We’ve reached the end of our Reliving journey and come to
think of it, we should’ve Benjamin Buttoned this thing so we could end on the
high note of the Quinn years instead of a season that saw the Leafs with their
highest draft selection since the Leafs picked Scott Thornton in 1989. This is
also the year you just had to endure and would probably love to forget.
Compared to some of the other seasons we’ve discussed this is far from the
worst. We saw the Leafs do a few things to set themselves up for success
further down the road, and we closed the door on the Carlyle era, the Nonis
era, and unfortunately the Kessel era. So once more unto the breach, dear
My goodness that was awful. I mean this looks like a
historically bad team and somehow the Oilers, Coyotes, and the Sabres all
managed to be more embarrassing. This is statistically the best year for the
Leafs since Carlyle stepped behind the bench. Shots were down, Corsi For % was
up, but a lot of that falls on Horachek, though he wasn’t able to salvage a
team that just really couldn’t dig itself out of the funk that lead to Carlyle
Randy had a 19-9-3 record before reality kicked in a dealt
him a 2-7-0 final stretch. Horachek not picking up 10 wins the rest of the way
might be evidence that organizations do choose to tank. Carlyle had a CF% of
45.3% and a PDO of 102.1. Horachek followed up with a CF% of 48.2% and a PDO of
96.5. While I can safely say that I’d want neither as my coach, I think it’s
safe to say Horachek should’ve asked Carlyle for his horseshoe on the way out.
This was a magical year filled with many memorable
transactions and fewer memorable on ice moments. This season was sandwiched
between two promising drafts giving the Leafs their two best prospects, and
sources for optimism in Nylander and Marner. The commitment towards building
through the draft was hammered in home in many of the transactions the Leafs
completed this season as the sale of rental players at the deadline was a
welcome change after the Burke “GM’s make their biggest mistakes at the
The analytics movement in Toronto scored its biggest
victories in the acquisition and subsequent sale of Daniel Winnik and Mike
Santorelli, and paved the way for P.A. Parenteau, Shawn Matthias, Marc
Arcobello, Matt Hunwick, and Daniel Winnik round two this season.
The first big shoe to fall in the Leafs rebuild was Cody
Franson. Franson was probably the Leafs best defenseman for the first half of
the year and wasn’t given a chance to show what he could do in the post Carlyle
world. He did however net the Leafs a top prospect in Brendan Leipsic and a
late first rounder which was wonderfully split into a million useful pieces.
Given the amount of time the Leafs will need to commit to rebuilding, moving
Franson now when his value was at his highest almost makes up for the Leafs
failure to do the same to Joffrey Lupul in 2011-12. Who am I kidding? No it
It was a miserable year, in a miserable tenure, but we can
at least credit Dave Nonis for going out on a high note with the Clarkson
trade. Nathan Horton immediately became a fan favourite for no other reason
that his salary not impacting that salary cap. Of course there’s the small
matter of the fact that the Clarkson deal should never have happened in the
first place and this in no one undoes buying out Mikhail Grabovski in order to
give that money to Clarkson, but in 2015-16 we can at least take comfort in the
fact we don’t need to see David Clarkson on another roster card, and Mikhail
Grabovski’s recent years have left his teams wanting (even though he’s still
Jumping forward a few months there’s also the small matter
of the Kessel trade. I’m reluctant to mention it since it happened after the
season and I could probably get away with not mentioning it and also it will
turn any comment section into a battleground over whether the return was enough
and whether Kessel should have been kept through the rebuild. The indisputable
facts of it are that the return was in line with what the Leafs front office
has set out to do, at least immediately retaining salary hasn’t posed any issue
in relation to the cap, and a 2016 1st, Kapanen, and Harrington all
have the potential to be important parts of the Leafs future.
There’s also the matter of the Hockey Ops transactions. At
some point after the Leafs committed long term to Stephane Robidas, and signed
another 4th line forward to deal around $3M a season (Komarov) it
became time to let Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle go. Much like the removal of
Carlyle’s assistants, this move really should’ve included the head to go along
with the limbs, but Nonis was safe for now.
Replacing Poulin and Loiselle was Kyle Dubas, Mark Hunter,
and Brandon Pridham. And they brought friends. A whole gang of internet hockey
nerds to help Dave Nonis understand the Stephane Robidas contract should have
him tried for crimes against hockey. This begins our optimistic journey through
the 2014-15 season.
