A while back I wrote a piece called “The Draft is Ripe With Grit” which can be found here http://leafshub.com/the-draft-is-ripe-with-grit/ . Now that the draft has come and gone, and the selections were made, I will admit that I didn’t expect many gritty players to be chosen.
I was pleasantly surprised. The word of the day was GRIT!! Mark Hunter even did me a solid and drafted one of the prospects I outlined in that article. Keaton Middleton is a massive kid that plays a hard nosed game, and if he makes the NHL I know we’ll love him. I attempted to include players that I felt had top 9 or top 6 potential. I wanted to outline those players because I felt the Leafs would still concentrate on skill above all else, but if they could get a skill/grit combo they would likely jump at it. So while I wouldn’t classify Keaton as the most skilled player, he isn’t totally without potential either.
The over age picks are very interesting to me. I truly believe that we didn’t just draft their potential, we also drafted their loyalty. To be passed over can’t be easy for these young players. Generally speaking, they’ve always been the most highly skilled players in their towns/growing up and are the guys that always made the team. Being on the outside looking in has to be tough. This goes double for a guy like Adam Brooks who was passed over in the draft twice before. You have to think that as he inched towards the end of his junior career he had to have doubts about his professional future. It’s not a stretch to think that he now feels he owes the Leafs his allegiance and will work that much harder to prove they made the right decision.
I have seen a lot of graphs and charts that support the selection of an over age player, but these points seem to go unmentioned. One more point that is Maple Leafs specific. For a team that is constantly threatened by “blue and white disease” you have to appreciate the possibility of adding one of these players to your dressing room in the future. These over age guys are players that didn’t give up, won’t back down, and are now willing to fight even harder for that extra inch for the team that finally took a chance on them.
Our GM doesn’t care where you were picked or what name is on the back of your jersey. You’re a Toronto Maple Leaf and you’re going to act like one, play like one, and get paid like one.
Auston Matthews appears to be a great guy who is happy to be in the NHL. He isn’t bitter that he wasn’t selected by the Arizona Coyotes. He is genuinely proud to have been selected 1st overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He won’t hold a grudge and act like a child. He has already said he’ll sign when his agent tells him he’s ready to sign and I believe him. Do I think he cares if that’s today or early September? No. No I don’t. As long as this doesn’t drag into training camp I think each side will be more than happy with the other.
Gotta give a top of the ol’ hat here to Rami who said it best. Chill. http://leafshub.com/chill/ If you haven’t read his article yet I highly recommend you do. To quote a former Leafs head coach, just breath.
Wanted: Backup Goaltender
Frederik Andersen is the #1G in Toronto right now. I assumed Bernier would spend a year backing him up but am also not surprised they opted to trade him. So now getting a backup is one more thing on Lous to-do list for this summer, that list isn’t all that long though.
There are a lot of options out there. The best in my opinion? Reto Berra. The price would be more than manageable considering what the Panthers gave up for him. More importantly is his play though. He’s a solid backup and thats something that most other options aren’t the perfect fit for.
The best free option is Jhonas Enroth by most accounts, though some would vote Karri Ramo. Both options have their pros and cons. I think if the Leafs had interest in either it would be done already and also think neither is the perfect fit. Jhonas Enroth had great numbers but played on a strong team and saw limited starts. Karri Ramo has been consistently “just okay” but I’d prefer to target a little better.
There is also the option of killing two birds with one stone. Lou Lamiorello is actively shopping Joffrey Lupul. Some believe it would benefit both teams if the Leafs traded Lupul for Kari Lehtonen. This idea has some credence. The Leafs would effectively open a forward spot for a young Marlie, or another free agent while getting a solid backup. The Stars would add a depth scorer and would allow for the acquisition of Ben Bishop, whom they are believed to be interested in. From the outside looking in it seems like a perfect fit.
There is one more similar option that I would like to discuss. This is totally of my own creation and is likely not possible. It does make some sense though. The Winnipeg Jets resigned Michael Hutchinson to a 2 year contract a few weeks back. They also have Connor Hellebuyck, who played really well for them this season, and Ondrej Pavelec under contract.
Pavelec is the goalie that interests me here. He is the oldest of the group and only once has he had a SV% above 0.914. That was during the 2014-15 campaign in which he posted a 0.920SV% and 2.28GAA in 50 games. Far and away his best season. Pavelec has a career SV% of 0.907 and GAA of 2.85. Those aren’t great numbers but he isn’t an altogether terrible goalie.
The thing is, he was given a contract based on potential. In each year of his deal his salary has increased. Sadly, his play has not. This season, the final year of his contract, will see him make 4.75M. They also have another veteran in the regression category in Drew Stafford who is set to make 4.35M this year. They combine to make 9.1M.
