In Part One of my off-season review, I took a look at the transactions made by the Toronto Maple Leafs in goal and on defense.
While defense was a glaring issue, they added some depth to the lineup with the addition of Matt Hunwick and Martin Marincin to short, cap-friendly deals.
I also took a look at Morgan Rielly (positive), Jake Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf. More specifically the questionable play surrounding the latter two.
Dion Phaneuf was a force to be reckoned with when he entered the league. He was nominated for the Calder Trophy alongside Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. He hasn’t been himself since he came to Toronto.
Jake Gardiner had an impressive rookie season in 2011-12 with 30 points in 75 games. But it seemed that after suffering a concussion in 2013, he hasn’t been the same.
Can Mike Babcock help turn two key pieces on the Leafs defense into the players they once were?
On the opening day of training camp, Mike Babcock came into his press conference with a message. Accountability. Compete. Preparation.
“The two things that irritate me the most are lack of preparation and lack of compete. That’s not happening. So, we’re going to get that fixed,” said the head coach.
Babcock also addressed that the last few years showed lack of confidence.
“They lose confidence. And they feel like they’re by themselves and they feel like no one has their back. And they feel like they can’t go anywhere, do anything and they’re not as proud as they should be,” he said.
“Can you imagine coming to the rink everyday and never feeling good about yourself? It’s amazing when you trust one another and you work as a five man unit and how the D suddenly look better.”
Link to the video: http://www.tsn.ca/video/nhl/babcock-s-blue-print~706884
Since day one, Mike Babcock is on a mission to bring respect back to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and make this team a winner. He’s clearly sticking to his word.
With camp opening up, the main questions that surround the forward group is: can this team produce offensively without Kessel? Who will step up? Who will make the team?
With a number of guys getting more of an opportunity, plus guys here on a PTO, they want to make a statement at this camp. Nazem Kadri is here to prove that he is a number one centre, while guys like Curtis Glencross, Devin Setoguchi and Brad Boyes are here to show that they still have what it takes to be in the NHL.
Lets take a look at the off-season acquisitions in the forward position.
Like defense, the contracts handed to the forwards were all affordable, one-year deals. The only exception is the signing of Daniel Winnik at two years. With these depth signings, roster spots will be a fight to the end to see who can impress and stay in the NHL.
The Leafs signed P.A. Parenteau to a one-year, $1.5M deal after an injury filled season with the Montreal Canadiens ultimately being bought out by the club. In 56 games, Parenteau tallied 14 assists and 22 points. After his career best in points in the 2011-12 season, Parenteau’s point production has taken a hit. Following that 67-point season, Parenteau notched 43 points in 2012-13 (mind you it was a lockout shortened season) and 33 points in 2013-14 with the Colorado Avalanche.
As of now, Parenteau could fit into a top-six role considering the lack of depth the Leafs have on the wing. The 32-year-old is trying to have a fresh start with the Leafs and hoping to have an impact on Babcock’s lineup. He’s looking to gain more ice-time with the club after averaging 14:59 of ice time per-game, which ranked 14th overall on the Habs.
After being traded last season to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs signed Daniel Winnik, this time to a two-year deal worth $4.5M, with a cap hit of $2.25M per-season
In 58 games with the Leafs, Winnik notched seven goals and 25 points and nine points with the Penguins.
Last year, Winnik impressed many with his two-way play. He was effective in the offensive zone, using his size to his advantage to help generate scoring chances. He was also very reliable on the back-check and in the defensive zone while playing third line minutes.
I expect Winnik to play the same role as he did last year. He is a guy that can provide strong play at both ends of the ice and can chip-in offensively every now and then.
The Leafs signed Arcobello to a one-year, $1.1M deal. Arcobello spent last season playing musical teams, spending time with the Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and the Arizona Coyotes.
While jumping from team to team, Arcobello managed to 17 goals and 14 assists while averaging 15:40 minutes per game. Arcobello has good advanced stats, having a CF%Rel of 2.72. Meaning when he was off the ice, the team was a 49.53 per cent possession team. He also has a Corsi plus/minus of plus 81.
Like many of the players in the bottom-six role, Arcobello will be fighting for a spot to show Babcock and management what he is capable of. He has great speed and can be an effective playmaker.
The Leafs signed Matthias to a one-year, $2.3M deal after scoring 18 goals with the Vancouver Canucks last season.
