The dust hasn’t yet settled on the Maple Leafs’ offseason, and it won’t until Mitch Marner is signed, but I’m now thinking that negotiations are going to drag well into the summer, so rather than wait to write about everything all at once, I figured I’d push this out on a lazy Saturday in mid July.
General managers talk a lot about the importance of the draft. In order to keep a steady stream of NHL calibre players feeding into the system you need to draft and develop talent in-house.
Each GM has their own tendencies. That’s basically a known fact, but the tendency shift we’ve seen from a couple of GMs past is very dramatic.
Brian Burke was a guy that valued grit and size immensely. It seemed that his sole purpose as GM of the Leafs was to unearth the next Milan Lucic. With picks such as Tyler Biggs and David Broll, that dream never came to fruition, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Then came Dave Nonis, who only ran one draft of his own so we can’t really be sure what his drafting in Toronto may have looked like. It’s understood at this point that, while he was GM of the Leafs during the 2013 and 2014 drafts, he wasn’t the guy calling the shots in 2014, that honour belonged to newly minted president Brendan Shanahan.
From there we see a year in which Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter ran the draft as co-interim GMs, and two years of Lou Lamoriello. The drafting strategy was all over the place during that time. From small and skilled players such as Jeremy Bracco and Mitch Marner, to towering defenders Eemeli Rasanen and Fedor Gordeev, to overagers and gritty players like Carl Grundstrom, nobody knew what exactly the Leafs were going to pull out next. Maybe this period was a true “Best Player Available” time, or maybe it was a power struggle between assistant GMs Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter. Either way, it doesn’t appear to have unearthed any late round gems at this moment, but that’s another story for another day. This story is about the current GM, Kyle Dubas, and his current strategy.
2018 was the first Dubas run draft, and just over one year later we can see exactly what the strategy is. Here, in all its glory, is a list of the players taken in the previous two drafts:
|Rd.||Player Name||Position||Height||Weight (pounds)|
|2||Nicholas Robertson||Left Wing||5’9”||160|
|6||Pontus Holmberg||Left Wing||5’10”||176|
|7||Semyon Kizimov||Right Wing||6’||176|
The grand total is 15 players drafted, 4 of which are 6’ and over, while none are above 6’2”. The only player selected that is 6’2” is a goalie as well. A whopping 7 players are 5’10” or below, and not a single draftee is above 190 pounds.
On top of the obvious bias towards small, speedy, skilled players, is a bias towards position. Out of the 15 players drafted there are 7 defenders, 4 centres, 2 left wingers, 1 right winger and 1 goalie. There’s an obvious bias towards defenders and centres, the two positions the organization is lacking in the most.
The question has to be asked I think. Is this a sound strategy? Or is this simply Brian Burke with a different agenda? Or worse again, is this a step further than even Burke went? While there is a larger sample size to draw from, Burke did mix in a few players that were smaller in stature, such as Tony Cameranesi (5’10”, 185) and Connor Brown (6’, 183). They weren’t ALL monsters on skates.
Through two seasons of drafting with Kyle Dubas it appears he hasn’t been able to find a single skilled skater above the height of 6’1”. Curious, that, considering he has backed undrafted players such as Justin Holl and Mason Marchment, both standing at 6’4” and around 200 pounds. It’s not as if he’s against having players with size in the lineup, he simply seems as determined as Burke was in finding the next Milan Lucic, in finding the next Johnny Gaudreau (4th round, #104 overall).
I do like the value being placed on defenders and centres and I’ve said that before. Centres can switch to the wing if need be, and often do, as the transition is much easier, but wingers haven’t proven to be able to make the adjustment as easily. So, while drafting centres may hurt you because you’re limiting the number of players you’re considering taking, if you end up with an abundance of them you can still fill in holes on the wings if necessary. As for drafting nearly 50% defenders, well, hopefully that pays off down the road, as defenders will always be in high demand. With all of this said, why limit yourself as they appear to be doing?
Last question. How many guys like Josh Manson (round 6), Jacob Slavin (round 4), or Mark Stone (round 6) are being passed over because they’re bigger players that don’t fit into the “undervalued due to their small size” envelope?
It’s interesting to think about, considering they have gotten even smaller this year through trades…..
First off I think this fan base owes (and paid) him a lot of respect for what he did with the team. A great presence on and off the ice, he was a victim of a contract he could never live up to, and I think a lot of people knew that as soon as it was signed.
The fans were gracious about it of course, even after it took a big payment to move out his contract.
I can’t say I was happy with the price, as many would agree, but it was a necessary move in order to get down to other business, also something many would agree on.
