Do the Leafs recent decisions reflect the clubs’ overall mentality?

Things were so good for a while. Yesterday, the Leafs signed Roman Polak.  Yes, it is only a one-year deal, and he’s a “good guy to have in the dressing room”.  Whatever.  I cannot say that I am too impressed with that signing.  I cannot say that I am too impressed with the signing of Matt Martin, either.  His contract is not awful, but I find that deal somewhat hard to justify.

I also cannot say that I am too impressed with the Leafs 2016 draft class.  They passed on a few high-quality players and selected overage players that may not have the highest ceilings.  And yes, I am still bitter that they passed on Vitali Abramov. Twice, even!

Another thing I question is the Frederik Andersen trade.  The move reflects a win-now mindset- one of the first of it’s kind in the Leafs organization left a lot of people wondering where the Leafs are headed next season. 

I know I am not an optimist.  After the last few years, can you blame me? The moves made under the leadership of Brendan Shanahan had me optimistic and excited about the future. However, these past few weeks have made me begin to question what the heck the Leafs are thinking.  

ANALYTICS… WHO?

We know that Toronto is a forward-thinking organization.  They have reinforced this concept time and time again, beginning with the hiring of Kyle Dubas in 2014.  Last year’s draft class and free agent signings reflected that of an analytical-minded organization.  Many of their picks and signings were justified in the numbers.  There were not a lot of questionable decisions made last summer, Jonathan Bernier’s contract extension aside.  

It is July 3rd and I have already listed 4 questionable moves by the Leafs.  The Anderson trade is potentially justifiable, especially by a team who needs a quality goaltender.  Assuming that Jonathan Bernier is traded, the Leafs goaltending situation is slightly above, if not, average.  The 2016 draft class could also maybe be justified.  Maybe the Leafs see something in those players that the rest of us do not.  

The free agent signings, on the other hand, are pretty bad.  I’m sure many of you have seen Matt Martin’s numbers, and they are not pretty.  For those of you who haven’t, take a look at the comparison below: 

Story 1

I chose David Clarkson as a comparable for my own amusement.  Unless the Leafs paid a premium for shot suppression (… eek) or the average salary for a fringe third/fourth line player is 2.5 million dollars (it isn’t), this is not a good signing.  I do understand that veterans/fringe players are needed for a team to function, but I would rather see those opportunities and minutes given to younger/developing players rather than overpaid vets.

If you have watched the Leafs over the past few years, you know that Roman Polak is not a good hockey player. Though the signing itself is not fantastic and Polak is not a great player, he will be playing for the Leafs next year.  This takes away a roster spot from a young and potentially developing defenceman.  Frankie Corrado did not see a lot of ice time this past season, and the Polak signing hints at a similar situation developing amongst Toronto’s defense core for the upcoming season.  

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Though there may be a few answers to this question, it is hard to fully place the blame on any one executive. Fans have been loving Lou Lamoriello, but as the team’s general manager, many of the club’s important decisions are linked back to him.  We all know that Lamoriello has strict and strange rules.  We also know that he is very insistent on getting players who he’s deemed as “his guy” (as seen in the Anderson trade).  Did he see Martin and Polak as “his guys?” 

I have also seen some blame fall upon Mike Babcock.  Babcock has a tendency to play his veterans over his developing players; this may or may not be the reasoning behind the Polak signing.  Again, it is so hard to speak to the decisions of this club when practically no information leaks to the media/fans.  Everything I stated above is pure speculation.  

As a fan, I am frustrated with the Leafs decisions in the past couple of weeks. I still truly do believe that the Leafs have the best prospect pool in the league.  I have a lot of faith that Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner will develop into NHL stars.  The favouring of skill over grit/size is a philosophy that I strongly believe in.  Toronto’s decisions of late do not reflect this sort of thinking- this is concerning only because it has been the downfall of many regimes before them.  I don’t think the organizations mindset has shifted over the past month or so; that is an absurd conclusion that I have little basis in arriving at. I’m just hoping the Leafs’ recent decisions do not, in any way, dictate the direction they are heading in the future.  