A Mississauga, ON. native, Matthias has stated that he is excited to play for the hometown team. In an interview with NHL.com, Matthias said that Mike Babcock was a big part in his decision to come to Toronto after having spent some time with him in the Detroit organization.
Matthias also stated that he wants to be with the organization long term.
In an article by Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, Matthias stated, “I’ve got to prove to them that I belong here and show them that I really do care about being with this organization and how badly I want it. That’s my goal.”
With Matthias being a centre, it will be interesting to see where he fits in the lineup. Could he be a third line centre? Or can he be used as a winger to give the Leafs more depth? Since he’s a natural centre, it’s best to keep him where he has had success and is comfortable.
Panik re-signed with the Leafs to a one-year, $975K deal after a good showing with the Leafs playing a third line role.
Panik registered 11 goals and 17 points in 76 games.
Since he played in a bottom-six role, Panik will have to fight to keep his spot on the roster this year, especially with guys coming in on a PTO.
The Leafs acquired Grabner on the opening day of training camp for prospects Carter Verhaeghe, Matt Finn, Tom Nilsson, Christopher Gibson and Taylor Beck, whose time as a Maple Leaf was short lived.
Grabner notched eight goals and 13 points last season, playing 34 games with the New York Islanders. Grabner’s best season came in 2010-11 where he scored 34 goals and added 18 assists with the Islanders. Since then his point totals have dropped, breaking the 30-point mark once since his 52-point season.
I like the acquisition of Grabner. It gives the Leafs another option that they could use in the top-six, a great shot and speed as well as another body on the penalty-kill. Grabner averaged 1:16 in short-handed time on ice per-game, tenth among the Islanders.
Overall this is a good deal. I really think giving up five prospects was too much. On the other hand, the prospects heading the other way were unlikely to see action at the NHL level and haven’t made huge strides in their development with the Leafs. It gives them a chance to make an impact elsewhere. It also frees up cap space for the Leafs to potentially sign another player on a PTO or an undrafted player that stood out in the rookie tournament.
Nick Spaling was the lone NHL player that was heading back in the deal that saw Phil Kessel go to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Spaling tallied 27 points in 82 games with the Penguins last season and logged almost two minutes on the penalty-kill.
Spaling is battling for a centre position (potentially bottom-six) at training camp in what has become a competitive bottom-six in terms of positions.
Now, you’re probably wondering, “Where is Nazem Kadri?” Basically I’m saving the best for last combining his contract with questions at the forward position.
The Leafs signed Kadri to a one-year, $4.1M deal tallying 18 goals and 39 points last season after a decrease from his 50-points in 2013-14.
This is a great signing because after a down year and a suspension due to his attitude, professionalism and off-ice situations, it gives Kadri one last shot at being the highly-skilled centreman they drafted back in 2009.
This leads up to my question. Is this Nazem Kadri’s year to prove to management that he is worth the long-term investment?
Before you continue reading, you should definitely take a look at this piece on Nazem Kadri by Leafs Hub’s very own Disgruntled Hopeful:
While Kadri’s CF% was below the 50 per cent mark, he still had the ability to drive possession and generate quality shots even though the team as a whole has been a bad possession team since he earned a full time NHL spot.
Here is a chart created by Sean Tierney of Today’s Slap Shot:
First of all, a huge thanks to Sean for his assistance in helping me understand this chart as well as using it for this piece. Please follow him on Twitter: @SeanTierneyTSS.
This chart analyzes players’ high scoring chances with their goals per 60 minutes among forwards in the NHL since 2012. Kadri is located in the High-Chance Scorers section in the top right hand section, in the same category as Taylor Hall and Zach Parise. While he is just above the average, Kadri still has a great average in generating high scoring chances with a good goals per 60 minute ratio. He manages close to 18 chances and just under 0.8 goals per 60 minutes. It’s also important to note that former Leaf Phil Kessel is in the same category with Jonathan Toews, Jeff Carter and Logan Couture.
To go back to the question, “Is this Kadri’s year?” With the piece by Disgruntled Hopeful and the high scoring chances chart, I’m saying yes. Kadri has the ability to be a dangerous player in the offensive zone, why give up on a talented player?
