Since May 31st it seems like there has the has a constant effort to keep the disappointment fresh for Leafs fans. The Habs playoff run took care of a lot of it. The constant reassurance from Kyle Dubas that he loves this roster when the rest of don’t has picked up the slack where the Habs failed. There has been the excitement of having Jared McCann as a Leaf and the having him taken away days later, after being lied to be a fish. There’s been a draft that saw the Leafs only pick three times, and only once in the first four rounds, and all the while the convenient lie I’ve been telling myself is it will all be cleared up on free agency day.
The thing is I know that wasn’t a realistic expectation. And I know that Kyle Dubas is an infinitely more patient man than I am, but at the same time I find myself begging for a sense of urgency and begging for a move that is going to tell me that everything is going to be alright. That didn’t really come in the first day of free agency, and I while I expected too much, I’m still disappointed.
It isn’t to say that the day wasn’t without it’s highlights. With the NHL going absolutely nutty about goaltenders, the Leafs managed to find a practical middle ground with a 3 year deal with an AAV of $3.8M for Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek might not be the exciting choice, but he was always the most sensible free agency option. In his small sample of games last season he did incredibly well. Over his career he’s been incredibly average, and while $3.8M seems like a high payment, it was reasonable relative to what else was done on the day, and it seems the days of discount goaltenders may be over, at least for the short term. Probably something to remember when Jack Campbell’s contract comes up.
Perhaps my focus is too much on the much friendlier looking contract that Jaroslav Halak signed in Vancouver, outside Halak, the comparisons should make us feel good about Mrazek, and it certainly beats giving up a 1st and a prospect for Darcy Kuemper like noted good GM Joe Sakic did, after letting his Vezina caliber goaltender walk for only $1.4M/yr over the price of the last season of Kuemper, who could just as well command $5.9M/yr by the time the next free agency period rolls around.
Mrazek is also only 29 years old and has plenty of hockey left. That wasn’t something available in abundance in the goaltending market. In fact the more I write about Mrazek the better I feel. This post is turning into good therapy.
The next most significant move of the day is probably the 2 year, $950k AAV deal for Michael Bunting. I’ve talked about Michael Bunting a lot on this site. I really want to believe in Michael Bunting as part of the solution going forward, and the Leafs adding him for pretty much a million/year less than I would have seen as my maximum deal for him is a huge win, in my eyes anyway.
Bunting depending on how he does will fit in somewhere on the Leafs left side next season. If things are going well we’ll see him in the top six, but if he struggles out the gate, he’s the kind of player that could add value and learn a little something with some time on a line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds as well. If you don’t allow your expectations to get too high this is a deal that is a no brainer success story. And even if things go sideways it’s a completely buriable contract.
If there is a third deal that warrants some positivity it’s the trading of a conditional seventh round pick for Brennan Menell. Our own Earl Schwartz is working on a writeup of how we should feel about this player that not many of us have really seen before and frankly I can’t say that I really know how to sell you on this guy right now, but Menell represents the kind of low risk acquisitions that I appreciate the Leafs regularly try to hit on.
After that, we shift over to the most questionable signing of the day and that’s David Kampf. I’m not sure if Kampf is an attempt to find a low cost 3C or a slightly overpriced 4C, but given the importance of the 3C position I truly hope it’s an overpayment we’re seeing not an over assignment.
Kampf has no offense to give you. Kampf doesn’t really do anything different from what the Leafs already get from Pierre Engvall. I’ve been doing my best to look at the stats for why someone would sign David Kampf, and not only sign him, give him 2 years, at $1.5M per year, and that it’s a $500k/yr raise for him despite not being good enough to be qualified in restricted free agency and essentially just chasing pucks. I can’t find it in the numbers so I’ll assume that his size and skating ability are what has peaked Kyle Dubas’ interest. There might also be a belief that he was miscast in Chicago and the Leafs might try to get more out of him.
I can appreciate the lack of excitement around this move, but I’m prepared to eat crow. I want to eat crow. PLEASE KYLE DUBAS FEED ME THE CROW.
Anyways, I’ll move on from there and look at the rest of the bunch, which are largely depth signings and replacements for some of the departing Leafs/Marlies bubble group. Kurtis Gabriel is the Scott Sabourin replacement. When extra toughness needs to be inserted in the lineup for some reason, here’s the guy you call up. Gabriel also brings a progressive philosophy and supportive teammate attitude to the Leafs, and is an ideal person to have around the organization.
Alex Biega and Carl Dahlstrom are the defensive depth signings that all teams need. Dahlstrom is a younger version of Martin Marincin, and Alex Biega adds a strong veteran presence to the Marlies who can improve their powerplay, and can fill a need for an additional offensive defenseman on the Leafs, if that situation ever arises. None of the depth signings should upset anyone in anyway. In fact the Leafs day overall isn’t particularly worrisome until you get back to the whole lack of patience thing.
When you look around the league and the questionable signings and trades that took place, an overpayment of David Kampf by either $250 or $500k a season isn’t the worst thing to happen to the organization.
It’s also something where we can beat ourselves or the Leafs up too much over who didn’t get brought in. The Nick Bonino contract looks great, and he had the potential to be a great fit for the Leafs roster, but we don’t know if that offer salary range was something available to Toronto, we don’t know if Bonino wanted to play in Toronto. In fact if we think about it there’s a practical argument that none of this is worth getting upset about, but that’s not going to change the fact that we want results and we want them now. To his credit, Kyle Dubas has stated that he still has the cap space to address the wing position, and he’s looking at whether free agency or a trade will afford him the best opportunity, but at the same time, looking at the Leafs it seems odd that we’re talking about only needing to address one position, and it seems that there’s a bit of a miscalculation about how many teams don’t have cap space to work with. It might be best to come out swinging on day two of free agency, and try to work with options like Nick Ritchie and/or Ondrej Kase.
The Leafs also took a very positive step with offering a pro tryout opportunity to Josh Ho-Sang, a player that has long suffered in the Islanders organization, and needs the opportunity to get his career on track. The Leafs have the opportunity to work with a highly skilled, highly motivated player who wants to prove his detractors wrong. The Leafs have the budget for the best player development in the league, and it will be interesting to see what they can develop Ho-Sang into, as well as it will be interesting to see how Josh does outside of an organization that has impeded him for so long.
Basically when you look at the day the story is that Kyle Dubas didn’t do too bad. He got two players who absolutely should have been on his shopping list and addressed some organizational depth. He took a couple of chances, and we’ll see how they play out and he left some room to do more. That’s not too bad.
That said, patience has worn thin. Adding Dougie Hamilton would have felt a lot better than taking a bottom up approach to the roster, and while the prices were high, the hesitation has lead to reduced options. I guess you could say the day was productive, but it in no way hit the mark for changing concerns about the Leafs roster.