  • FlareKnight

    Matt Murray was actually a brilliant signing. Matthews and Marner are two extremely good players who are still teenagers. Other teams were bound to target them with intimidation and dirty play. Matt Murray negates that. You hit one of those kids and one of the best hitters in the game will put a target on your back. You try to intimidate Matthews or Marner, they’ll just skate away while Murray kicks your ass. It’s exactly what the oilers/kings did for Gretzky with Semenko and McSorely to great effect. And having Murray to protect those two will give them the confidence they need to do what they do best. No one else on this team could do that for those two. And Murray won’t need to fight every night he just needs to be there as a deterrent.

    Murray is also a big body in front of the net who can screen the goalie and be there for rebounds. Playing with Matthews and Marner, Murray could pot 30 goals just off of their rebounds.

    Murray is also excellent at puck retrieval. Sure Matthews and Marner will use their skill to gain the zone, but that won’t be possible every time. Sometimes they will have to dump it in and they’ll need someone to get the puck back.

    Lastly, Murray’s shot suppression is world class. Which is perfect to complement two young skilled players who are bound to make a mistake or two in their rookie years.

    You don’t need 3 superstars on the same line. Two skilled players plus a complementary player who can get pucks, screen goalies and provide protection is almost a perfect combination. And it is something that Babcock has used before with great success.

    • magesticRAGE

      Murray (Martin) will not, should not, be on the same line as those skilled kids. Adding Polak to look after the kids makes more sense, as a defense pairing is easier to line match. Martin will be a good 4th line guy, able to shutdown one of the scoring lines. From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t have the skills to “compliment” the skilled kids (Grabner???).

      Another thing, why Polak? I like his grit and entagibles he brings, but they have that in Lööv. Lööv is strong upgrade to the physical defensive game. He’s faster, taller, strong, good puck carrier, and hits like a truck. Now, I doubt he gets a chance.

  • G2

    I enjoyed the read… but I think folks need to pump the breaks with all this panic button silliness.

    The Leafs are in great shape moving forward… we all would have prayed to be in this position 3 years ago.

    Let’s try enjoying something for once!!

    • Jeremy Ian

      Agreed.

      Maybe someone should remind Jess that Polak’s flank on the Leafs’ defense has all of the following NHL experience:

      Corrado: 64

      Carrick: 19

      Zaitsev: 0

      Really? That’s a recipe for setting up a bunch of debutants up for failure. Working Polak up and down the prairings, having him take heavy penalty-killing minutes (so as not to exhaust the now veteraned 22-year old Rielly by making him do everything), seems like a prudent move. And we wind up with a 3rd round pick when he gets flipped at the trade deadline.

      What a disaster!

  • Jeremy Ian

    Sorry, Jess. But the chorus of Cassandras has me thinking MORE positively about what Leaf management has been doing of late than concerned. If you were trying to convince us, it’s not working for me.

    At first, I had my doubts; I was skeptical, but preferred to be open minded. But the articles of late are anything but open minded. The same slanted-read on each decision (all of four! talk about a minuscule sample size; I thought you were all making claims about power of math).

    Now: the portrait of those of us who are cautious optimists as deniers. “Chill, bro?”

    Give us break, will you?

    Tell us something we haven’t heard before, give us a different narrative. Because ever since the savior-that-wasn’t (Stamkos) did not get the monster deal from the Leafs that might have shackled the team for a generation, The Leafs Nation writers swapped out complexity and humor for tabloid-level prose.

    At the risk of sounding like one of the goons that you folks have decided to lampoon from Olympian heights, when all of 160 pounds of Mitch Marner gets plastered in the corner and two other teenagers are there to scrape him from the ice, or to push Lucic off of what’s left of Mitch’s cadaver, I hope you are the first person to write a column saying that it’s all Lou’s fault, Babcock is a bad coach, Shanahan gave up on the plan. That you knew this would happen all along — because they decided to get a good goalie, because they dared to think the 4th line needed bulking up, because they thought that Frankie Corrado had sooooo much experience that he’s good for 82 games….

