Two contract related moves by the Toronto Maple Leafs in two days? It’s talking point Christmas in Toronto! Today, the Leafs signed Korbinian Holzer to a two year contract, with a cap hit of $787,500.
The general reaction right now could and should realistically be indifference, with some outliers. But as it stands, the feeling is negative. Let me try to slow this one down a bit…
The argument against this signing right now is that he’s been bad this year. For those who track hockey using their eyes, he’s made semi-frequent mistakes that most new NHL defencemen make. For those who care about standard stats, his two goals and zero assists don’t leave you anticipating much offensive growth. If you believe in the mess that is real time stats, his hits per game are third on the team, and he’s blocking shots more frequently than anyone else. He gives away the puck fairly often, and doesn’t take it back a lot. He has a high shooting percentage, but that’s luck from someone who rarely shoots. Lastly, if you’re into advanced stats, he’s the suckiest player to ever suck. His glaring stat that works against him is his dead last ranking in Corsi.
All of these combine to a basic point – Holzer hasn’t been good with the Leafs as he begins his NHL career, making signing him now ridiculous and bad. I won’t disagree with his lack of success thus far. As someone I had a lot of excitement for, he’s been very visible on the ice for the Leafs this year, and for a player like him, that’s not a good thing. But with that said, it’s tough to be against this move.
Watching Holzer of the past few years with the Toronto Marlies has been intriguing, as he became a more mature, well rounded defensive defenceman. The same growing pains he appears to have now were a constant in his rookie year, as he jumped from Germany’s DEL to the North American game. Adding another gear and talent level will obviously have an adjustment period involved.
After all, let’s be honest with ourselves – the biggest jump between the AHL and NHL is speed. Both foot speed and in reaction time. Yes, there’s talent plays that happen, but it’s more about how quick you can get a play in motion that separates the two levels. Holzer is used to a different tempo, and being able to make more patient decisions. It’s not an easy place to be in. But it’s one that I’m confident he can get adjusted to in due time. Last season, particularly in the playoffs, was a good indicator of his capabilities to play the defensive game on this side of the pond.
In the meantime, yes, he’s making his mistakes. No, he’s nowhere close to the team’s best defender. But it’s not like this will be a multi-million dollar contract, or like he’ll get a no movement clause. Running him as a #7 defender for the remainder of the year and putting focuses on his reactive ability in practices should have him in good for by the beginning of next season, if not the end of this one. If it doesn’t work out, he can be waived, likely not claimed due to his multi-year deal, and go back to being a massive presence on the Marlies blue line, getting his money as a massive “thank you” for leaving Europe and earning AHL salary for two years.
In short, this is a signing of a player who struggled to start his first adjustment into pro hockey, and became a very good AHLer. He’s struggled at the beginning of his next step, but it’s not crazy to think he can adjust again. If he doesn’t, he’s hardly making Jeff Finger money. It’s a signing that could be could, is hard to make look bad, and realistically, will have the average fan completely indifferent.
That said, I’m down for more rotation of the available defencemen in the lineup.