The Toronto Maple Leafs have been labelled an offensive juggernaut, but looking down their depth chart and they appear much more like a top-heavy carousel that might topple over without the proper support.
Of course you cannot avoid the upper talent of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, etc., but when it comes to stars within this league, they only play a portion of the game. Leaving about one-third of the game to the bottom two forward lines — for a team to be successful and pressure the competition in any available minutes that they can, that would lead to more wins. Everybody wants more wins.
It’s an extremely broad look at how a lineup is constructed, but beyond Kadri and Kapanen, the Leafs have four forwards that are just simply there when it comes to their on-ice production. Frederik Gauthier is a good story but not an NHL-calibre centre, Nik Petan looked solid late last season, but hasn’t been with the Leafs long enough to truly get a grasp on what he is, Trevor Moore looked amazing but in limited ice-time, while Patrick Marleau and likely Connor Brown won’t be in Toronto to start next season.
If the 2019 playoffs told the hockey world anything, it’s that offensive depth is key for a long run into the playoffs. Depending on teams to win 16 of the 28 games, different players would be needed to step up in those rare opportunities. Every minute counts and if you’re giving one-third of those minutes to inadequate skaters, then you’re heavily depending on your stars to produce every single shift.
It’s possible, but very unlikely throughout a full season and even in several playoff games, to get the same level of production at the top.
That’s where the hypothetical free agent signing of Joonas Donskoi comes into play. At 27, Donskoi is certainly not a forward that has a limited timeline and will only be effective at the beginning of the contract. No matter the length of his new deal, he will most likely still be an important depth piece by the time it expires.
He has been a solid 35-point winger during his four years in San Jose, not the elite point producer like other players on the Sharks, but Donskoi has been there in their depths and keeping the puck going their way.
Considering that he has only averaged 14:04 TOI through those four years, he won’t put up those raw numbers that will make him a hot commodity. But when he is on the ice, he’s performing at an elite level.
According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s isolated impact model, Donskoi performs at a very-high level for his team at both ends of the ice. A seven per cent increase compared to league average on offence, and the same percentage defensively — he always has the chances going the way he wants.
That shows up significantly in his shot attempt percentage numbers. Donskoi’s career-low in corsi for percentage was a 53 per cent, above league average by a solid amount.
He had a role on San Jose and he did it extremely well.
That might seem like he would be leaving the Northern California franchise for a massive pay upgrade, but according to Evolving Wild’s contract predictor for this offseason, Donskoi’s most likely contract is a three-year deal with a cap hit of just under $2.8-million. Extremely reasonable.
Even while looking at the other cap hit projections for the length of the contract, Donskoi will be able to come in at an understandable number for what he provides.
Cap Hit ($)
It makes sense that the highest percentage of probability will be a mid-range term — he’s a 27-year-old winger that has only four years of NHL experience, but has never been one of the top contributors in raw stats on the Sharks. Doesn’t put up the points, but with some right deployment, his underlying numbers demonstrate that he will improve the play of players around him.
With the likely departure of significant contracts and cap hits, like Zaitsev ($4.5M) and Brown ($2.1M), the Leafs should have room for a depth offensive player like Donskoi.
Toronto is a top-heavy team currently and it was clearly evident through their late-season and playoff performances. The bottom two lines were exposed when better players are controlling and driving the play were on the opposite team — a hypothetical addition of Donskoi should shift that in the Leafs’ favour.
A controllable contract and a player that controls the play, something that the Leafs could use.