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The Simon Benoit signing, Leafs saved from themselves, mandatory Nylander talk: Leaflets

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Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
We’re into September and I’m pleased to share that every hockey player in the world is now in the best shape of their lives. I’m also hearing reports that everyone has shown up hungry and can confirm that no one will settle for anything less than a Stanley Cup. More seriously, we’re in the that fun little window of time where we get cute little pictures and videos of three or four Leafs together on the ice and from that we can determine who puts in the most effort. Okay. I’ll stop being an ass (that’s a lie, I’ll always be an ass) and look at some Leafs things in microdoses.

Understanding the Benoit signing

There’s an old internet adage that you shouldn’t get mad over depth signings. There’s another one about how you shouldn’t get mad over slight overpays. There’s another one about getting so worked up over someone who is only going to play eight minutes a night? To some extent, I agree, you shouldn’t get mad about these things. In fact, if you are getting mad about sports at all you are doing something wrong. Instead, I’ll take the “I’m not mad, I’m just analyzing” approach here and say that, at best, bringing in Benoit was an unnecessary move and at worst a bad move.
The bad move aspect comes from if the Leafs ever actually use Benoit on the Leafs. History shows that the team will tap into their defensive depth at some point, and using Benoit is downright scary based on his numbers. Benoit’s 36% goals for, and 33.7% high danger corsi-for numbers point to a defenceman that is perpetually trapped in his own zone with no clue how to get out. You can certainly point out that the Ducks were a terrible team and at the very least we can expect a dead cat bounce on those numbers, but the decision to actively seek out someone with bad numbers and then hope for the best on them is a tad perplexing.
What’s also interesting is that a lot of those bad numbers came alongside John Klingberg. Brad Treliving’s desire to get the band back together is confusing at best.
Looking at Benoit as an option for the Marlies is also a bit confusing. The Leafs already have some strong AHL veteran options in Lagesson and Lajoie, and there is a very good chance that Conor Timmins ends up there as well. They should also be pushing to keep Topi Niemela and William Villeneuve in the Marlies’ top four and this probably means that Benoit is primarily going to see bottom six AHL usage. That’s where using an NHL contract on him seems odd as he seemingly is at the point in the summer where Benoit could have happily been brought in on an AHL deal. The Leafs still sit at 47 contracts used out of 50, so like I said, there’s nothing here to get angry about, but the deal feels unnecessary when Benoit will at best slot in at 10th on the defensive depth chart.
There are two sides to this, and I can appreciate that the Leafs want to work with a defenceman with size to see if they can get him up to being a serviceable bottom pairing defenceman on a good NHL team. Benoit does a lot of the things that GMs and coaches admire in depth defencemen and that’s likely why he’s here. Also, at 24 and already showing that he was a bit of a late bloomer by going undrafted, there is a chance the Leafs organization feels they can get more out of Benoit than what has been seen in his short NHL career. With a Marlies coach who has specialized in defence behind the bench, it’s entirely possible this is a move that is more about the future. Benoit will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if the Leafs like what they see, they can easily retain him.
So while I stand by my initial opinion of not particularly liking this move, it certainly is more “meh” than outrage. As a project, Benoit could be a limited upside diamond in the rough, as a physical presence on the Marlies he might be necessary. But when looking at him as a potential Leaf, there will likely be points in the season where my stance on the signing stands. Better players will be on waivers soon enough.

The multiyear Bertuzzi scenario

The Leafs and Tyler Bertuzzi supposedly discussed a multiyear contract…
“I’m of the belief that Toronto wanted to sign Bertuzzi longer and I think Bertuzzi wanted to sign longer. But, they just didn’t have the ability to do it now,” is what Elliotte Friedman shared on Sportsnet Now, and outside of the uncertainty around the Maple Leafs future cap commitments, this deal carries a couple of other benefits from the Leafs perspective.
The first is the Leafs’ historic challenges with integrating similar players into their lineup. You don’t stop trying, but players like David Clarkson, Nick Ritchie, and Wayne Simmonds (early Wayne Simmonds) are some recent examples, with Clarkson likely being the best comparison to Bertuzzi. Given that these players’ roles are more about complementing their linemates rather than driving the play themselves, the fit is very important, and a longer term commitment to Bertuzzi when there isn’t a fit there was certainly a risk. And again, for the record, this isn’t me saying that Bertuzzi isn’t going to work out, this is an appreciation for risk mitigation.
The other piece with Bertuzzi is that he is a big personality and whether that is a fit organizationally remains to be seen. I don’t pretend to know the dynamics of the Leafs’ locker room, but they brought in three big personalities in Bertuzzi, Domi, and Reaves this summer, and they will need to mesh with a core that certainly has its own set of vibes. If they all can’t live under one roof together this is an easy exit strategy.
The downside to this is if (and they probably will) the Leafs like Bertuzzi, they’ll probably get a higher price tag next summer or even in January when an extension can be discussed, but Treliving being able to assess the current state of the Leafs before fully committing to a direction makes a lot of sense beyond just salary cap necessities of the one-year deal.

Finally, some Nylander talk

Another Elliotte Friedman radio moment involving the Leafs occurred on Vancouver radio and mentioned that the Leafs looked into trading William Nylander.
I’m not sure this is a particularly shocking revelation. With a new GM coming in and Nylander without a contract after this season, I’m sure there were plenty of tire kickers on him amongst other players. I’m also sure that the second that Lewis Gross floated the $10M number to Brad Treliving about the Swede’s next AAV, it incentivized Treliving to at least go through a few numbers in his contact list to see what they’d offer for a forward who could potentially be pricing himself out of Toronto. We know the result, and it’s that Treliving hasn’t found his deal…yet.
There was no reason to believe that Nylander was going to get done early just because Matthews signed this summer. Gross has made it a habit of pushing his star players to the 11th hour of free agency to make sure he’s done right by them. That’s likely what will happen here unless Nylander intervenes as says he wants it done earlier. As history as shown, he doesn’t seem like a guy who will panic.
Further to that lack of panic, if this was an attempt by the Leafs to negotiate through the media and get it out there that Nylander might be too expensive for them, this ploy probably doesn’t do much to sway his intentions. I don’t think any Leaf has had to deal with the volume of trade speculation that Nylander has.
So sure, Nylander was talked about in trades. He’ll be talked about a lot more as the season goes on, but given the cap reality of fitting in his current deal at the last moment, combined with a ten team no trade list and the Leafs’ desire for a windfall of assets for him despite being on an expiring contract, I’m going to assume it’s most likely he stays and there is a good chance we will still be wondering what he’ll do late into the night on June 30th, 2024.

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