The Toronto Maple Leafs have joined multiple other NHL teams in exiling big contracts, letting 38-year-old Stephane Robidas that he will not make the team. The native of Sherbrooke, Quebec is on the second year of a three-year, $9,000,000 contract.
He has, however, been told he didn’t make the team. https://t.co/i2PltZiAUt
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 5, 2015
Robidas signed that contract in July of 2014, and it was an incredibly polarizing one amongst those surrounding the team when it the pen was put to paper. Those who were fans of his pointed out his wealth of experience, leadership qualities, and calm demeanour as helpful in developing the young defencemen around him.
His critics, a group which spoke much louder than the above, pointed out that his contract bordered on insanity.
Players that are over the age of 35 are covered under different conditions in the Collective Bargaining Agreement then the rest of the National Hockey League. If they retire, their full cap hit remains for the full length of the original deal, though they don’t get paid the money. If they’re bought out, their full cap hit remains for the full length of the original deal, though they’re still paid the “one-third salary for double the years” of a standard buyout. If they’re placed on waivers, the team only gets up to $100,000 of cap relief, rather than the $925,000 that is standard with everybody else.
Basically, the player has to see their contract through, or the team faces severe repercussions. As such, multi-year deals for 35+-year-old players have more or less vanished in today’s game, and the exceptions to the rule are usually two-year agreements.
Robidas was an extreme outlier, picking up a three-year deal at the age of 37. To make matters worse, he received it despite playing just 38 of 82 games in the prior season, thanks to a leg break and subsequent fracture. It made absolutely no sense.
With that said, the only opinion that mattered in the decision-making process was the one of at-the-time General Manager Dave Nonis. He was a big fan of his own decision.
“If we had to go back and do one signing last summer, it would be bringing [Stephane Robidas] in,” Nonis said on Sportsnet Fan 590 in December. “We brought in Robidas for two reasons. One is we believe he can still play at a high level, or we wouldn’t have signed him, and I think he’s rounding out into form.
“The second reason is because of his character and leadership qualities. If you speak to anyone who’s had him as a coach or a manager around the league, they’ll talk about his play, but they’ll talk glowing about him as a person, as a leader and how he can have an effect on younger players.”
Nonis wasn’t fooling anybody, though. At this point, Robidas had just four points in 29 games for the Leafs, and despite being deployed in favourable zone starts by Randy Carlyle, was right at the mean for team-relative possession statistics. To make matters worse, this was Robidas “golden age” in Toronto.
By the end of the season, Robidas’ lack of offensive ability lead to him having the lowest even strength points per 60 minutes of any defenceman who played more than 200 minutes on the team; even Eric Brewer was ahead of him. He had the most favourable zone starts on the team (+6.23%), but the worst Corsi-For percentage (43.83%). The team wanted him to be a penalty killer, but on top of his sub-par performance in that regard, he was usually in the box, with the team’s worst penalty differential (taking 12 more than drawn).
The eyeball test agreed with the spreadsheets, as well. Robidas was often out of position, and immobile. He wasn’t as willing to sacrifice the body as he was in his time with the Dallas stars, presumably because there wasn’t much left of him to sacrifice. He proved that to be the case in March, when the Leafs finally shut him down for the year.
As it turned out, Robidas’ leg hadn’t actually fully healed, and he had been playing through a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his left shoulder. After losing 28 of 35 games, the team felt that it was best to give him time to get surgery and recover.
Stephane Robidas dealing with a knee injury, according to Babcock. Says it affected him throughout camp.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) October 5, 2015
Robidas has a groin issue, per Babcock. They have to wait and see.
— David Alter (@dalter) October 5, 2015
At this exact moment (the scoop has changed rapidly over the past two hours), the Leafs are claiming that he’s still not fully up to speed. The body part, as you can see above, hasn’t even been fully confirmed.
It’s possible that the Leafs might be setting themselves up to place Robidas on Long Term Injured Reserve, similar to the situation with inactive asset Nathan Horton (and outside of the team, Florida asset Marc Savard and Arizona asset Chris Pronger). This is literally the only scenario that the team has that would provide them cap relief, and like every other scenario involves Robidas still getting paycheques.
It’s not something the team needs from a cap standpoint right now; the LTIR benefits only exist if you go over the cap, and the team is unlikely to spend $8 million by Wednesday (#stamkoswatch). But it puts them into that position if needed for next offseason, and frees up a roster spot just as much as the other options.
Either way, it feels bad to treat a guy like Robidas as a commodity and villainize him for taking a good contract from a General Manager who was out-performed by a potato, but the game is a business and the team has hit crunch time. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds, but at the moment, it seems like “suiting up for the Leafs” is the only option that’s been ruled out.