One Small Mistake Isn’t A Big Deal. Several Small Mistakes Can Be.

One common refrain among hockey fans is that there’s no need to worry about overpaying players, as long as you don’t overpay them by too much.  It’s the big mistakes that ruin a team, according to this line of thinking, things like signing David Clarkson to a nearly $37 million contract.  Smaller mistakes, then, aren’t worth fretting about, so long as you don’t make any major blunders alongside them.

There is a level on which this sentiment is true.  Overpaying a single player by, say, $1M a year isn’t going to be the difference between missing the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup.  No team, after all, is perfectly efficient in how they use their salary cap space.  If a hockey team slightly overpays one player and never squanders money elsewhere in the lineup, there’s not much to worry about. 

The problem is that teams almost never make one mistake and then stop.  Overpayments and wasted money will typically show up in a number of places in terms of how teams allocate their salary cap room, and over time those overpayments do add up, and they can cause real problems.  Let’s take a look at some of the ways that the Leafs are currently using their cap space as a demonstration.

Mistakes Pile Up

Last week Matt Martin signed a contract with a $2.5M cap hit.  I think there’s general agreement that $2.5M is more than you want to pay a 4th liner, but perhaps not that much more.  Maybe Matt Martin’s actual value is something like $1.5M.  OK, so that’s less than what he’s actually being paid, but whatever, who cares about 1.4% of the salary cap?

The Leafs also signed Roman Polak to a $2.25M contract.  $2.25M is definitely more than you want to pay Roman Polak, but for the sake of argument let’s say that he’s worth having around, but also maybe overpaid by about $1M.  Add that up with Martin and you’re at $2M wasted, about 3% of the team’s salary cap space.

Those are the contracts signed so far this summer, but cap issues typically carry over from year-to-year.  One example for the Leafs is the Tim Gleason buy-out.  Gleason’s buy-out adds $1.33M more to this year’s salary cap.  When the buy-out happened people said, “Who cares, $1.33M is barely anything, it won’t hurt us.”  Let’s add that into the other wasted spending: $3.33M, 4.6% of the cap.

There’s more dead cap space for the Leafs.  The retained salary on Phil Kessel’s contract is $1.2M.  Again, not really that much money, not going to cause huge problems.  Including it in our tally, we’re now at $4.53M, 6.2% of the salary cap.

We have one last thing to add in, and that’s the bonus overage that’s applied to this season’s salary cap. According to NHLNumbers, that’s a hair shy of $500,000.  $500K is almost nothing in relation to a $73M salary cap, but it’s a bit of evidence that if you’re not careful in one season it can cause problems down the line.  We’ll put the bonus overage in our running total, and rounding down a little bit gets us to a nice even $5M, 7% of the salary cap.

Now we’re starting to see why these things matter.  Nothing that I’ve listed so far is a particularly big issue on its own.  All of those cap hits are manageable on their own.  You could probably find reasons to argue in favour of any of them at the time.  And yet in aggregate, it starts to become clear that the effect on the salary cap can matter.  $5M isn’t nothing.  $5M is the cost of a pretty good player. 

The Leafs biggest need right now is on defence.  If you look at free agency from the past few seasons, you’ll see that $5M is a reasonable estimate for how much it costs to add a good top 4 defenceman to a team.  Jason Demers, the best UFA defenceman who was available this summer, signed with Florida for a $4.5M cap hit.  Two years ago Anton Stralman was the best available defenceman, and he signed for the same amount.

None of the mistakes I listed above, when looked at on its own, seems to do much damage to the Leafs salary cap situation.  But when you add them all up, they’re costing you the ability to add Anton Stralman to your roster.  And this remains true even if you already have enough space to sign Anton Stralman; in that case, the lost space is preventing you from adding another player that good alongside the one you can still afford.

It’s Worse Than That

But I’m actually understating the situation for the Leafs right now, and here’s why:

There are only 23 roster spots on a team.  If you were to use the $5M in cap space on a new player, you’d have to get rid of one of the players already taking up a roster spot.  So if, for example, we’re adding a new defenceman, that means there’s no need to have signed Roman Polak.  To account for that, we need to add the rest of Roman Polak’s salary into our pool.  Now we’re at $6.25M in extra cap space, 8.6% of the salary cap ceiling.

That’s a lot of money, clearly enough to make a pretty significant upgrade to a team, but we might not be done yet.

Two years ago the Leafs signed Stephane Robidas to a three-year contract with a $3M cap hit.  At the time it was said that the Leafs needed Robidas to provide a stabilising veteran presence to the team, someone who could teach the kids how to be a good pro.  Basically the same kind of reason the team added Martin and Polak.  As we now know (and as some of us predicted at the time), the contract has turned out to be a mistake.  The team was so determined not to play Robidas last season that they paid him $3M to stay home.

Many people believe that Robidas was placed on long-term injured reserve last season, but that’s not accurate.  Robidas was on regular IR, but never LTIR, which means that the Leafs were not able to use the extra cap space temporarily afforded by LTIR.  Leafs fans widely believe that Robidas could be placed on LTIR this season if the Leafs need it, but it’s not entirely clear if that’s true.

