In the calm before the NHL’s unrestricted free agency storm, the Toronto Maple Leafs organization seems to be more focused on their AHL affiliate. The Toronto Marlies have announced a bevvy of transactions today, both on the roster sheet and within the office.
The most obvious and front-facing move to fans is the one that’s happening on the ice, and that’s the renewal of forward Rich Clune’s contract. This was a very interesting year for the Toronto native, and perhaps one that didn’t go exactly to plan. Like the season prior, Clune signed an AHL deal with his hometown Marlies in hopes of forcing himself into the Leafs’ plans. Unlike the season prior, where he did manage to get himself an NHL deal, some reps in the show, and a regular spot with the Marlies, Clune remained in the AHL all year and played just 42 regular season and playoff games.
That lack of play doesn’t directly intersect with a lack of merit, though. Clune battled through some injuries in the early winter, and more notably, was a bit of a victim of numbers in the Marlies lineup. AHL teams can only play so many “veteran” skaters that hit a specific games played threshold, so on nights where an enforcer-type wasn’t glaringly necessary, players like Colin Greening, Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, Cal O’Reilly, and Marc-Andre Cliche, none of whom will be returning next year, took his place up front at times.
While a crush load of winger prospects might keep Clune from getting into every single game next season, he won’t have an artificial barrier keeping him away next year. No matter what, though, having someone like him on the team is useful; he’s an enforcer who can actually forecheck and contribute to the scoreboard when he’s on the ice, and when he’s off the ice, he plays the mentor role well, be it in the gym or in conversation. Even if we’ve ragged on the opportunity cost of his Leafs counterpart on this site, there’s still a value in a role player who can keep up on a hockey team, and if you’re in a non-capped environment like the AHL where all it costs a rich team is raw dollars, keeping a familiar and positive face is good.
I also wouldn’t be shocked if the “role” for this role player gets bigger next year; with Andrew Campbell still lacking a contract for next year, Clune could be a fit as the Marlies 2017/18 captain.
Front Office Changes
The Marlies also had a bevvy of other internal moves get announced this morning.
Brad Lynn, who was Director of Hockey Operations with the Marlies and had worked for the team since 2010, moves over to the Leafs as Director of Team Operations, slotting in for Brad Holland, who was confirmed to be leaving the team today. Mike Dixon, who worked for the Florida Panthers prior, will be taking his place.
Colin McBride, who was the Marlies’ Media Relations Coordinator, also jumps up into the Leafs organization, presumably to take the place of Ian Meagher, who has moved to the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs to be their Assistant General Manager.
Lastly, Justin Bourne is leaving his role with as team video coach to return to being a frenemy of the blog, accepting a nation-wide writer’s role with The Athletic. Will Sibley, who was the Kitchener Rangers’ Video Coach and Statistical Analyst, will be taking his place. Kitchener hasn’t announced their replacement for him just yet.