Nikita Zaitsev, on the other hand, was a much more difficult contract to get out from underneath, but I think they came out of it looking good. Connor Brown has been a great soldier for the Leafs, and he’ll be missed at the end of the day. He is a victim of depth at the right wing position in this case, as all of Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are ahead of him on the depth chart. A good player that was easy to move on from is the best way to describe it. Then there’s Michael Carcone, a small player at the age of 23 with decent, but not great, AHL scoring totals. For the Leafs he is also a player that was easy to move on from. He’ll likely find a better opportunity in Ottawa, where he’ll be buried behind less depth, so this is a plus for the player as well.
All of this to get back Cody Ceci, a player that just might benefit from a change in scenery, after being the most used player on a penalty killing unit that was so bad last year it landed some of the players in hot water after a video of them surfaced in which they made fun of the coaching staff for running, well, a terrible penalty kill. A right shot, like Zaitsev, Ceci may be a lateral move, but giving him a year outside of Ottawa will be very telling.
The second most used player on Ottawas brutal PK unit? Ben Harpur.
A player that, if I’m right, will be loved by his teammates and coach more than his GM, Harpur is a Burke-type monster on skates that doesn’t seem to fit into the group at all. Through 112 career NHL games (regular season + playoffs), the 6’6”, 225lb Harpur has produced a whopping 1 goal and 9 points. An offensive force he is not.
However, he is a willing combatant, and that, in my opinion (and the majority that frequent this Hub), has value. I know goaltender Frederik Andersen will appreciate having a player with that size back there to manhandle anybody that dares crash his net.
I may be getting ahead of myself a bit here though, as I’m not even convinced that he’ll start the year with the Leafs.
The last player involved in the deal, Aaron Luchuk, will provide the AHLs Toronto Marlies with some much needed centre depth.
Lastly, the big trade, the one that involved the polarizing Nazem Kadri.
It’s been well reported that Kadri nixed some deals before he was sent to Colorado. His contract came with a 10 team no-trade list, and it was reported that he stopped deals to Carolina, Winnipeg and Calgary before he landed in Colorado. While no amount of details really came out involving the Hurricanes, it’s generally assumed that the deal involved right shot defender Justin Faulk. If we base things off of what we know from elsewhere then it’s likely there was also a player involved that could play down the middle on the 3rd line. It’s pure conjecture on my part but Lucas Wallmark would have made some sense.
As for Calgary, it’s widely reported that the deal involved T.J. Brodie and Mark Jankowski.
Brodie is a left shot defender that has played a ton of minutes on the right side with Mark Giordano. He is also a player that has been criticized for not looking nearly as good when he’s away from Giordano, so this might be a dodged bullet. Mark Jankowski would be a solid addition to the team. He’s a guy that can log a lot of minutes while short handed, and considering the Leafs went through last season without a single natural centre to take draws while down a man, that would have been a big boost to the PK unit. A play as simple as winning the draw back to your defender, who then clears it down the ice, shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The deal the Leafs ended up with comes with great potential, but also a couple of red flags. Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot easily combine for the best offensive numbers when compared to the other rumoured players, but neither one of them have ever played meaningful minutes as penalty killers. Their minutes were spent at even strength and on the powerplay, and that’s not exactly where the Leafs are in need of help the most.
We’ll start with Tyson Barrie, as he’s going to be the most important player in the deal for the Leafs. With just over 4 minutes a night on the powerplay last season, and with 25 of his 59 points coming with the man advantage, it might be a good bet to assume that his point totals could drop this year depending on his usage. Compare those numbers to Morgan Rielly, who played just over 2:30 TOI/GP on the powerplay, and produced 21 of his 72 points with the man advantage, if you’re looking for your #1 units quarterback then you probably stick with the guy that has already been doing it here successfully.
This is if they stick with the 4 forward, 1 defender setup with the man advantage. If the coaching staff decides to move back to a 3 forward, 2 defender unit then Rielly and Barrie could see time together while up a man, and that might prove to be a great option. Under this setup you could see two chain reactions.
First, you would see at least one of Marner, Tavares, Matthews, or Nylander relegated to the 2nd unit, which would boost that units skill level. You might even consider moving two of those players to the second unit in order to run a 1st unit of Matthews, Nylander, Johnsson, Rielly, Barrie, for example. Second, you could allow players such as Jake Muzzin or Travis Dermott the opportunity to run the 2nd unit, which would give them more ice, and, in Dermotts case, a bigger opportunity to show the team what he can do with some offensive minutes.
At the end of the day this amount of forward depth gives you ample opportunity to run two very potent offensive units while up a man, but, as I said, it will likely mean Barrie gets far less than 4 minutes a night with the man advantage. How much this affects his point totals is the question.
As for Alex Kerfoot, he spent just over 2 minutes a night on the powerplay and produced 16 of his 42 points that way. He seems destined for the 2nd unit in Toronto, which is where he found himself in Colorado as well. With just under 15 minutes a night total last year, I would think we can expect about the same production from him as he has managed the past two years, somewhere in the low 40s.