In the collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and the NHL, the league retains the right to challenge any attempt by teams to place a player on LTIR.  Here’s the relevant section (emphasis added):

In the event that a Player on a Club becomes unfit to play (i.e., is injured, ill or disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player) such that the Club’s physician believes, in his or her opinion, that the Player, owing to either an injury or an illness, will be unfit to play for at least (i) twenty-four (24) calendar days and (ii) ten (10) NHL Regular Season games, and such Club desires to replace such Player, the Club may add an additional Player or Players to its Active Roster, and the replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of such additional Player(s) may  increase the Club’s Averaged Club Salary to an amount up to and exceeding the Upper Limit, solely as, and to the extent and for the duration, set forth below. If, however, the League wishes to challenge the determination of a Club physician that a Player is unfit to play for purposes of the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception, the League and the NHLPA shall promptly confer and jointly select a neutral physician, who shall review the Club physician’s determination regarding the Player’s fitness to play.

We just don’t know if the NHL would actually let the Leafs place Robidas on LTIR.  I think there’s a reasonable possibility that they would attempt to block the move.  It’s not clear what injury Robidas has, or if he even has any at all, and it seems quite possible that a neutral doctor working for the league would deem Robidas fit to play.

This is a worst-case scenario, but it’s a plausible one, so we need to consider it.  Adding Robidas’s $3M cap hit into our running tally gets us up to $9.25M in wasted cap space.  We’re now approaching 13% of the salary cap sitting around, unusable for improving the team.  Regardless of how anyone feels about any one particular move or another, I hope that we can all agree that tying up 13% of your salary cap in ways that do not improve the roster is going to hurt any team’s ability to be competitive.

The Future

Some people will argue that we should not be too concerned since these inefficiencies are mostly not long-term.  The bonus overage disappears next season (though it will likely be replaced by a bigger one), Robidas and Polak are off the books in a year, and Gleason’s buy-out is gone one year later.  Further, those people will likely say that it’s not fair to hold mistakes made by Dave Nonis against the current management group.

There is some truth in both statements, but none of them really changes the conclusion.  One problem with these kinds of mistakes is that they do persist.  Even though Nonis is no longer the GM, the team is still paying for his mistakes.  Which GM is responsible for them doesn’t change the fact that they contribute to the problem.  Indeed, it’s partly the point: these issues don’t appear all at once, they build up over time.

As I’ve said previously, part of the problem with excusing these individual errors is the belief that they’re isolated.  One small mistake doesn’t hurt a team that much on its own.  The problem is that these issues typically compound.  People will always wave away these issues at the time they crop up; for most of Dave Nonis’s tenure as GM we heard about how no one should sweat the small mistakes, even though it’s clear now that they’re adding up to bigger problems.

One of the primary reasons these problems persist is because of the mindset that you shouldn’t worry about them.  A GM who doesn’t see anything wrong with slightly overpaying depth players is quite likely to continue to sign inefficient contracts.  A GM who doesn’t see how the small mistakes add up is going to keep making them, and they’re going to keep compounding.

This is why the small overpayments, the small bits of wasted cap space here and there do matter.  Once you get in the habit of them, they have a tendency to keep adding up.  And when you wind up with $6.25M or more of cap space wasted on a bunch of little things, that becomes a big thing.

  • I don’t understand this mindset of saying this space or that cost them Stralman or Demers. This isn’t NHL16 – the players actually have to want to sign with the Leafs. Since neither you or I know what those players want I think it is disingenuous to imply that the Leafs’ moves precluded them from a hypothetical signing that no one even knows had a possibility of occurring.

    • CMpuck

      Those players were just placeholders meaning “a good $5MM player”. Surely you can’t be saying that no good player worth that money would play for the Leafs and we can therefore throw that cap space away.

      You can’t just wait and see. You need to evaluate process, not just results.

    • He’s not saying they would’ve signed those guys. What he is saying is that if there was an opportunity where you could find a fit between the player and the team, carrying extra weight might block you.

      Look at the team right now. The cap situation gets better a lot better now, but we’re talking about a team that finished in 30th that signed a 4th liner and a #6 defenceman and still needs LTIR to stay under the cap. You need to minimize the potential for non-core players to be inhibiting if you want to make yourselves most available to upgrade and sustain your core talent.

      • silentbob

        You’re right, but lets look at the Leafs core talent, or least who should be the Leafs core talent.

        Rielly, Matthews, Nylander, Marner. Then we have Kadri, JVR, Gardiner, Andersen who are not core, but more important then the rest of the team.

        Rielly Andersen and Kadri are signed for 5 seasons. Matthews, Nylander and Marner can’t leave as UFA’s for 7 years (maybe 6 for Nylander, I’m not sure). JVR and Gardiner’s contracts are up in 2017 and 2018 respectively. By then Pollak will be gone, Robadis will be gone, even if they can’t buy out Cowan he’ll be gone.

