Calm Thoughts Before A Storm

Mr. Nonis, I hope you’re ready for what may be your defining moments in this city.

In just a few hours, the Toronto Maple Leafs join the rest of the National Hockey League in everybody’s favourite off-ice hockey tradition; the beginning of Unrestricted Free Agency. This is, of course, a rather unique year, as the blue and white walk in with  the second most available cap space in the league. As the seconds tick down, a few thoughts have crossed the minds of many. I have a few as well:  

  • Why this year? Of all years to open up massive room to buy (to the tune of 24 million dollars), why pick the season that contains an incredibly bare free agent landscape? Granted, we say "next year has (star X)" every season only to have a bunch of players disappear beforehand, but when David Clarkson is arguably the best free agent available, you’re just asking for a comedy of disasters to occur.
  • Speaking of David Clarkson, you should probably start preparing yourself for the worst. He fits all of the necessary components to be added to the Leafs. He’s a Toronto native, throws lots of punches, and comes in at less than double league max. The bidding war will be intense, and while I don’t know if he gets his expected 6.5 million, the man who has never tallied 20 assists will surely get upwards of five for multiple years, and it will probably be here. Expect somebody who’s been able to somewhat score under sheltered minutes, has little to no defensive ability, and will probably stop fighting because six other enforcers will beat him to it.
  • I hope that we’ve finally seen the end of Tyler Bozak in Toronto. I was going to write the on-ice character assassinations to end all character assassinations yesterday, but at this point, you’re being ignorant if you ignore the realities. The 27 year old hits free agency without a 50 point season to his name. He has extraordinarily low production for somebody who plays with the likes of James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, and Phil Kessel. He doesn’t actually have chemistry with Phil Kessel. He wins faceoffs, but it amounts to less than one extra dot-victory per game. He’s a third liner that’s had the chance to play 82% of his career on the ice with his superstar best friend. Any team that pays more than 2 million per year on a multi year deal will probably regret it. I expect the Leafs to give in to his 8 year, 40 million dollar proposal any minute now.
  • By the way, if the Leafs spend a lot of money this year, how much of a mess do they have coming into next? Phil Kessel is due for at least a 2 million dollar raise. Dion Phaneuf will get at least what he’s currently making. James Reimer and Jake Gardiner should see pay spikes as well. David Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin will also need new contracts. Beyond Bolland (only because he hasn’t played here yet), all of these players have abilites that are important to the Leafs’ consistent success moving forward. 
  • I wouldn’t be against the Leafs taking aim at Mike Ribeiro. His even strength numbers were down this year, and that will be a bargaining chip that many teams use, but he’s probably the best potential fit of all the UFA centres. He’s a gifted playmaker, can play defensive minutes, and can be a total jerk to play against. His career peak is what the Leafs want to see out of Nazem Kadri. If you can get him for no more than three years, that would be my splurge of choice.
  • Alternatively, there’s a centre who consistently scores at a 60 point pace on the market. He was dragged down by a coach who doesn’t know any better last year, has a strong two way game, and hates the Habs. He shows tenacity and gives full effort on everything he does on the ice. The best part? They don’t have to trade for him! Some team was stupid enough to buy him out! Wait, damnit. 
  • Matt Cooke could be an interesting option as well, and I’d look at him over Clarkson. He’ll come in a lot cheaper, throw around the body, help on out on the penalty kill, and bring a veteran presence. He has a troubled past, but has played two very clean years that leave me inclined to believe he is the changed man that he claims to be. If all else fails, he’ll distract the Senators every time the two teams face off.
  • Grabovski jokes aside, what do the Leafs do with John-Michael Liles now? Both compliance buyouts have been used and it can be easily argued that his contract was worse. Do they have a buyer, or are the Leafs under the assumption that they wont’ be able to acquire the minute eating defenceman they really need?
  • Having a bad strategy and a love for goons was one thing, but is anybody else really nervous about having a coach who doesn’t communicate with players he doesn’t like, has personal vendettas, and essentially influences how the team is built?
  • Completely unrelated to the Leafs, but I really want to see the Islanders take a run at Mason Raymond. If they can make him into a player along the lines of Michael Grabner, they’ll be able to win games eniterely based off skating ability.
  • Can Toronto find their new Clarke MacArthur? His original contract here turned out to be the best steal of his UFA crop, at just 1.1 million dollars. He would have been worth keeping around, and some other team is going to be similarly happy with him, but It would be nice to see the Leafs go for a low cost, high reward player or two on one year deals. It’s probably a better use of this temporary pile of money, in any event.
  • Back to Bozak for a few seconds.. did you know he only has 8 points in his entire 5 on 5 career without Phil Kessel on the ice with him? 584 minutes is approximately 29 games for Bozak based off of last year’s minutes.
  • There’s still a few RFA’s that need to be signed. By that, I mean all of them. Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Jonathan Bernier, Mark Fraser, Joe Colborne, and Fraser McClaren all need new contracts.
  • The push for a centre makes me think that Toronto isn’t ready to commit long term to Kadri, and will opt for a bridge deal. This has great potential (PK Subban winning the Norris on a 2.8M deal), and great risk (PK Subban’s next contract). I’m expecting something similar to Matt Duchene, who recieved 3 years at 3.3M per year as his second deal.
  • With all of this said, today is going to be a fun day. Hopefully we’ll be able to laugh at teams for making big mistakes instead of sitting in a corner, asking ourselves why we follow a team with little to no concept of asset management or budgeting. I wouldn’t count on it, though. There’s just too much money available.