Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto Maple Leafs unearthed valuable pieces despite misses this season
By James Reeve1 month ago
In a season of mixed emotions for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s good to see some diamonds in the rough uncovered that have helped the team’s depth so far and could continue to do so beyond this year.
General manager Brad Treliving is under scrutiny this year already, with the team somewhat inconsistent at times and the summer additions largely viewed under a microscope by the fanbase.
The most notable players brought in this past summer were John Klingberg, Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi. No matter what these players have done, continue to do, or will do for the rest of the season, fans have strong opinions on them one way or another.
Domi and Bertuzzi look to be finding themselves within the Toronto Maple Leafs line-up, figuring out their roles and performing them to expectations, more or less, while Klingberg’s time with the team will largely be forgotten.
He struggled throughout the season before ultimately sidelined for the rest of the year after surgery on an injury that seriously puts his future playing career under threat. It’s not been a stellar start for Treliving in this regard, giving decent-sized contracts to players that won’t impact the team in the desired way, or will simply be good enough for the time being, but it’s further down the line-up that he has shone.
Depth players may be viewed as a dime-a-dozen, but having effective NHL players filling out the depth chart, with cheap contracts and some level of team control beyond this year, can be quite valuable for a team looking to compete and maintain a group that should be winning at the top end of the standings.
Depth players can often be interchangeable parts for many teams, but landing players that have a net-positive impact are hard to find. But that seems to be the case with forward Noah Gregor and defenceman Simon Benoit.
Gregor is a speedy winger who has and will forever be a depth player in the NHL, with five goals and seven total points through 31 games this season, but his tenacity and physical approach to the game makes him an asset to a team that tends to not play that way often enough.
Gregor already has 55 hits this season and has spent time throughout the line-up under Sheldon Keefe, even seeing a brief stint on the top line while injuries were hampering the team. He’s a player that the team will undoubtedly be keen to keep around, for the right price, and his contract should certainly help that come to fruition.
At 25 years old, Gregor is an RFA after this season, though he is arbitration eligible, so the team will have a significant level of control over his future. Even if Gregor tries to land a higher-paying deal, his role and production with the team will likely see him max out at around $1 million, with his current deal paying him just $775,000.
Benoit, meanwhile, is also a 25-year-old impending RFA with arbitration rights when the season is over, also earning just $775k. The Laval, Quebec native plays an almost exclusive defensive defenceman role, starting in his own zone 56.4% of the time and registering exactly zero points through 17 games.
After arriving from the Anaheim Ducks in free agency, the left-shot blueliner has filled a hole admirably while the Leafs have struggled immensely with injuries issues on the back-end.
Despite playing such a depth role, averaging just 14:57 on the ice, Benoit has blocked 29 shots and has thrown an impressive 49 hits, putting his impressive 6-foot-3, 201lbs frame to good use.
For a team that is desperate to improve in its own end, having a player that is capable of being effective even further down the pecking order is valuable, especially as the team is expected to compete for the Stanley Cup every year.
Being able to retain his services next season, regardless of how this season plays out, gives the Leafs some depth security. Benoit could conceivably land a bigger role on another team in the off-season, if he continues to play regularly and put up decent defensive numbers, but the Leafs could see him come back on another manageable contract and give themselves more flexibility in the near future.
Some of the bigger name acquisitions may not pan out as was initially hoped, but Treliving has at the very least picked up a couple of guys that have value, both now and in the future, and could find other diamonds in the rough further down the line that can compliment the guys at the top end of the depth chart.
Sometimes, it’s the small victories that make a big difference and in the cases of Benoit and Gregor, that certainly seems to be the case.
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