        Nothing are doing/have done lately will affect their ability to keep the core/players who should be the core of this team together. As for upgrading the core, they shouldn’t be worried about that now since we don’t know exactly how the core will look and what pieces will be needed, however next year they have almost 20 million in cap space opening up (over 20 if we include Robadis), and none of those players are likely to be resigned. Then in 2018 they have more then 15 million coming off the books (though its likely they’ll want to retain JVR and Komarov).

        They can’t act with reckless abandon, but we shouldn’t be worried about signings that won’t have a long term affect on their ability to improve or resign their players.

        • silentbob

          I agree with your assessment. It is a fact that Babcock wanted some more toughness so the Leafs would not be pushed around, Polak and Martin were signed for that purpose, neither of them in my view is a real drag. Martin was by some accounts the driving force for the league’s best 4th line unit. Polak may be slow, but we may be able to cover that with some speed on the other side. This is a nice article, but there is more speculation and conjecture plus personal opinion about player value which may also have flaws.

    • CMpuck

      I think you’re missing the point, it doesn’t matter if it’s Demers, Stralman, or anyone else. Tying up ~7% of your cap space in wasted space is poor management and could be better spent elsewhere.

      • Jeremy Ian

        7% is an upper bound estimate, only part of which is “waste” (the only dead weight is Kessel and Gleason salary; the rest is over-payment at the margins). And this is on existing commitments.

        The point of the article is: the going rate for the top-pairing D is $4.5M. Since when have the recent decisions ruled out that option when we are really going to need to assess, which is next spring/summer?

        Don’t we need to figure out what we have in Zaitsev and Carrick? My read on the Polak signing is that Polak buys the Leafs some time to figure out what they have so they know what to do when they really go shopping next year.

        Which also happens to be when the Leafs are flush.

  • Harte of a Lion

    The riskiest contract this summer (yet potentially one with good reward) is Andersen. If he provides average goaltending then his term/cap are just slightly over average in the league. If he gives the leafs vezina goaltending (or at least well above average) then the signing looks good. And if Andersen struggles then that contract will be a difficult burden. This to me is the contract that is most concerning to the cap of the team. And little mention of it. That’s why this narrative looks very much like well disguised “character” assassination against grit/character guys when the same problems are largely ignored with the skilled guys.

    Polak and Martin are not ideal contract but they are not the same as Andersen. That said, neither have the same upside (sure polak could be trade bait and martin will always be overpaid but still desired around the league though more as an expiring). Further neither have tremendous downside either though martin’s contract is more onerous of the two.

    The question that I struggle with is if management with the two minor moves and russel rumours are reverting to “grit/character” over skill. To defend the Polak/Martin moves, we need to employ similar arguments we used for Nonis and suggest the leafs scouts have value added insights beyond analytics(ie watching hockey) that influenced their roster and draft choices.

    Perhaps the team and Babcock felt the leaf and marlie skilled players were “abused” on the ice and they went too far down the “skill” track last season so this off season is a one time knee jerk reaction in the draft/ufa to better balance the team as analytics didn’t quite give them the desired outcome. We all know that analytics is not the complete story statistically when it comes to hockey but it very much appears that because it is the only then that can be measured, that it forms the bulk of the narrative (i.e. the worship of hero charts).

    I certainly understand folks who are concerned these character moves look very much like the early nonis moves before even more dramatic changes took place in the following year (grabbo buyout, clarkson etc). There are similarities between the two situations for certain and things can get a lot worse. My main suggestion is not to cloak your bias against “character/grit” guys as a cap issue as that erodes the good argument you are making around cap management.

    And so sure if you want to pull out your hair and worry about what Lou and Dubas might do next year then have it. But please don’t discount tell me I need to flog myself likewise.

    • DragLikePull

      “The riskiest contract this summer (yet potentially one with good reward) is Andersen. If he provides average goaltending then his term/cap are just slightly over average in the league. If he gives the leafs vezina goaltending (or at least well above average) then the signing looks good. And if Andersen struggles then that contract will be a difficult burden. This to me is the contract that is most concerning to the cap of the team. And little mention of it.”

      I wrote a whole article about how risky Andersen’s contract is:

      http://theleafsnation.com/2016/6/28/how-should-we-expect-frederik-andersen-to-age

      • Jeremy Ian

        Yeah, that piece on Andersen was great too. But @I4’s point is that you didn’t figure it into your pile up narrative. In fact, your bottom line on the Andersen piece was much more ambivalent than your current line about the Leafs’ management. Here’s the final paragraph:

        “None of this is to say that I can predict with any confidence what will happen to Andersen. Look no further than Marc-Andre Fleury’s sudden resurgence over the past couple of years as an example of how unpredictable goalies can be. Frederik Andersen could certainly continue to provide the Leafs with a high level of goaltending four or five years from now. But history suggests the Leafs have made a pretty risky gamble.”

        Seems to suggest you and @I4 are on the same page, and it hardly predicts a pile up.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Great read. There seems to be a prevailing theory that this mgmt group as a secret reason for everything they do. Even the smartest of organizations have weaknesses. Contracts like this quickly turn into death by a thousand cuts.

