose which young goalie on a decent contract is worthy of a trade bidding war, or Bernier falters and you have a non-substantial contract to wait out two seasons for. Considering the Leafs were heavily looking at a 10 year commitment to Robero Luongo just a year ago, the situation could be worse.
  • Similar to Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur will see success in Ottawa that he just wouldn’t have had in the current situation here. Unlike Grabovski, it would still be the case even if the coach came around and didn’t put him in the press box at random points in the playoffs. Simply put, even good Clarke MacArthur struggles to take minutes from Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk and only sees top six minutes in case of injury (which granted, happens pretty often to Lupul). 
  • I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Komarov come back next season. Toronto will likely see that the distraction pests bring is just as effective if not more so than the intimidation of a fighter, and realize that Leo is a pretty decent hockey palyer as well, before handing over the money they wouldn’t now. He wasn’t asking for a ton, but more than Toronto was willing, which shouldn’t be a concern next season. Tucker and Armstrong’s buyouts come off the books along with the retained salary from the Bernier trade. Combine that with a surely-rising salary cap and the Leafs should be able to pay what will probably be under 1.5 million to bring him back across.
  • I’m not huge on playing enforcers, but I’d rather Fraser McLaren in the lineup than Colton Orr. If Carlyle gets to a point where he can’t put both in, this is a good result.
  • The exodus of Marlies players gives new coach Steve Spott a relatively clean slate to work with, and the ability to use even more rookies and younger players, something he’s used to from coaching Kitchener. Less than a third of the AHL roster is expected to be the same compared to last year’s opening night.
  • T.J. Brennan is a younger and better version of Mike Kostka at a very cheap cap hit. He’s had more luck producing in the NHL, had similar AHL stats last year, and has been a known quantity for a while now (compared to a strong half AHL season carrying Kostka in). If he fails to stay lin the lineup, he gets waived and either plays in the AHL or moves on. If he sticks, the Leafs got a 24 year old defenceman for no assets and just over league minimum.
  • If there’s any truth to Carlyle actually having a good system without the proper tools to work it, he’s got what he’s looking for now. This is a roster built in his mold, with players who [expletive] disagree gone. Either that, or we get to see that he’s off base and a key cog in team issues before he signs an extension.

In short: This may work out for a little bit.

But Wait..

With that said, there’s still room for concern. Yes, Toronto brought in the ideal Carlyle player in Clarkson for 7 years, and committed to his faceoff kid / perpetual temporary first line centre for another 5. But how many coaches last for 7 years?

Two. The answer is two. Barry Trotz and Mike Babcock, coaches of teams that consistently look well into the long term, play highly skilled games, and don’t sign unproductive unrestricted free agents to long contracts in the name of systems. Beyond that, over two thirds of the entire league has a coach that came in during or after 2011. Rather than build a team around a coach, maybe the coach should be building based on his players?

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Beyond that how many players stick around when they’re attached to contracts like that? The bulk of the recipients of 9+ year contracts before rules were made have either been traded when they fell out a team’s plans, or bought out this summer after becoming a shell of themselves. What happens when philosophies change, or Clarkson/Bozak stop producing, and it’s impossible to find a trade suitor for them?

In a world where hockey has no coached biases (personal or stylistic), Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur are better players than David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak, and come in at a cheaper overall price. Bozak remains an objectively mediocre NHL scoring forward, and John-Michael Liles’ contract was probably more deserving of a buyout than Grabovski’s. It’s going to be hard to fit the remaining Restricted Free Agents in, and the back end still seems pretty shallow. Long term, I think the team may have taken a step back to appease a coach who thinks he has a good idea for the now. You know who agrees? Dave Nonis.

“You will have seven- or eight-year deals for players you think will give you a chance to win. I’m not worried about Year 6 or 7 right now, I’m worried about Year 1, when I know we’ll have a very good player (with) a lot of good years in him.

This offseason seems like a bold strategy from a group that wants to be taken seriously. It could be a disaster in a litle while. In the mean time, I do think that this will be a better immediate team than the one the Leafs had in May. At least, one would hope so. We’ll see how this plays out.


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  • Your point about coaching is interesting.

    Worth keeping in mind that most 8-year deals are barely a quarter finished, yet of the 28 players who signed for 8 years or more, 15 of them will play under a different coach.

  • jasken

    The central problem here is that Carlyle is still an idiot.

