After the trade between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators that was official on Monday, many have been wondering whether or not new Toronto defenceman Cody Ceci can somehow improve on his results now that he’s a Leaf.
Short answer is essentially, no.
Long answer includes a no and then asks anyone why they would think such a thing.
Even with the assigned first-round pick status that Ceci has, it doesn’t change what he has done in six years with the Senators, tallying almost 500 games played in the NHL. At his age of 25 and with that many games played, if there was any upside or hidden talent, they would have already shown up in Ottawa.
There isn’t any question as why the Leafs acquired him in the first place. It isn’t some reclamation project, trying to find some obscure talent that Ceci never demonstrated with the Sens, it’s purely just his contractual situation. Sending Nikita Zaitsev and the five years remaining on his contract for a player that is arguably worse, but only for one more year, is looking ahead.
It’s all about roster and cap flexibility throughout the NHL and North American professional sports leagues in general — it’s easier to determine future success when nothing is in the way of achieving that dream roster under the cap restraints. Ceci is able to sign with the Leafs for one season and then become a UFA at the age of 26, so he’ll still get his money somewhere else next summer.
So it is definitely understandable why the Leafs acquired him in the first place, getting that flexibility while just putting a body out there on the ice. This is more a transaction to dump Zaitsev’s contract more than anything else — I highly doubt the organization that values speed and skill targeted Ceci as the type of player they want for the long-term.
Ceci has been nothing but a replacement-level player his entire career. He’s not changing anytime soon, no matter what franchise he plays for.
While he has historically faced tougher competition recently — playing against first-line forwards more than league average — quality of competition has a fraction of an impact than what is assumed. Playing against depth forwards (if Ceci does do that with Toronto) won’t change his results as dramatically as fans would hope for.
All the offseason workouts and development plans in the world could not hold Ceci back from making dangerous plays in his own zone.
Who do you think this Cody Ceci was aiming for with this pass? pic.twitter.com/n3Rmj4hPaj
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 20, 2017
Under not that much pressure from two Devils forecheckers, Ceci just lobs the puck up into centre ice and turns the puck over directly to the opposition with no care in the world. This clip might be taken out of context, but there is no changing the fact as to what Ceci did.
There are other examples too.
I'm not trying to make a running record of every Ceci bumble in this game but this pass didn't work out well. pic.twitter.com/Z19xIYFrkp
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) February 11, 2017
This one has a lot more pressure put on Ceci by the forechecker, but in the matter of milliseconds the opposition has a scoring chance after he attempted to break out of his own zone.
It’s not a matter of facing tough competition, it’s competency in the defensive areas of the ice. It might have not been avoidable, with a forechecker going extremely hard towards him, but it’s irresponsible to just send the puck right into a high-danger scoring area where anyone on the other team would be able to get a scoring chance off.
Dissecting this one play could be seen as unfair, but it’s historically been an issue with Ceci. Among all defencemen with at least 400 minutes played last season, Ceci had the highest on-ice rate of shot attempts against in the entire league, with a 68.94 CA/60. He essentially just lays down for his competition and lets them pepper shots off at his own goaltender.
The Leafs are already a weak defensive team, so it’s not as if Ceci is joining an elite defensively-minded team like the Minnesota Wild and will merge in with solid defensive players. He’s joining a below-average team in their own zone and will make it worse.
There are even sometimes where Ceci just goes for a mindless play in the neutral zone.
Ceci goes for the sellout, open-ice check… and whiffs. pic.twitter.com/43XtNSmLg7
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 7, 2017
Again, might be cherry picking an all-time blunder, but if Ceci ever even thinks about doing this while in Toronto, it will look extremely bad on his part.
It all comes down to discipline. Ceci has had none during his time with the Senators and it will most likely continue that way with the Leafs. This whole market typically tries to pick the best parts of their new players and only sees the upside of the acquisition. But when it comes to Ceci, there will be none of that and it will be glaringly obvious that he is a sub-par NHL defenceman within the first couple regular season games playing for Toronto.
There is no fixing a player like this. He is who he is and he will remain that way for his entire NHL career.