  • CMpuck

    5 Star article, always refreshing to see someone looking at the whole.

    Didn’t we just get out of paying Tucker? These contracts make for bad hangovers.

    My concern includes Andersen, he might be great but there is an equal chance he’s the next Lehtonen or Niemi. If his game goes south this will be looked back upon as a disastrous off season.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Nice piece, worth arguing about.

    1. You blur the Nonis regime with the successor. I don’t know why, other than maybe to ring the alarm bell louder. Yes, the Leafs are still (and will be for a while) paying off the debts incurred by Nonis (call it a debt because it’s an obligation on something that no longer yields value). By the time those debts are amortized, a lot of other payroll gets cleared from the books, just in time to start rewarding the core:

    Brooks Laich ($4.5M)
    Michalek ($4M)
    Greening ($2.65M)
    Cowen ($3.1M)
    Robidas ($3M)
    Hunwick ($1.2M)
    Bernier ($4.2M)
    = $22.65M in cap space cleared next summer; bump it to $25M with Polak.

    Then there’s Gleason. (That whole deal should qualify for a criminal indictment, anyway)

    The only commitments on that list that Shanahan signed off on were Hunwick and Polak, and they will be gone by next summer. $3.5M out of a total of $25M. Am I going to indict Shanahan et al for following Nonis’s trail of disasters on the basis of this payroll management? No.

    So: the Leafs get their windfall next summer, not this summer, when they really have to make the move for another top-pairing defenseman. This was not the summer to do it and there was no candidate for it anyway. (In this respect, getting out of the Stamkos sweepstakes gives us more options in July 2017)

    2. Under the current regime, we are talking about a sum total of two disputed decisions. Polak and Martin. Are there enough data points to connect and make a downwardly sloping curve to purgatory? I don’t think so. You need one more datum. At least. Your “pile up” by definition needs more than two cars in the crash; otherwise, it’s just a crash, or even just a fender bender. At worst.

    3. Why are other very recent decisions not being computed into this story? The Rychel trade, the very nice contracts for Kadri and Rielly.

    4. The real weakness on the team was in net, not defense. Did the Andersen trade get figured into the pile up?

    5. Then there’s your choice of metaphor. The core of your story is about a decision-making sequence called “branching.” It’s a different metaphor than the “pile up.”

    Nonis was super-guilty of it; military planners do it all the time; so do investors. Branching got us into the mortgage-driven mess of 2008. Management makes a decision and wants to justify it (call it “bring in more grit”, the Nonis-Carlyle discourse of the summer of 2013). So, they follow one decision by making one that’s very similar to it in order to ensure that the strategy has a better chance of succeeding. Then they make another one like it. At each decision, the preference for following up with one that’s similar grows — because management is invested in the first one working out. One investment becomes a general over-investment. Suddenly, management is crawling out on a limb — a branch. Each step out on the branch makes it harder to turn around. Big organizations do this all the time. Then the branch breaks and the whole strategy collapses.

    I don’t think it’s what’s going on here — but I could be wrong. Why?

    1. The real investment is not in these two highlighted recent decisions; it’s in the core that’s been worked on ever since Nylander (one might say Rielly, but that now seems ages ago) was drafted. That core investment will always eclipse the stock in a couple of vets, mainly on short contracts.

    2. The very thing you are worried about — hitting the cap — is what prevents the Leafs going out on the limb. Nonis had cap space to soak up that Shanahan doesn’t. So, in a perverted way having to pay off Nonis’s old debts is what prevents Shanahan et al from committing the same mistakes. I could give your story a positive spin.

    Is this denial? Maybe. We’ll have to see more decisions. But right now, I am loving the overall direction of this team. When Rychel, Timashov, and Kapanen join the roster in 2017, alongside Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Sosh, Hyman, Zaitsev, Carrick, Brown, are we really going to worry about the Matt Martin deal?

    • Kanuunankuula

      Andersen is a gamble, pretty much every goalie is. Difference between Martin this gamble has an upside. Martin just had his career year, and is unlikely to even replicate that.

      • Martin is not being paid to score a lot of goals. He’s being paid to play average level hockey while providing much needed protection to Marner and Nylander and Matthews and Bracco and Timashov and Kapanen and Brown etcetera.

        All of these players will be 30lbs “bigger” with Martin on the team then without him. And that is surely worth more than 2.5 million a season.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Agreed. Andersen’s a gamble — let’s hope it pays off. I am not sure there was a goalie option out there that had a better prospect of doing what we need, so I am ok with that signing.

        Martin did have a career year. But …

        1. unlike the decision made after Clarkson’s career year, this one is not bundled with a bunch of other long-term contract with NTCs (including Clarkson’s), the term is shorter, and the sum much lower.

        2. Martin’s not being brought in as the saviour. Part of the Clarkson problem was the outsized expectation. He was set up to fail. Martin, on the other hand, is brought in for depth purposes on more flexible terms. This means he can be used more flexibly. We don’t need him to replicate.