    You might as well write that piece now.

  • Jeremy Ian

    No questionable moves made last year? We haven’t seen half of those moves on the ice yet so really, everything is a question until then. We won’t know any real answers until a few years from now and as it stand right now this team will be a top 10 draft pick team next season anyway, so don’t lose sleep over Martin and Polak. All those “whatevers” do matter on a very young inexperienced team.

  • Ajwl27

    Actually, I think this might have something to do with the expansion draft. Martin does not need to be protected by the leafs. Of our unprotected players he probably the most likely to get picked up, and this likely means he might protect one our younger prospects, such as Corado, and Marincinin. As for Polack, we traded him for some decent assists at the deadline, so why not do that again. It worked with Winnik. That’s being said it would rely be nice to have Reimer, a second and Alex debrincat instaid of Fredrick Anderson.

  • Brent Wisken

    I think the blame goes on the analytics staff. They made a big hoopla about how they were so smart guessing the leafs would implode. And then the following season they over promised and under delivered.

    That was a big slap in the face for analytics community as somehow the team finished even worse post Carlyle’ firing then when he was coach. What I think is going on now is the analytics group has lost credibility giving the performance with the post Carlyle firing and are now on the outside looking in. SO sure they can talk about possession all they want but frankly there performance is not much better then the average GM out there.

    The second problem is they are much too timid to stand up to Babcock and Lou and argue what the facts swayed. In essence the analytic guys are “dominated” in the board room by the “enforcers” just like they think Polak and Martin dominates on the ice. At this point, it clear the analytics groups has done more harm then good.

  • Trevor5555

    leafnationsflipflopper, I agree. There is zero evidence that Hunter had his fingerprints on any of the draft picks, or recent trades/signings, and after the draft he almost explicitly gave all of the credit [put all of the blame] on other people, even calling them by name. my favorite,was saying he heard that grundstrom was tough, but the only time he saw him in person, he took a bad penalty on the first play, and got a game misconduct; even the most dense brain in the universe should be able to read between the lines on that one.

  • Brent Wisken

    Having a good goalie is not about having a win-now mentality, but rather is a good thing to have for a rebuilding team. It allows the young d-men prospects to make mistakes and still keep their confidence because the goalie bails them out. I remember Florida using this rationale when they acquired Luongo, saying that it would allow their young defencemen keep their confidence while developing.

  • Kyle Becker

    I think the Andersen trade was okay, it will hopefully bring stability in net. I think the Andersen signing has a fair cap hit, it is 18th among goalies, but the term is a little annoying since goalies are inherently risky.

    I agree with you that the Leafs should have made skill their number one priority at the 2016 draft, but I don’t think it was a total disaster. I also don’t think that drafting overagers is a problem at all. So what if these players weren’t good enough to be drafted at age 18, as long as they are on track to become good hockey players now that’s all that matters. I do take issue with picks like Keaton Middleton, who seemingly have very little going for them besides size.

    I think that a fourth liners job is just to kill time and not screw anything up. Based on Martin’s shot generation and shot suppression numbers it seems like hardly anything happens when he’s on the ice, which seems fine to me. I do take issue with the contract though, it’s definitely an overpayment and an overcommitment. If the contract was cut in half, ie. $1.25M for 2 years, I’d be okay with it but as is I think it’s a mistake.

    As for Roman Polak, I think the team definitely needed another right handed defenseman but I don’t think it needed to be him. The Leafs surely could have gotten someone more competent and I think it’s a mistake regardless of the cap hit.