That suspension was a strong message sent from Brendan Shanahan, a godsend if you will. This contract is a second chance. He is going into camp with a different attitude and the chance to take the reigns from Tyler Bozak as the number one centre this year with Mike Babcock behind the bench.
Management gave him this contract. Basically they’re saying, “We’re giving you this much money. This is your chance. You want to earn this money for a long-term contract? Show us that you want it.”
Obviously this isn’t the exact conversion the Leafs had with Kadri, but they are willing to give him another chance. His NHL salary went up each year and for the most part he produced.
The ball is in Kadri’s court now. He has a chance to stay long-term and be a key piece in this rebuild. If this fails, it doesn’t hurt the Leafs one bit. They have a chance to move a cap-friendly contract for more pieces and picks at the trade deadline.
But this offseason has been different for Kadri. He’s spent most of the season getting into game shape. A good sign that he’s committed and prepared for this season.
In the story Kadri stated, “There was no playing around this summer, it was right to work.” (full article)
This is the dedication and professionalism that Shanahan wanted to see in the young and talented centre. With Babcock behind the bench, Kadri will be in good hands.
With the subtraction of Kessel, will there be a lack of offensive production?
On paper, it looks like the offense could struggle. It’s difficult to lose and replace a five-time 30-goal scorer. While the offense will suffer, Leafs players are being optimistic this season.
Losing Phil Kessel is a huge blow to the Leafs offensive production. With him out of the picture, Mike Babcock is going to have to look throughout the entire lineup for offensive production. Look no further than for Kadri and James van Riemsdyk to be a huge part of carrying the Leafs offense in what could be a difficult first few years. Shawn Matthias had 18 goals last year. If he’s able to reach the 20 goal mark, that’ll be a huge bonus for the Leafs. P.A. Parenteau is looking to have a bounce back year and will do whatever it takes to help be an offensive presence. As veterans of the team, Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak will gain more chances to contribute offensively.
If Lupul can stay healthy, there is another 20 goals right there. If Bozak can repeat his 23-goal season last year, it might just work.
In an article by Jonas Siegel, Kadri stated that they will be a “hard-working team with some skill.”
James van Riemsdyk stated, “I think this year we’re going to be a puck-possession team. Obviously good defense is when you have the puck and hold onto it and play in their end. We’re excited to play that style.”
So many PTO’s, so very few spots
While many young players are trying to earn a roster spot, Curtis Glencross, Brad Boyes and Devin Setoguchi are trying to stay in the NHL. With the veteran forwards earning professional try-outs with the Leafs, this is an opportunity to prove that they still belong in the NHL.
Here’s a look at their numbers last year:
Curtis Glencross (WSH/CGY) 71 GP, 13 G, 22 A, 35 P
Brad Boyes (FLA) 78 GP, 14 G, 24 A, 38 P
Devin Setoguchi (Adirondack Flames AHL) 19 GP, 3G, 7 A, 10 P
Can the rookies steal a spot?
It’s no secret that the Leafs signed depth players and gave out a number of PTO’s to ensure that if they feel like a rookie isn’t ready, they have a veteran presence lined up and slot them into the roster. But what if a rookie excels management and the coaching staff’s expectations and is too good to send back to junior or the AHL?
William Nylander impressed at the rookie tournament along with Kasperi Kapanen and Nikita Shoshnikov. While I feel that Kapanen and Shoshnikov played extremely well at the tournament, I’d send them down to the Marlies and develop for another year.
But the real question lies with William Nylander. He’s no stranger to playing against men (did so as a 17 and 18-year old in Sweden) and he made a strong transition to North America by posting 32 points in 37 games with the Toronto Marlies.
I know this is a very bold prediction and I want the best for our prospects, but I think Nylander has a great chance to make the team. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong. Worst case scenario he goes back to the Marlies and can be a call-up. Let’s face it, no one wants to see his talent as a third line player. He should be in the top six. But, if he excels, then give him the spot. It’s preseason, anything can happen. Veterans are looking to keep a spot on an NHL roster while rookies are looking to steal a spot for themselves.
Leafs projected Roster:
JvR- Kadri- Parenteau
Lupul- Bozak- Grabner
Glencross- Matthias- Holland
Komarov- Spaling- Winnik
*Honourable mentions: William Nylander, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Devin Setoguchi.
*All stats were taken from NHL.com and War On Ice.