        Is the $2.5M too much? Sure — and the data show that UFA’s are being paid for past performance, not future potential (otherwise, they rarely become UFA’s). Is the term too long? Sure — but the Leafs had to fend off other suitors, like the Red Wings, who were offering the same. Like all teams, the Leafs are in bargaining settings.

        Does this add up to a pile up? No.

    • Bleedblueandwhite

      Very well reasoned response Ian. I never want to see 180 lb Nazem Kadri fighting 220lb David Backes again or Andreas Johnson or Willy Nylander getting run over risking concussions. Matt Martin passes the sniff test on this intangible toughness factor Babcock himself said they had to add. Bonus marks since Martin can actually play well enough and placed with some skill may yet evolve into a effective power forward. Either way you have to have someone like him on the team to protect the kids and act as a deterrent. Reasonable money well spent in my mind.

    • JB#1

      This is so well said by Jeremy Ian, but I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in.

      This article wants us to jump to a Def-con level 3, or maybe even a 2, about the current Leafs management group based on the following situations:

      1. The Martin signing and its inherent “over-payment” of $1 million per AAV. We could argue this “over-payment” till the cows come home but to keep this post on the shorter size, I’ll agree to it.

      2. The Polak signing and its inherent “over-payment” of $1 million per AAV. See #1 above.

      3. The Gleason buyout money of $1.33 million on the Cap until the end of the 2017/18 season.

      4. The retained Kessel money of $1.2 million on the Cap until the end of the 2012/2022 season.

      5. The $0.5 million of bonus money to potentially be paid out for next season.

      6. Not being able to acquire a better player than Polak so add his remaining salary of $1.25 million?

      7. The Robidas contract of $3 million.

      I believe these 7 items add to the $9.25 million mentioned in the article as the injurious self-inflicted cuts this current Leafs management group has done to themselves.

      OK, let me address them as I see them.

      1. This definitely can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the current Leafs management group. We’re all entitled to our own opinions on this situation but I am willing to give it some time before I pass judgment on it. I want to see how Martin plays and fits in with next season’s team.

      2. Again, squarely on the shoulders of the current Leafs management group but since it can/will go away after only 1 year, I’m not going to sweat it.

      3. Steaming pile from previous Leafs management group.

      4. Squarely on the shoulders of the current Leafs management group, though I think a lesson was learned from this and Lou was brought in to be the answer to that lesson.

      5. Isn’t this good? Means your youngsters are playing well, no?

      6. As stated by others in their posts, not sure there was a better option out there in UFA this year and Polak provides a little insurance in case one of the other RHD (Corrado or Carrick) take a step back.

      7. Steaming pile from previous Leafs management group.

      As far as I am concerned, only 3 of these 7 items can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the current Leafs management group. On order of occurrence: #4, #1, and #2.

      #4. Is retaining salary on the Kessel contract until 2022 ideal? Hell no, but after seeing what transpired, Shanahan addressed that issue by bringing in Lou.

      #1. Is a 4 year term for Martin ideal? Probably not, but an extra year or two at $2.5 million isn’t going to make or break the Leafs in 2018/2019 (Gleason’s buyout will be gone) or 2019/20.

      #2. Is signing Polak for another year going to cause the Leafs to lose or not use a good young player? This is still to be determined. I can see more maneuvers happening this off-season and into training camp.

      So to summarize.

      The current Leafs management group MAY have:

      1. Over paid in $ ($1 million) and term (1 or 2 years?) for one player.

      2. Caused the loss of 1 young player by signing another player for 1 year as an insurance policy.

      3. Retained money ($1.2 million) on a trade.

      The rest of the crimes we are going to convict the current Leafs management group over involve either the younger players earning their performance bonuses (hurrah?) or steaming piles inherited from previous management groups.

      Wow, if that’s the case, what the h-e-l-l are we going to say when they do make an actual mistake? And I guarantee that will happen at some point in the future.

      Enjoy your summer folks and relax, the good ship Maple Leaf is in excellent hands.

    • Harte of a Lion

      Thanks for your eloquent reply, the silent majority speaks.

      To change the subject to the other contentious issue percolating since day two of the draft…The more I study in depth the players the Leafs drafted, the more I see the potential of each prospect. You need to look deeper than just stats as there is far more to life and hockey than stats.

      Remember when we drafted Connor Brown and everyone said who? Why? wtf?
      Who?? that skinny kid who led all OHL players with the worst + – at -72. His draft plus 1 year was average but his draft +2 it all came together and he led the OHL in assist with 83 and scoring with 128 pts. He then followed that up by leading all AHL rookies in points with 61. I think we all agree this kid has NHL potential.

      Now player (X) had an even slower start to his junior career, and whatever circumstances led to his poor draft year, it was not surprising to see him passed over. His draft +1 year he started to put everything together. He scored 30 goals and had 7 less points than Connor Brown in his draft +1 however he was a +24 to Brown’s -11. X got stronger in every area of the game as the season progressed but alas, he is not the biggest guy and he was passed over again. Everyone drafting 97’s no room for a 96.

      His draft +2, everything clicks for this kid. He plays all situations, pp, pk, and is a force at even strength. He ends up leading the WHL in assists, 82 and scoring with 120 points. Does this sound familiar?