    Dumping the most obvious signs of that fact doesn’t make it less true – Coach dumbass will just find some other way to be inept. They’ve treated the symptons, not the disease. And Gardiner is still here to be wasted until he gets traded at the deadline for a bag of pucks.

    • jasken

      No, he is not. He is a professional coach who believes strongly in a style of play with which he has had success in the past. He is a stubborn son of a gun – name any successful NHL coaches that aren’t – and his GM obviously believes in his abilities and philosophy.
      We will see how this all plays out in an 82 game schedule against division opponents that were strong and are now stronger with the addition of the Red Wings.
      I, for one, worry more about replacing Dallas Eakins than losing Mikhail Grabovski. In my view, the coach that Leaf fans might want to worry about is not Randy Carlyle, it’s Steve Spott.
      Go Leafs!

    • jasken

      Sure I can agree with that pertaining to just about anything but hockey.

      Being 29 on all time pts list for D-man norris trophy winner, First team all-star, and having played multiple seasons of a pt a game in his career.

      Stanley Cup winning Coach. 6 playoff appearances in 9 yrs

      Coached 582 games won 305 and 679 pts

      He does things his way because he gets results.

      He seen more playoffs then the Leafs franchise has in last 20 yrs and he is the idiot?

      Coming from people who wouldn’t have seen the playoffs if it wasn’t for him. 8 yrs without RC philosophy no playoffs 1 yr with it Leafs have Playoffs.

      Rethink your logic people

      • jasken

        None of that means anything. He won the Cup with a loaded roster, anyone with a brain could’ve lead that Ducks team to a Cup.

        He took what could probably be a positive possession team (probably right at 50% if a proper coach was in charge) and he ran it into the ground last year. He probably will next year too, and you and all the other idiots lauding his “tight defensive systems” will see how wrong you were.

  • Jeffler – good article. I’ve been trying to think of positives. It isn’t easy.

    I think you may be right though that since Mac and Grabo weren’t given much of an opportunity to play last season, this team going forward may not actually be worse. That said, they are still likely to regress in terms of shooting percentage, so the win/loss column is probably going to fall.

    Some other potential positives for next season: Carlyle pretty much has to play more of Gardiner and Franzon, right? I think that should help the team’s possession stats. Also, Bolland, if he returns to form, could actually be better than Grabovski in the tough minute, defensive zone start, role. That’s what he does, right?

    The move I keep coming back to that drives me nuts is the trade for Bernier. I’m not sure Bernier will prove to be an upgrade on Scrivens at all. And really, who cares? Unless he actually beats out Reimer for the #1 role, how can you possible justify the +$3MM in cap space? And the loss of Fratton (which incidentally, also costs cap space because he was such a cheap, effective option in the bottom 6).

    Anyway, one final thought. I’m crossing my fingers (surely in vain), that Carlyle gives the 1C position to Kadri. That first line gets beat by everyone with Bozak in the middle. I think Kadri has a chance to make it really good. And Bozak might actually thrive as a sheltered scoring centre with Lupul and Clarkson on his wings.

    That’s my two cents. Again – thanks for the article.

  • Why are you guys so positive? There is nothing to be positive. This problem all started with freakin Burke who stuck with Wilson too long. Then brought the buffoon Carlyle but gets fired for not keeping his mouth shut. And then leaves the incompetent Nonis who lacks a backbone in charge.

    The leafs got older, slower and worse a hockey. Clarkson is a worse skater then Orr and has hands of stone. Bozak has no redeeming qualities and he should be in the AHL. Even, Connolly would be upgrade over his pathetic game.

    The leafs won’t make the playoffs next year or for years with these contracts. I just hope Nonis doesn’t trade Reilly, Kadri, Phaneuf, Kessel and our 1st round pick before he and Carlyle are fired. He is worse then JFJ and approaching the Ballard years of ineptitude. I don’t care how you manipulate your advanced stats to say these are somehow good moves. It is obvious, this is freaking travesty of team. Sorry the leafs are not a playoff team.

    • Quasijr

      If you are a Leafs fan, then go cheer for someone else. I’m sick of people’s negative attitudes. The team made the playoffs for the first time in nine years…Nonis makes a few moves and you label him worse than JFJ. Get a life! You have no clue of what you are talking about. This is a better Leafs team then I have seen in a while. You have no hockey knowledge.

