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The Maple Leafs signings vs. “that’s not the player I wanted”

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Photo credit:Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
It has been a blessing and curse to be out of town with spotty internet throughout the duration of the early days of free agency. On one hand I’ve been yelling about the Leafs to a group of people who truly have no idea why I’m so worked up, but on the other hand, it has spared me writing overly reactionary emotional driven commentary on what Brad Treliving has done so far.
Having a bit of time to process things I can acknowledge that heading into free agency I believed the Leafs needed significant roster changes, could benefit from being a tougher team to play against in the postseason, and needed scoring that would give the forward group more of a top 9/ bottom 3 look than a top 6/ bottom 6 look. Brad Treliving actually addressed a lot of this stuff, and perhaps I’m just being overly critical because I either don’t like the players that were brought in, the ones I would have chosen for that role, or believe there was an overpayment.
Working our way back starting with the most recent move, Treliving signed Max Domi to a one year, $3M deal. That’s a good value contract and I can appreciate that. Some of Max Domi’s personal views that he has shared in the past are red flags and I’ve never been a fan of his Dad, but the reality is that Max at $3M is getting a top 9 winger at a cheaper price than the Leafs were paying for Kerfoot, Domi is a significant upgrade on the second powerplay unit, and on the intangible front, the guy really does want to be a Leaf and sounds like he wants to earn a longer term gig.
With Domi I can appreciate that this is more about him being a player I don’t like rather than a bad signing and he has the potential to make the Leafs better.
Domi isn’t going to help the Leafs defensively, in fact, he’ll probably hurt them in that regard. For people who want to believe Domi will make the Leafs tougher, he’s not his Dad. He’ll chirp plenty, he’ll shove a guy after the whistle, but he’s not cannonballing into anyone and he’s going to have a hard time getting out of his own zone.
Still it is hard to find “on ice” fault in this move and it’s hard not to appreciate a one year deal which is a running theme of positivity throughout most of the moves we are talking about here.
Tyler Bertuzzi is another move that comes out as a fairly positive one. His 8 goal, 30 point season certainly didn’t make it seem like he deserved that contract, but 16 points in his final 21 games with the Bruins coupled with 10 points (5 goals) in 7 playoff games as well his 30 goal season that preceded his drop off last year make him worth a gamble. Plus you are throwing in a Michael Bunting type edge, and like Domi getting the after the whistle stuff and second powerplay unit help. This isn’t a terrible move.
Bertuzzi has also given people reasons to not think highly of him off the ice, but if we are strictly keeping to on the ice play, he has the potential to be a Bunting upgrade.
Admittedly the hardest deal to wrap my head around is the John Klingberg deal. I’m not sure there is anything left to get out of Klingberg defensively, if there ever was, and offensively he’s not the as dynamic as he once was either. I’m not sure with Liljegren looking to take on more responsibility that Klingberg was completely necessary and as Toronto stares down an unfortunate salary cap situation of their own making, the Klingberg deal would have been the best way to avoid that.
What Klingberg brings to the Leafs that they’ve been lacking is that heavy point shot on the powerplay and arguably Klingberg might be best suited to the primary powerplay unit over someone like Morgan Rielly who does his best work 5v5 catching the opposition in transition.
While Klingberg was an overpay and a bit of a luxury compared to other needs that haven’t been addressed (center depth?) he’s another risk that is limited to this year and that’s manageable.
That brings us to the Ryan Reaves contract and strangely enough the guy who will turn 37 next season is one guy who got a multiyear contract. I’d suggest that Reaves received two years too many and about $300k a year more than he should have, but compared to dollar amounts on the other deals it seems like the overpay is tolerable.
Reaves is capable of being an everyday fourth liner. He’s not going to make much of a case for moving up in the roster but if you want him to specifically shadow someone like Tom Wilson, yeah, he can be on the ice while Tom is and you can basically watch 4v4 hockey go on around them.
I actually really like Reaves and will do my best to look past the contract and sit back and enjoy some face punching, but I still feel that with Kyle Clifford being just a quick callup away the Leafs could have gone the cheaper, shorter term in-house route.
I guess it’s also worth noting that I’m a fan of William Lagesson and think he’s solid defensive depth and Dylan Gambrell will be a perfectly fine Marlie or obstacle for Pontus Holmberg to prove he’s better than.
So yeah, while these deals don’t appear to be the end of the world, they all seem to require at least a bit of talking myself into them. It’s not like we didn’t have to talk ourselves into Dubas moves either, the Kraken expansion draft debacle and the Kadri trade were also both tough events to live through in the moment. And like Dubas, Treliving really seems to have complicated the salary cap for himself as well (though I appreciate he’s kept it limited to this season.)
The Leafs being $3.2M over after excluding Muzzin’s cap hit and not having Ilya Samsonov signed is definitely a challenge and one that even if Matt Murray is LTIR’d seems to require a bit of maneuvering to get Samsonov back into the crease.
If it was Dubas calling the shots, I’d probably quickly slide into a “trust the process” way of thinking and have some belief that Toronto will be cap compliant and the roster will be better than last years. I’m not quite there with Treliving. He’s added interesting question marks and if everyone shows up as the best versions of themselves there is a reason to be excited. Having everyone outperform their previous years is a big ask and we don’t know how messy Treliving’s path to cap compliance will be so I don’t think you can blame people for being overly cautious about how this plays out.

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