      Now, had we drafted player X in 2014, say… With a 4th round pick and now he was displaying the potential of a Connor Brown? Everyone would be high 5’s up and down the block. Instead we have all this boo hoo’ing about overagers.

      Everyone meet Adam Brooks, selected 92nd by our Maple Leafs and our next Connor Brown.

      Every one of the kids drafted has home run potential whatever their ages or circumstances. This draft was not about filling in the Marlies or balancing out inefficiencies in size within the prospect pool. This draft was about skill as well as size. If you will take the time to dig a little deeper than plain statistics, you should get as excited as I am.

      Lastly, I find Mattinen a curious and exciting pick. He was only ranked by two scouting agencies, Hockey prospects (66) and NHL Central Scouting (136) Obviously he was on a stacked team but did Hunter realize that had he played a full season other scouts might see the potential as well? He played well in his limited games in the Playoffs and I can’t wait to see what he brings next year. Obviously Hunter felt he might not be easily available if he slipped through the draft so… no matter what input came from other scouts, or management, this is a “Hunter” pick through and through.

      Greenway is going to blow people away in 3-4 years.

        • Harte of a Lion

          Thanks Gary, as a minority on most sites, I actually remember celebrating the Maple Leafs last Cup victory, I think I have seen a bit of everything in the past 50 + years and other than their three periods of relative success, ( 70’s Sittler teams, and the two Patts, Quinn and Burns) I have been dumbfounded on a continual basis at the decisions made at both the executive and management levels.

          As a long time follower of minor league hockey as well, I have an appreciation of what is involved in actually scouting kids and then taking time to develop them into professionals.

          For the first time in my memory, post 1967, we have a management team in place that has committed to “building a team” through development. They are mining the depths of every corner of the hockey playing world to hopefully find gems overlooked by others. (Dzierkals, Timashov, Korshkov, Chebykin, Zaitsev). Whether through the draft, free agency, or an offer to attend the development camp to an old friend (Brodeur) this team is committed to do it right this time.

          I felt excited when Burke arrived with all his Pomp and Bluster however the day he traded for Kessel, I found an underlying stench to the whole transaction. I knew we were giving up top Picks in future drafts and the days of my support for the management was over.

          Shanahan is different. He is a super smart guy who knows what he doesn’t know and he isn’t afraid to ask questions and find those who have answers. I know it drives the media crazy that there are ZERO leaks and very little information coming directly from the team however this is a refreshing change to the hodge-podge of verbal and written diarrhea that previously permiated around the team. From Ballard to Burke, it is not about bluster, everything boils down to substance and the Maple Leafs management has it in Spades!

          A hall of fame GM, a savvy asst. GM learning from the Maestro, the best coach in the world, the best scouting money can buy, and at the top, a man who understands what it takes to win. Brendan Shanahan’s success on the ice will translate into Breandan Shanahan’s success building a Stanley Cup dynasty. The information is there for anyone willing to look but like Ogers, Leprechauns and Sasquatch, you have to believe.

  • Bleedblueandwhite

    So this is an interesting discussion, but ultimately we are worrying about the 16th and 17th roster spots – Martin is the either the 11th or 12th forward and Polak is the 5-6-7 dman.

    Are the Leafs a cup contender this year? Of course not. So what’s a reasonable expectation? Contend for a play-off spot? That means 27 point improvement – 13-14 more wins – that even seems like a stretch. I’m comfortable with a 15 point improvement. But in the meantime, the young kids need to get better, learn how to be professional hockey players and make sure they don’t get to beat up.

    This management group thinks the best approach is to have internal competition and lead by example. So I see the Polak and Martin signings through these glasses. I too am much more worried about the Andersen signing – is he the real thing or another Bernier?

    I also think they saw that the Marlies couldn’t win in the Calder Cup playoffs just with skill alone – the kids got beat up gong into the later rounds.

    • silentbob

      There does seem (at least to me) to be an undertone of “that’s not what I would do, therefore its bad” from a lot of people writing/reporting in this space right now.

      Its not unlike fans of a franchise hating a movie or tv show not because its bad but because its not what they would have done with the franchise.

      A lot of people were excited about and invested in seeing the Leafs add more and more skilled players, but management (most likely with the coaches input) addressed the lack of sizes and physicality this off-season. Sure they overpaid a little bit for Martin (find me an NHL roster with no over paid players) but he addressed a weakness they saw in the roster. They added a 3rd pairing D-man, instead of a top 4, most likely because 1) They feel they can once again flip Polak at the deadline 2) They aren’t in a positino to lock up 5 million dollars for 5 years and 3) They want to give playeres like Gardiner, Zaitsev, Corrado, Carrick, Marincin the top 4 minutes to find out if they have all the “Stralman’s” they need.

      I think its clear that the Leafs are not aiming to be at the top of the draft next year, but that doesn’t mean this is a finished product. We are still 3 or more seasons away from being a cup contender. We shouldn’t be freaking out about decisions that won’t have effects that last that long. And instead of seeing moves that don’t fit our conception what they should be doing as mistakes, we should be asking why they did something we didn’t anticipate.