This is all fine and well for a team that placed 8th in the league in powerplay proficiency last season.
It’s the penalty kill that needs work, and even Kyle Dubas has said this himself.
This is where the potential comes in. Kerfoot improved his FO% to 56% last season, which is a terrific number. He took nearly 500 faceoffs as well, which is comparable to the amount taken by Frederik Gauthier. He didn’t spend the full year playing as a centre, but it’s very possible that he’ll get more time there with the Leafs this season. If he can keep his FO% above 50%, and if he can slot in on the penalty kill and find success there, then he might be exactly the player the Leafs have been looking for to fill the 3C spot. His defensive game is still a work in progress from all accounts, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
If Kerfoot doesn’t land a spot on the PK, then these trades have balanced the left/right shooting of the blueline, and they have given the Leafs a centre that can produce nearly as much as last seasons 3C, Nazem Kadri, at a lesser cap hit. Yet they’ve also sent 3 of the top 4 penalty killers out for players that I wouldn’t deem as upgrades to the unit. Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Brown are all in Ottawa next season, and are being replaced by Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur and …… well, that’s it.
So, unless you expect players such as Nick Shore or Kenny Agostino to not only make the team, but to also log big PK minutes, and then make that unit better than it was, or for players such as Kapanen or Marner to step up in a big way, then I think the short handed woes we witnessed in the postseason will be on full display yet again this coming year.
Obviously Frederik Andersen has to be the teams best penalty killer, and that hasn’t really been the case lately.
Andersen ranked 42nd among goalies that started at least 20 games last season in PP/SV%, with a 0.849SV%. For a goalie that started the 7th most games in the NHL that number has to go up, as it can’t all be on the PK unit in front of him. Moreover, his 0.917SV% overall was 15th in the league, which is a terrific number considering the defensive group has been lacking (to put it nicely) as of late. If they can get his numbers up to join the top 20 in the league, which would mean a 0.800SV% or better while the team is down a man, then they’re going to look a whole lot better.
Many will say that a little more rest may help in this instance, but with Garret Sparks still on the Leafs roster, and Michael Hutchinson being his top competition for the backup gig, it’s hard to think that Andersen will get more rest than he did last season. They could really use a top notch backup, and with Cam Ward being the top option available in free agency, it would appear that the trade route or standing pat is their best options at this point.
I guess we can hope that Sparks didn’t take another summer off, and that he can come to camp better after working for it. If not then I will take pity on the guy, as taking the summer off after he lead the Marlies to a Calder Cup Championship was just about the most ill advised thing he could have done, and it may define his career. There are no minutes, days, weeks, and especially summers off if you want to be in the NHL, and it’s why I’m writing about it and not playing there. I do love to relax.
Take a breath.
That means you Paul, Dave, Mitch, Kyle, and especially Bon!! (not that he’ll read this)
The player that I felt would be the easiest to extend, considering his background as a Leaf fan, has easily turned into the toughest. After not getting a full bonus package in his entry level deal, Marner is now holding out for a big payday. Up until now I’ve tried to avoid speaking about it, because it’s a situation that has many great points from either side. When everybody is right I tend to simply listen.
It’s a fact that Marner has lead the team in points for two years running now, even before the arrival of John Tavares. The fact is he is our best setup man and best winger (with all due respect to Nylander). It’s a fact that he has lead the team in powerplay points two years in a row as well. It’s also a fact that no player has matched his 94pt effort in his lifetime. As a Leaf fan he has never seen anybody else do what he just did in a Leafs sweater, just let that sink in for a moment. So, with all of that said and with all of that just off the top of my head, it should be a given that he receives a big fat cheque for his efforts.
However, he is comparing himself to Matthews and it’s also a fact that centres are worth more, and Matthews is a centre. It’s also a fact that Matthews only trailed him by a single point on the powerplay this year, while having played 14 less games. It’s also a fact that goals tend to hold more value to NHL teams than assists, and Matthews is adept at finding twine.
If you ask me, it’s a fact that Matthews is worth more, so then the question is just how much more?
That’s yet to be determined but I am interested in hearing about the offer sheet talk that has been going on lately. The numbers are simple to figure out with a quick look at capfriendly.com. There are very few teams that have the cap space to send an offer that the Leafs wouldn’t match, as the price likely gets up around 10.6M (or more) before Kyle Dubas seriously considers allowing Marner to walk. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team most recently rumoured to have spoken to Marners camp, are a club that would have difficulty fielding a large offer. With 15M in cap space, and Zach Werenski still unsigned, it’s unlikely they could get both under contract without going above the cap ceiling.
Many teams have spoken w Marner’s agent about a possible offer sheet, and, yes, CBJ are among them. But I see no indication Marner wants to leave TML. Also, #CBJ convinced Leafs would/could match any offer sheet, perhaps by trading Nylander.