    All in all I think that Kyle Dubas and the analytics team are being marginalized, which concerns me. As the $50M man Babcock definitely has the most power amongst the Leafs brain trust which scares me because he’s guilty of quite a few stupid lineup decisions and I don’t want that to carry over into stupid roster decisions.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Since the draft most writers and contributors seem stuck in this “end of world” mentality. The hockey team has no compulsion to share their strategies or knowledge with the media whether mainstream or on forums such as TLN. Since the experts can’t figure out why some moves have been made, these moves must be detrimental to their own Maple Leaf reality. These moves, signings, draft picks don’t fit in their neat little boxes so they are bad and must be exorcized. There are already articles speculating about buying out Martin’s contract… Has everyone lost their ferkin minds?

    IMO, every move made by the team has been reasonable and I look forward to seeing a team this fall who is much tougher to play against.

    Go Leafs

    • FlareKnight

      Honestly I agree. It’s getting kind of silly how people are getting into the end of the world mode. I guess we can finally say it’s not just the media who try to spin everything into a negative.

      It’s just silly. Maybe the Leafs have stats, research and information that they aren’t sharing. Just a shocking idea. We saw them bring in these guys who are respected and are then shocked when they are doing something they think is right but not what we know. I’m not sure why it’s suddenly beyond belief that they might be using metrics that aren’t available via google.

      I’m pretty sure people have lost their minds. Such is how it goes though. Some won’t be satisfied unless they are predicting the end of the world.

      And kind of referring to the opening paragraph….you can blame him for being negative. The past few years? Yeah, we only added one of the best coaches in the NHL, a great young hockey mind in Dubas, an experienced GM in Lou, and a great evaluator of talent in Hunter. Oh and we also drafted a franchise center, a likely very elite player in Marner, and developed Nylander very well. Oh and Rielly has also turned into someone that can be relied on by Team Canada. Yeah, that’s something really to be depressed about. The past decade I could buy, but the past few years have frankly been golden in comparison to the Burke era.

  • Drapes55

    Why is size and strength all of a sudden a bad thing to have on your team? You have to realize guys like Marner, Nylander, Brown, Timashov etc… Aren’t all of a sudden be 6’2″ 185lbs and able to stand up for themselves. They’re small guys and will continue to be small, look at how well that faired for the Habs a few years ago when they had the smurfs. If anyone watched the Marlies playoff run you would have seen that they got pushed around by lesser skilled teams and in the end lost out to a team that had no business beating them. Management saw that and decided it was time to rectify that problem by drafting some size. Don’t get that confused with no talent, as if you actually look at the players beyond they physical appearance you will see some actual skilled players who just happen to be bigger than a prepubescent 7th grader. People need to get this video game mentality that size automatically equals slow and stupid and unskilled. There is a reason Lou still has a job in the NHL at 70 years old, he knows what he’s doing guys.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Whether it is correct or not is open to argument, but the signings and trade for Andersen aren’t inconsistent with conventional wisdom about rebuilding.

    Two things said to be important while rebuilding are decent goaltending (to keep the team from getting overly discouraged) and enough toughness to protect the kids while they become players.

    Martin’s salary seems high for what he brings hockey-wise, but part of his job is to answer to intimidation from the opposition. It’s hard to get a good hockey player in that role and if you can find someone who is actually of 4th line calibre (even if you play him on the 3rd line) who can fill the role, he’s worth more than his hockey skills would suggest.

    Compare the terrible Canucks’ extension last summer of Derek Dorsett for 4 years at an AAV of $2.65 mm per. He gets paid more than Martin will, he’s a Martin-caliber scorer, not as good at shot suppression and not nearly as effective an enforcer.

    By that standard, Martin is a heck of a signing. Of course, Dorsett’s terrible contract is a pretty low standard to meet.

    As for the Polak signing, look at what there is behind Gardiner and Reilly.

    Cowen is 25 but hasn’t gotten into more than 70 NHL games since 2011-12. Robidas is 39 and missed the last season with injury. Hunwick is 31, hasn’t played more than 60 games in a season since 2009/10, including a season (2013-14) spent in the minors. Andrew Campbell was a 28 year old minor leaguer this past season. Corrado was a minor-leaguer until late this past season, getting into 39 games with the Leafs and being-well, passable. Marincin turned 24 and got into 65 Leafs games. Zaitsev comes highly regarded but hasn’t played in North America yet. Valiev, 21, spent most of the season in the minors. Holl, 24, has one season in the ECHL and one in the AHL. Loov is 23 and spent the last two seasons with the Marlies. Carrick, 22, has played mostly in the minors.