  • Foximus

    Great article with valid points.

    I believe this mgmt team is aware of these small salary hits that add up. I also believe that most of these small hits are going to be gone in the next year or two. That’s when they expect to be a playoff team and hopefully more than just that. If these small items keep happening next yr or the year after then you are looking at cap mismanagement. Right now your not.

    Just let the Shanaplan keep rolling. It’s been pretty impressive so far.

  • Kanuunankuula

    The Martin contract is an insurance policy well worth 2.5 million for 4 years. Signing Martin was like adding 30lbs to Marner and to Nylander overnight without hurting their skill/style of play.

    Martin was hired to be Marner’s/Nylander’s bodyguard. If you want to have uber-skilled small forwards who are fun to watch and who can dismantle an opposing team, you need to provide them with protection and deter other teams from trying to injure or intimidate these kids. And that protection has to be able to at least tread water as a hockey player without slowing down the team. Martin does just that. Just like Gretzky needed Semenko, Martin is EXACTLY what Marner and Nylander need for the next 4 years.

    The idea that you could somehow teach Marner and Nylander how to defend themselves is pure poppycock. If a guy like Martin played for the opposition and wanted to hurt Nylander or Marner there isn’t a damn thing either player could do about it, and there isn’t another player on our current roster with enough juice to prevent or deter that from happening.

    • silentbob

      I don’t have an issue with the Martin signing, but “protection” wasn’t why they signed him. Enforcers don’t protect players. If they did, the presence of such players would eliminate dirty play from the game – basically the very fact that they fight after another player does something they don’t like proves they don’t deter anything. If they did, there’d be no fighting.

      Babcock roles 3 lines that basically have the same make up – two skilled players and a grinder (thats why Komarov is a top line player now) – and a 4th line that inverts that mix, or is purely grinders. Martin gives that 4th line a central point and a leader. The other two forwards on that line are going to have Martin’s example of how they should be playing.

      • silentbob

        Semenko and McSorely may not have eliminated dirty play against Gretzky but they sure did reduce it. Which is why Gretzky wasn’t going to accept the trade to LA unless his enforcer came with him.

        Moreover, Lou basically said that that was exactly why he brought Martin in, to protect the younger players.

        You’re absolutely right about Babcock’s lines, which is why Martin is going to play left wing with Matthews and Marner. Martin can go into the corners and retrieve pucks, screen the goalies and take on anyone who tries to target the stars. Matthews and Marner have more than enough skill between them to make up for Martin’s average skillset.

        I can’t imagine a 4 year commitment was made to Martin without Babcock thinking it was a good idea or the Leafs having this as the plan. How else can you keep Marner in the lineup this year?

        • silentbob

          says who? Prove me to me he would have been hit more if they were there.

          Martin will be on the 4th line, Matthews and Marner will not.

          Your version of hockey doesn’t exist anymore, and when it did it was built on a myth.

          And Lamoriello went out of his way not to say “body guard”.

  • G2

    Okay, it’s settled. The Leafs are run by morons who don’t know how to do anything right. If only they would read this blog they might still smarten up. They don’t think about tomorrow, they just waste money on random over payments to pugs because they’re in a rush to get back to the bar.
    I’ve never seen so much pearl clutching, panty bunching and bed wetting over 5 million of MLSE’s dollars. You’d think that Leaf Nation will have to clean up this horrible mess after the current incompetent management team goes down in flames.
    Since the draft I’ve come here looking for Leaf news and all there is is whinging, whining, complaining and predictions of total doom. If they had given Stamkos 12 million a year until forever (really handcuffing themselves) you all would still be squealing like Justin Beiber fans.
    I’ll be back when hockey starts, hopefully everyone will be over this by then. Thanks.

  • I don’t ever remember Gretzky getting a concussion, or getting carried off the ice in a stretcher. I don’t ever remember Gretzky getting hit from behind or hit in the head. I don’t ever remember Gretzky getting cross-checked in the head or viciously slashed.

    It wasn’t because Gretzky was so elusive no one could hit him. It wasn’t because other players were so in awe of him that they didn’t want to hurt him. It wasn’t because the NHL put out a memo that said don’t hurt Gretzky.

    It was because if you laid a finger on Gretzky Semenko was going to kick the ever living crap out of you! And no player good enough at hockey to be on the ice when Gretzky was out, was tough enough to take on Semenko.

    That is what Martin is for Marner. Martin can hold is own playing hockey. And anyone good enough to play against Marner ain’t gonna be tough enough to take on Martin. (Except maybe Lucic)

    • silentbob

      You know what I don’t remember from last year (at least with the Leafs, there was the WJC hit)

      Nylander getting a concussion, or getting carried off the ice in a stretcher, getting hit from behind or hit in the head, getting cross-checked in the head or viciously slashed.

      • Gary Empey

        Pat Quinn laying out Bobby Orr was the defining moment of his playing career.

        Intentionally injuring a star player to help your team win or just to gain a reputation is still around.

