Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
Thanks to many of us distracted by the Leafs’ big-league signings over the course of the past few days, a couple of smaller deals were agreed upon yesterday without the much fanfare. Brett Findlay signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Marlies, while Patrick Watling agreed to terms with the Orlando Solar Bears.
While neither of these players is likely to ever really make a jump up to the show, it’s still not a bad idea for the team to bring the two back for another year.
Toronto Marlies top-20 players with NHL contracts, sorted by Games Played, 2015/16
|Player||AHL GP||NHL GP||Player||AHL GP||NHL GP|
|Matt Frattin||71||0||Nikita Soshnikov||52||11|
|TJ Brennan||69||7||Josh Leivo||51||12|
|Andrew Campbell||66||6||Rich Clune||49||19|
|Brendan Leipsic||65||6||Mark Arcobello||49||20|
|Rinat Valiev||60||10||Kasperi Kapanen||44||9|
|Zach Hyman||59||16||Antoine Bibeau||40||0|
|Stuart Percy||58||3||Casey Bailey||38||0|
|Frederik Gauthier||56||7||William Nylander||38||22|
|Viktor Loov||55||4||Connor Brown||34||7|
|Sam Carrick||52||3||Richard Panik||30||0|
Leafs management likes the idea of the Marlies being a competitive team. Not quite in the “sign a bunch of washed out veterans to force the team into the playoffs” way that we saw in the late-JFJ, early-Burke eras, but they recognize that they have a ton of secondary prospects who exceed the level of the average AHLer and are doing the best they can to maximize every game the team plays.
But even a great team can fall apart with a few injuries and a few call-ups. This became clear last year, as the Toronto had their worst stretch of the year in the few weeks following the trade deadline as the best of the rookies got to get a sniff at the big club. It was still good enough to cruise to first overall, but they weren’t quite what they were in the first half of the year.
|2009-10||16||Blind River Beavers||NOJHL||50||28||59||87||18.55||51|
|2010-11||17||Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds||OHL||57||20||24||44||20.26||31||-3|
|2011-12||18||Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds||OHL||68||20||36||56||21.61||44||-6|
|2013-14||20||San Francisco / Alaska||ECHL||69||22||32||54||14.12||14||2|
|2014-15||21||Orlando Solar Bears||ECHL||45||18||23||41||16.44||32||8|
|2015-16||22||Orlando Solar Bears||ECHL||22||10||11||21||17.22||38||-5|
|2009-10||15||Chatham Jr. Maroons||GOJHL||39||3||4||7||1.91||15|
|2010-11||16||Chatham Jr. Maroons||GOJHL||49||25||50||75||16.32||28|
|2013-14||19||Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds||OHL||65||18||36||54||21.79||39||35|
|2014-15||20||Orlando Solar Bears||ECHL||24||11||14||25||18.79||20||8|
|2015-16||21||Orlando Solar Bears||ECHL||24||6||22||28||21.05||12||1|
Toronto seems to recognize that fact and have prepared themselves for the long haul. The team already has Mason Marchment, Chase Witala, TJ Foster, Shane Conacher, Marc-Andre Cliche, Colin Smith, Nikolas Brouillard, Cason Hohmann, Eric Faille, Rich Clune, Ty Stanton, Tony Cameranesi, and Willie Corrin signed to AHL contracts, making Findlay the eleventh player on the list for a team that should already be filled to the brim with Leafs prospects.
This gives the team a ton of options down the stretch. They’ve now got a surplus of players to fill in for injuries or call-ups, or even just play a game in a 3-in-3 weekend to keep their other teammates from burning out early in the year, similar to what many soccer teams do. It ensures the Solar Bears will be reasonably competitive down the stretch, and in specifically targeting Findlay and Watling, they ensure that there are voices that have done this supportive bounce around for a couple years now.
Not to mention, both are reasonably good in their own respects. In the ECHL, they’re bona fide top-sixers, while they act as responsible minute fillers with the Marlies, with Watling even getting penalty kill time in his occasional appearances. He, of course, will need an AHL deal if he were to get called back up, but I doubt the team would much hesitation. While a budget is still in place for any hockey team, there aren’t the same set-in-stone limits to roster composition in the lower tiers as there are up in the NHL.
That the two would want to come back to a scenario like this is telling as well. This will be the third tour of duty with the club for both players, who first signed in August 2014. Despite not being able to earn NHL contracts from their time, neither have looked to other clubs or to Europe since. A bit of that might be a bit of two-way Sault Ste. Marie loyalty with Leafs assistant GM and Marlies GM Kyle Dubas, but it’s still rare to see minor leaguers find places of comfort.
Ultimately, I don’t see either being players who turn the needle in a hockey rink near you this year, but any sort of safety net or depth bolstering with no consequence is usually a good thing, and that’s what they’ll bring.