    Frankly, all of those players after Reilly and Gardiner are looking marginal or untried. I don’t have great faith in throwing the kids to the wolves as the best development technique. Adding a veteran defenceman (who isn’t good enough to make the Leafs a contender) on a one year contract at a low salary while the kids develop doesn’t seem to me to hurt the rebuild at all.

    About all it really means as far as direction is that the Leafs have the main pieces of their future core and are seeking to develop now instead of going full tank.

  • 99 to 97

    How is Polak a good dressing room guy? “Hey guys, a 21 year old kid just destroyed my face for making a questionable play and having a history of being a cheap dirty player and I can’t fight anyone my OWN size. Quick, call up some slope-browed plug from the minors to avenge me!”. Locker room gold there. What a nugget.

    • Gary Empey

      Your comment shows what an abysmally moronic muppet you are. All the 21 year old kid did was improve his reputation for being one of the best sucker punchers in the league. There was no questionable play. All the video tape showed the Oiler forward lost an edge and fell into the boards. That showed the 21 year old kid was also one of the stupidest players in the league. NHL suspended him. He looks to be on the same career path as Raffi Torres…. drummed out of the league.

      In response the kid said he doesn’t want to be considered a goon. Well if that’s the case don’t play like one.

  • Gary Empey

    @ – Jess Pincente

    Roman Polak. Surely we are not going to slag off Polak for another year. You need to ask yourself, “how can your opinion be so diametrically opposed to Babcock’s?” One of you has to be wrong.

    Draft Class- All big. All have NHL skating. What could be wrong with that for prospects? An article here stated not one player since the turn of the century drafted 31st has ever had an NHL career.

    Goaltending – What were we looking for here?

    Stay with Bernier and bring up Sparks for backup.

    Go for one of the older proven injury prone veterans.

    Frederik Andersen – A young goalie with good NHL stats who elevates his game under pressure.

    Was there a better young goalie on the market?

    Matt Martin – He has been discussed ad nauseam. I will only add when Babcocks opinion is asked about trading Bozak he replies ” Are we going to trade him first then go out and find a replacement for the PK or get the replacement first then trade Bozak?”

    Signing veteran players who will take a roster spot from the young guys – The NHL is not a development league. The young guys have to be better than the vets. Training camp will tell the tale. If someone shows they are better than Hunwick, Corrado, Marincin, Polak or Martin that will be great news. If the Leafs can’t trade them they will be snapped up on waivers. End of story.

  • Trevor5555

    I dont see the Leafs moves as a change in mentality. The moves just addressed some of our roster needs.

    Andersen was a great move. Goaltending was our weakest area last year and made it impossible to compete on a regular basis. You want to build confidence and a winning culture ASAP in the rebuild. If we didnt trade for Andersen we might not have got the same quality goalie next year.

    Martin and Polak are good depth players with size and they play hard. They not only ware down opponents but their work rate should inspire their teammates to work hard as well. Having 3 guys who were in the top 5 in hits completed in the NHL is an asset.

    Regarding our prospects, if Carrado or Carrick deserve to be in the top 6 ahead of Polak I think Babcock will play them. Its good to have 8 d-men to limit fatigue and in case of injury. I could see all 8 guys getting into games semi-regularly. Carrick is waiver exempt so he could just start playing big minutes in the AHL.

    All in all its just one huge hole in net filled thats a big help for the rebuild and some jam added in depth positions. We still have a few rookies making the jump and a full AHL team of good prospects waiting for us to trade out the vets that are eventually moving on. Patience is key. Now to ice the cake we sign Jimmy Vesey and trade for a young top 4 d-man. Fingers crossed.