        It is true Nylander didn’t get nailed last year on the Marlies.

        Andreas Johnson did take an elbow to the head knocking him out of the playoffs.

        Plenty of NHL suspensions last year for intentionally targeting the head, some low-bridge as well.

        “Riding shotgun” is no longer used, if it ever was in the NHL.

        If Martin does end up playing with some of our more skilled players it will be because of his tenacious forechecking and backchecking. Maybe a mild deterrent in a scrum.

        You are unlikely to see two players jump Kadri while the rest of his teammates went on a line change, like we seen last year in Calgary, if Martin is on the ice.

  • Good analysis, but how come you didn’t include fallout of the Phaneuf contract? Phaneuf was an overpay, but he was a top minutes D and left a void that is not filled yet. And contracts for Michalek, Cowan and Greening are not good use of cap space.

  • TGT23

    I think this is a little too doom and gloom, even for me. People, have a LITTLE perspective here.

    Yes. The team is going to have a little trouble with the cap this year. Maybe.

    This is assuming no trades are done. Which is a short-sighted assumption. Why? Because of all the 1-year deals on the team that other teams can go ahead and rent for their playoff run.

    Like Roman Polak. His is a 1-year deal.

    And yeah, I’m not a fan of it, and I worry it costs us Corrado, but it’s a 1-year deal. They didn’t sign him to a long-term contract for too much money. They have him for one year. And probably not even that long.

    You know who else has one year left on their deal?

    Laich, Michalek, Greening, Cowen, Robidas, Hunwick, and Bernier.

    Roughly 25M (including Polak) of Cap Space free after this season. That’s a lot of cap room becoming available soon.

    You know who else has one year left?

    Matt Martin, Joffrey Lupul, or Tyler Bozak. One of these guys are likely to be taken by Las Vegas and so their contracts come off the books.

    We’re talking 27-29M of free space next off-season. That’s the long view of the teams cap situation. You just have to look ahead a little bit and keep a little perspective.

  • Gary Empey

    It is nice to see folks taking some time to post longer, well reasoned comments. It looks like some of the guys are pretty smart, know their hockey, and can write when they have the time.

    The inherent defect in the article is: The focus is on individual players. The fact that the Leafs are attempting to build a whole team with all it’s different components, is completely ignored. Evaluating the value of individual players is always going to be subjective.

    Re- Kessels $1.2 million cap waste. – I thought we saved $10’s of millions cap dollars on that trade. Same thing with the Phaneuf trade.

    If you really worry about Robidas’ $3 million – dress him and put him in the line up. Waive one of your D. Your article stated he is only on regular IR.

    Worried about ELC bonus’ – Simple Sign Matthews to the 575k minimum. Anything higher would be considered a waste by any accountant. When you don’t have to pay more.

    The commenters above me have everything else nicely covered.

    My post script here is I think the Leafs believe they have a top 4 defenceman in the pipeline who will be ready for the NHL next year. Same thing for the bottom six. Maybe even this year. Why go out and sign/trade for a top 4 that will come with term?

  • Trevor5555

    Toronto has actually done well managing the cap since Shanahan overhauled the organization. Kessel, Phaneuf and Clarkson were moved opening up 20 million in long term cap space. Michalek, Greening and Cowan are gone after this year if not sooner and its clear sailing.

    Laichs 4.5 is a big part of why Winnik got us a 2nd rounder and Carrick. Thats cap space well spent.

    Lupul is the only significantly bad contract but he only has 2 years remaining.

    Kadri is signed for 4.5M which is a great value for a 25y/o #2 center. Reilly is signed for 5M which is great value for a 22y/o top pair d-man.

    This team is almost done liberating its cap situation from past mistakes and has earned my trust that it will keep making smart deals.

    Players like Polak and Martin are slightly overpayed but with all the decks being cleared next year Toronto can afford to pay an extra million or so compared to typical depth players. The fact that both are top 5 in hits in the NHL, bring a needed toughness more than justifies the modest increase over typical depth players. Polak was one of very few “plus – +/-” players on the Leafs and lots of 3rd pair guys make more. Martin played 10 min a night, led the NHL in hits and can skate and fight so neither are accurately called typical depth players. So its no overpay at all.

    Cap space wasnt going to be spent anywhere that addressed more pressing concerns as the roster was pretty much set. We can still sign Vesey who is the only UFA worth signing now.

    Toronto hasnt made a mistake small or otherwise since Shanahan took over. A look at the Marlies depth chart shows just how deep the prospects base became in a few short years. Im surprised if we dont fight for a playoff spot.

  • FlareKnight

    Nope.

    Several small mistakes could be a problem. But, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get rid of one or two small problems than one or two big ones. And once you do that….you don’t have enough small problems to be worried about it.

    Being paranoid doesn’t get you much except for site hits and an ulcer. Goes to show the Leafs give the negatives so little to work with that they have to freak out over nothing.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Why does everyone copy and paste the whole freaking out article? Don’t really need to scroll past it 6 times. If you like it just state the fact instead of pissing off a lot of people.