On the Leafs side, Joffrey Lupul will make an even 9M over the final 2 years of his contract. By trading for him the Jets would solve their goalie jam and would gain a forward to expose to the expansion draft. If/when he went undrafted by Las Vegas they could buy him out and save even more cash. It would likely take more from the Leafs to get the deal done but they do have some assets to trade such as Peter Holland. The money works, there would be similar problems solved like in Dallas and both teams would find themselves in a better position next year. Just a dream scenario.
Speaking of Lupul, I really wish Lou Lamoriello did this more quietly. We are where we are though and bridges are being burned. What I have noticed over the years is when a team publicly admits to wanting to trade a player that has regressed quite a bit, like Lupul has, the end result is generally a buyout. My prediction is he won’t be traded for somebody elses problem. Instead, they’ll try to squeeze him into enough games to make him expansion draft eligible and when he inevitably doesn’t get picked by Las Vegas, they’ll cut ties with a buyout. Maybe I’m wrong on this, God knows this management group has done nothing but surprise me so far.
By now we’ve heard everybodys opinion on what they did on July 1st. The only thing I’d like to add is that I know we’ll love Matt Martin as a player. That doesn’t mean everybody needs to like the signing though. The dollars are too high but manageable, while the term is a little too long but again, it can be managed.
What I really don’t get is this: The Leafs had a relatively soft lineup while Colton Orr was here. Once teams realized that you could just walk away from him he became extremely uneffective. He wasn’t on the ice for much of the game, so the opposition went ahead and took liberties while he was on the bench and then hid for the time he wasn’t.
I realize Martin will play more and is a better player but I don’t understand why people are dusting off their hands like this is a job well done and we’ll be fine. I don’t understand why people assume he’ll be so much more effective than Colton Orr. A glance at our roster and teams will realize there are only 2 players you need to avoid, Martin and Polak. Aside from them you can run around all night with little to no consequence.
My point here is this. The job isn’t done. We’re not a tough team by any stretch. So while we may see a few dust ups and more gritty play this year, it’s not nearly close enough. Like anything else, it will take time to solve this problem and the draft was a big step in that direction.
Filling Up Big
During the tenure of Burke and Nonis, which I will lump into one time frame because it was one long hellish ride, they had trouble filling the big holes in the lineup. Which is putting it nicely. Bernier and Reimer were as close to legit starters as they got. Bozak and Kadri were as close to legit #1 centers as they could get. Dion Phaneuf lead the defense but Morgan Rielly would have eventually surpassed him, so they did fairly well in that regard.
Turn the page to the time of the ShanaClan and it’s amazing to see how well they’ve done with filling major roles. Even before Matthews they brought in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. It’s possible that either one could have at least turned into a capable #1C. As it stands right now it appears that neither will have to carry that load. Since May 2nd, the Leafs have done this:
Drafted Auston Matthews – high probability of being a legit #1C
Traded for Frederik Andersen – not fully proven but looks like he’ll be a solid #1G
Signed Nikita Zaitsev – potential top 4, right shot defenseman (don’t want to raise expectations here but wasn’t Taylor Hall just traded for a player of similar age, size, position and handedness?)
Three major pieces if they work out and all acquired in the span of a couple of months. For those fans out there clamouring for more, I need to stop you. I have to ask that you step back for a moment and take a look at the big picture instead of asking “what have you done for me lately?” This management group is adding pieces at an astounding rate, but it has to slow at some point. Eventually they will figure out who the new core group is and their concentration will turn to surrounding them with the correct depth pieces. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.
One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned about Andersen is how his new contract and the trading of Bernier could effect his psyche. For years we have had goalies battling to be #1. It’s been Reimer vs The Monster. Or Reimer vs Bernier. Or Bernier vs himself. Now it will be Andersen the starter and a backup. That’s something we haven’t heard in too long and it has to make Andersen relax a little. He isn’t playing for a contract and he knows exactly where he’ll be for the next 5 years. He isn’t coming to camp to fight for the starting gig and he knows if he hits a road bump he’ll be given every opportunity to right the ship. So while he should want to work as hard as possible to thank the Leafs for showing confidence in him, he can relax and play his game at the same time. No Leafs goalie has been afforded that in a long time.
Youth, Youth and More Youth
I’ll end on this: the Leafs appear to be heading towards a season where at least a handful of rookies will hit the ice. Last year was likely too early for some, even if we felt they were ready at the time. Those players will make it impossible for management to deny them an opportunity this year.
If I were a betting man I would put money on William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nikita Zaitsev, Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Connor Carrick and Connor Brown all playing half a season or more for the Leafs this year.
I for one can’t wait for it to begin.