See where the summer goes. https://t.co/gcn092r1dm
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) July 12, 2019
For the sake of argument, let’s look at the teams that could field an offer above $10,568,590, or the threshold that would see the Leafs compensated to the tune of four 1st round picks. Because anything below that number is manageable for the Leafs as far as staying below the cap ceiling is concerned, and the next lower tier of compensation (1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd) is lower than Marner is worth in a trade, $10,568,589 and below is an easy match by the Leafs, so we need to look at who can offer above that.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs have 23M in cap space, but also have Mikko Rantanen and JT Compher to re-sign. That will cost at least 12M, so there would be room to fit Marner as well in theory. They’re also a budget team last I checked, so aren’t likely to spend to the cap ceiling. I think they’re out as a likely offer sheet candidate but for what it’s worth, they’re probably the best fit if they wanted to be ruthless about it.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have a ton of cap space, but, like the Avalanche, that’s about to be eaten up by their own RFAs. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor top the list. By the time they’re done I doubt there will be room for Marner, and besides, with just 2 defenders signed past this season, I think their long term worries are on the blueline and not adding to an already terrific forward group.
Ottawa Senators: Like the Leafs, I don’t think the Sens want to watch another team stand at the podium to select in the top 5 with one of their picks ever again. Let alone 4 years in a row. Every fan of every Ontario team will agree that once is enough, thank you very much. In short, the Sens aren’t nearly good enough to offer sheet Marner.
New Jersey Devils: A team that is about ready to turn the corner and trend up….. WAY up. They are similar to the Leafs of a few years ago, as they have a ton of talent on ELCs, but they’ll want to conserve cap space to sign those players in the years to come. They aren’t ready to compete at the moment but aren’t far off, I think this is the right team at the wrong time.
That’s actually the end of the list. Any team that currently has 10.57M in cap space or more (Minnesota, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Columbus) has their own players to sign, so they really only have that space in theory.
Long story short, stop buying into the talk of an offer sheet. Not only would a team have to allocate a massive amount of cap space to fit the player, but they’d also have to spend four 1st round picks to make it happen. That, combined with a lack of suitors, means that Marner can’t use this as a negotiating tool until the start of the season. That, I expect, is how long this is going to take to settle. Buckle up Leaf Nation, we’re in for a long summer of Marner watch.
Last note on this, and it has to do with Marners lack of bonuses in his entry level contract. In order to make my point I’ll tell a short story without much detail.
I was working at a job that I wasn’t just good at, I was great at it. I didn’t feel that I was being paid what I was worth so I approached management for a raise. The conversation was quick and the answer was no, I wouldn’t get the extra money I wanted.
So I visited another company and asked for, and received, a job. I negotiated a fair wage that was well above what I had been making, and above the ask submitted to my current employer.
Then I returned to my employer, offer in hand, and gave my notice.
They matched the wage and I continued to work for that company for another 5 years with regular raises that had also been discussed as part of staying where I was. It was a simple deal really and, when you think about it, it was much like an offer sheet.
What I didn’t do was ask for backpay. A raise was long overdue, but I hadn’t asked and they didn’t offer. Whose fault was that? Definitely mine. I can tell you right now that if I did ask for backpay I would have switched companies, because there’s absolutely no way it would have been approved.
The point is this, Mitch didn’t get his bonuses and he’s now saying that he took a paycut for the team on his ELC, so he should be compensated for that today. However, what he hasn’t take into account was Lou Lamoriello, the guy that negotiated his ELC, isn’t about to offer squat if you don’t fight for it because that’s how business works. Apparently he also hasn’t considered the fact that at that time they didn’t need him to take a discount because they had a ton of cap space and a ton of cash. Right now, today, is when they need an extra half million of cap space to fill that spot on the 4th line. To fit that guy that makes 750K but is a terrific guy to have on the penalty kill, or to up their offer just slightly to a player like Muzzin or Barrie next summer to convince them to stay, that’s what Kyle Dubas is negotiating for. It’s now, not then, that Kyle Dubas is negotiating for, so taking a hard stance based on a previous contract doesn’t make a ton of sense. Like it was my fault, it’s Marners fault that he didn’t make more money before this, and even though the company he currently works for is the one that didn’t pay him, that’s his fault more than theirs.
Drop the past. Look to the future. Get paid for who you are today and own your mistakes of yesterday by not letting them happen again. This is what we all do. Mitch should too.
It would also be nice to hear something good from the Marner camp for a change. It’s been nothing but offer sheets and big paydays. Meanwhile, around the NHL, young RFAs are talking about how much they love their teams and are confident things will work out if they are just given the time needed to work things out. Besides, Jordan needs something positive to read about for a change.