Along the way we’d see the fall of Carlyle, and ultimately
the fall of Nonis both to be replaced not by people who happened to be in
Anaheim at the same time as Chris Pronger, Scott Neidermayer and Teemu Selanne,
but instead a guy with a Stanley Cup, Two Gold Medals, and the ability to the
win even when he did have Jonas Gustavsson in net. Later the Leafs would add a
guy who turned the team that picked second overall in 1987 into a Stanley Cup
Champion by 1995 and was able to keep his team competitive for almost two
decades off of his initial rebuild from 87-91.
No matter what your thoughts are on Mike Babcock (generally
no one is saying too much to the bad here) or Lou Lamoriello, you’d have to
concede that it’s a significant upgrade over Carlyle and Nonis, especially when
you also factor in the supporting cast.
It was a rough going at first. That 19-9-3 start meant a lot
of worries that Carlyle would make it past the 2014-15 season. Of course it was
a mixed bag because we also saw analytics inspired signings Daniel Winnik and
Mike Santorelli being a big part of that success.
Eventually time and PDO will make fools of us all and our
season was reduced to this…
There was also the joy of having not one, but two marginal prospects busted for the use of PEDs this season. Both Carter Ashton and Brad Ross left us all wondering how bad would they have been if they just relied on their natural talent?
This was a season that was so starved for a moment that
didn’t make you loathe the team that recalling Colton Orr to play one last NHL
game might be the happiest fans were all season when looking solely at the on
ice product, though in hindsight more consideration should’ve been given to the
fact that Orr’s last game as a Leaf would also be Kessel’s. Kessel would pick
up a goal and an assist in a shootout loss to Montreal.
Team Leading Scorers
As it was through his entire time in Toronto, Kessel would
lead the team in scoring, followed closely by the winger fortunate enough to
play with him. Bozak would once again fail to reach 50 points despite playing
with those two players, and Kadri’s numbers (like Grabovski’s and Tim Connolly’s)
leave us wondering how much higher they could’ve been if he was afforded the
same golden opportunity that Bozak receives. The fact that after Kadri not a
single forward managed to crack the 30 point mark should give you a sense that
the Leafs weren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut last season, but to be fair,
they still managed to look more competent than the defense.
Rethinking the Team
Where to begin? I guess let’s start back in days following
the 2013-14 season. Remember when Shanahan fired Carlyle’s assistant coaches? I
probably would’ve included Carlyle in that group. That might have meant no
Babcock, which might have made waiting worth it, but there were certainly some
coaches worth considering at that point who wouldn’t have been bad
Similarly I would’ve let Nonis and his staff go at that same
point instead of waiting to see what they could do to prove themselves.
Drafting Nylander was well done, but the rest of the draft was far from stellar,
toss in a lousy July 1st and you’re left wondering how much further
along the Leafs could be in they committed to the rebuild one year sooner.
Beyond the two obvious ones I’d consider myself as a “No
offer will be refused” kind of guy on most of the Leafs roster. If Toronto was
receiving trade proposals on Polak, Bozak, Lupul, and Phaneuf, I think an
important question to ask Brendan Shanahan is “why are they still here?”
Other nice thoughts to consider, let’s assume that Kessel
being gone was a foregone conclusion, wouldn’t it have been great to see Kadri
with JVR more this year to figure out that dynamic? Or what if Bozak had to
work with Lupul to see if they can produce together? In that scenario, also
saddle Kessel with Peter Holland, wouldn’t it be great to know if he’s actually
capable of being a center in the top six? At least Horachek used Rielly and
Gardiner well down the stretch, so I’m regret free when it comes to the
Compared to other seasons in the Reliving series this one doesn’t seem so awful, despite having one of the worst records. It was a season of coming to terms that things aren’t working and removing the broken pieces. It did also signal that we aren’t always going to like what comes next, as the Kessel trade was a tough pill to swallow even if there is a long term benefit to it. It’s a dangerous thing to be an optimistic Leafs fan, but that’s how I’m closing out the 2014-15 season, and for the first time in years I’m excited to see what happens next because I think it might not be completely awful.