      Jeffer wrote a good article, kinda like the devil’s advocate, saying the good and the bad. You though can go jump ship and be a fan of another team because I am a true Leafs fan and I have faith. Bye bye.
      People that think they can do better are nothing but negative losers. Leave it to the professionals. And, please remember, Nonis isn’t done. ……..

  • People forget Carlyle has a Stanley Cup ring. No matter what you think of him, he’s done good in his career to achieve that. He earned it.
    He’s done more than any person on here complaining has done, who apparently thinks they know everything about coaching.

  • jasken

    Cam, these comments need moderation. Habs fans, I don’t know why you think the readers here are trolling some random website. The culprits are probably from hfboards

  • jasken


    I have never trolled at your site. Sure I read some articles but never made 1 comment. I might be a Leafs fan, but atleast I respect other teams and their fan base, which is more then I can say for some people. Like the person who had to make a duplicate of me.

    Kinda ironic really, but atleast they could have been original. That joke is like 20 yrs old. What else can be expected from trolls. Then out of date over used material.

  • jasken


    At what point did I say his defensive style was tight. His defensive style still needs work in my opinion. The Leafs biggest problem is their D although people mock Phaneuf alot he has been stable. Its not like the Leafs have some great defensemen only 1 and if Gardiner continues to improve I would say 2 are top 4. After that nothing rest haven’t performed the way I would hope.

    Center or wingers get the puck pass to defence and then its mistake after mistake, especially in their own end.

    • Quasijr

      I agree that the biggest problem is the D. Good thing that all Nonis has done to address it so far is acquire an AHL player discarded by teams like the Predators and Panthers.

  • Quasijr

    After reading all the negatives about these moves here is my take on the whole situation.
    Bollard is going to be a huge upgrade over Grabbo in the third hole. Lets get real Grabbo wasn’t going to be our #1C he is a puck hog & too free wheeling. If he is so good how come nobody took off waivers or signed him, can see him move to KHL for a year.
    MacA only played well after being sat out for a while then floated. Clarkson is a huge upgrade except I hate the length of contract.
    Bozak I can live with but would have wanted a real #1C
    Bernier, I can see the upside I like Riemer this could be a later trade move for more & better assists later on depending on who we move.
    The big thing for the Leafs is not to get caught up in the now but keep moving forward with creating depth & getting more & better assets.
    Personally I dont think the Leafs will make the playoffs next year but I see the growth of our younger players my major priority. As much as I love the Leafs we are 2 years away from properly competing for a true playoff spot & the Cup.

  • Quasijr

    To Leafs Nation,

    We have had several people trolling the HIO site saying they are from here. With alldue respect, we would really appreciate the nonsense to stop. Thank you.

  • jasken

    Of course fans here are bitter and don’t trust Nonis or anyone Else in management, we last won when Diana Ross was still with the Supremes. Allez Y Habitants . Habs rule..Laffs drool.

  • jasken

    We dont like the term of the signings and without it they go elsewhere. Just doing the qualifying offer to RFA has in my opinion gone from bad to worse, lock up 4 and 5 yrs deals to the young talent you want to keep.

    They wont and what happens. McDonagh gets 6 yrs 4.7 mil based on his 169 game 12 goals 60 pts and 80 pims, compared to Franson last 2 seasons 90 games 9 goals 41 assists 50 pts 30 pims guess what he’s getting. Sure hope he dont go to arbitration.

    Mark Fraser 1/4 of McDonagh be glad if Leafs only got to pay him 1.2 mil

    Bring us to Kadri I dont even want to think about what he wants. Safe to assume it will be in around 3 mil/yr for a short term contract, 5 mil for long term

    The realization of it all it dont matter how good your forwards are. If your Defence is not good to great you wont have a contending cup team. Without solid D in atleast the top 4 you go no where this was where Leafs should have addressed. 9 yrs without arguably solid D and another 3 yrs yet before the ones we have actually are developed enough to say yes or no they are solid.

    You get 6 solid d-man, you can add 20-30 goal scorers 60 pts men and contend very easily with a good or great goalie. example 2010-11 Bruins.

    The “Worse” thing that Nonis did to hurt this team for next season was not addressing defencemen. T.J.Brennan is not what I would call solidifying the defence now, 3 years down the road maybe with the other young talent.

    Summing it up, who cares who was signed for what. Nonis could undo all he did and get different forwards keep Grabo, wont make a difference he had no intention on working on the defence and making this team a bonifide Cup contender in the next 2 yrs.