I know you’re getting tired of hearing myself – and let’s face it, the vast majority of the hockey blogging community – criticizing Dave Nonis. 

I know you’re sick of hearing about how we think the Bernier deal could have gone better and wasn’t even really necessary. I get that.

I know you’re getting tired of hearing us bitch about the Grabovski buyout and Bozak re-signing. I get that.

I know you’re getting tired of hearing how, despite the fact he’s a good hockey player, David Clarkson’s contract is pretty terrible. I get that.

So tell you what: I’m not going to criticize the 5-year extension the Toronto Maple Leafs just signed Dave Nonis to. Nope. Nuh-uh. Not gonna do it.

If you disagree, you’re going to say I’m being a whiny jerk who won’t even wait until the season has begun to pass judgment on his moves. Even if you agree, surely you already know what I’m going to say, right?

Here’s what I want instead…

Rather than have me go off, I have a request for the comment section:

Explain to me why Dave Nonis deserves with 5-year extension.

People have been telling me all summer long not to criticize the Grabovski buyout, Bozak re-signing, Bernier trade, Clarkson signing, Bolland trade, the cap situation – anything – until the season starts. After all, how can I pass judgment? Sure, all those fancy statistics and numbers are fine on paper, but what about on the ice? Fine. Then explain to me, based on that same logic, why does it makes sense to sign Nonis to a 5-year extension?

Here is a list of moves Dave Nonis has made since becoming the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs that have actually been seen on NHL ice:

  • Matthew Lombardi traded to Phoenix for a pick. I liked this deal. Cleared cap room. Hooray.
  • Tim Connolly and Mike Komisarek assigned to the Marlies. Good. 
  • Joffrey Lupul locked up to a 5-year contract extension. He battled a lot of injuries, which is worrisome for such a long deal, but Lupul bounces back every time, and has put up some crazy points in this city. Holzer also locked up for another two.
  • Claimed Frazer McLaren off waivers. I would have preferred if Nonis claimed Zach Boychuk or Jussi Jokinen off of waivers, but I won’t nitpick. It’s a waiver-wire pickup.
  • Mike Brown and Dave Steckel traded for picks. Fine.
  • Ryan O’Byrne acquired for a pick. Whatever.

Looking at Nonis’ early moves as GM, I actually really liked him. I liked Burke as the GM, but Nonis seemed to do a good job of freeing up some cap space and roster spots. But really, are any of these moves major? Maybe a better question would be, did any of these moves have a huge impact on the ice this year. Not really, no. And it’s not like Nonis could have made too many blockbusters in a shortened year anyway right?

What I’m getting at, is if you’re going to give Nonis an extension based on what he has done as the GM, all the juicy stuff hasn’t even hit the ice yet.

Despite all that cap space Nonis freed up at the beginning, and despite using up both amnesty buyouts, the Leafs find themselves in a cap crunch with Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, and Mark Fraser still unsigned. Even if Nonis manages to squeeze those players under the cap, the Leafs will be up against it all season unless they can move somebody.

Last thing, and most confusing to me, is the brigade of fans going "Who cares? Your GM doesn’t count against the cap. If he doesn’t work out, just fire him and pay him. It’s a drop in the bucket." Well yeah, that worked out wonderfully with the Ron Wilson extension, didn’t it. Here’s how that went:

  • Ron Wilson gets a contract extension that he tweets about on Christmas Day. How zany and quirky!
  • The Leafs spontaneously combust.
  • Wilson is fired 29 games later.

Just because it doesn’t count against the cap doesn’t mean you can go around making it rain on people just for funzies without any real justification. This is a hockey team, not a Drake music video.

I’ve said my little bit. Whatever. I’m more interested in hearing what you think, because I don’t understand what this team is doing. Comment away!

  • I do like how Nonis has been saying that he wants to develop and strengthen this team from the draft. It takes a long-term commitment to do that, thats the only real thing I can think about that would warrant a 5 year deal. That, and the leafs making the playoffs after several years with Nonis as GM (yes Burke’s work but whatever).

    Nonis has made some quality trades and signings, but like you said Steve, alot of them weren’t necessary.

    Next year will be an important one for Dave and the leafs.

  • My guess is during Nonis’s season end performance review, Nonis massively outperformed the objectives that Lieweke gave him. Things like, qualifying for playoffs, improve leaf image among fans, media and other players and add elite potential talent. Based on Nonis performance, Lieweke sees Nonis as talented, successful GM. And as someone who Lieweke wants to keep motivated and reward him for his accomplishments and hard work.

    The problem is Lieweke should have given Nonis better objectives. All smart hockey fans know that improving the team image, adding elite potential talent and especially qualifying for playoffs are stupid goals. Goals based around building an above average Fenwick Close team should be Nonis’s objective for his performance review. Qualifying for the playoffs is stupid goal – Fenwick Close is a much better goal.

  • The problem that you and the “blogging community” have is that you’re looking at this as a reward for what he’s done so far. Nonis got this extension because obviously the team is happy with with the internal plan that Nonis and the rest of the management staff has for the team. Leiweke giving Nonis this extension is both a private and public show of confidence in his GM and shows he wants his GM to feel he has the time and job security to continue to execute the plan over a long period of time. It’s not about the progress so far but the vision for the future.

  • I’ll just say this. I certainly don’t think the leafs became any easier to play against after the moves this off season. Are they a Stanley Cup contending team? Who knows.
    But let me ask you this, were they really better off not making any of these moves people were so opposed to? Would the team be any harder to play against before than what it looks today?

  • Here’s what I have to say: WHO CARES?

    It’s essentially a 2-year extension, because Nonis’ deal that was tore up to create this new contract was for 3 years (I’m uncertain as to when Nonis’ prior deal kicked in, but I’ll use 3 for the sake of not complicating things). They just tacked on 2 years at the end and likely gave him a slightly higher salary.

    Was it necessary? Probably not, I mean he did have plenty of term left on his contract.
    Is it detrimental to the club? In no way whatsoever.
    Will it affect how he trades for, signs or manages players? Nope.

    So why is this a big deal? That’s the question I want answered.

    The Leafs are not in this cap crunch due to Nonis’ mismanagement or lack of foresight. In fact, Nonis has mitigated the majority of that with his moves and is still likely to create more space via demotions or trades. It’s what happens when you combine $6M less on the table with significant players on expiring RFA contracts.

  • It is very unlikely that we’re going to be a contender next season or the season after that. The reason why this move is important is because Nonis now has the job security to make decisions with the goal of building a Stanley Cup quality team 3 – 5 years from now. We’re going to struggle to make the playoffs this year but that’s ok. Gardiner, Franson, Kadri and JVR will have another year of development under their belts. Rielly, Leivo and Granberg will be one year closer to being Leafs. Two young talented goalies will have developed as well and hopefully one of them will emerge as a bonafide number 1. Clarkson will set the tone for the Leaf’s new identity: a hard nosed character team that is difficult to play against and that will not be out worked. Also, for the first time in the entire history of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Ok I may be exaggerating) management and the coach are both on the same page. Things are looking up.

  • jasken

    Lets start by saying he started off well in my opinion. Whether these gambles pay off or not remains to be seen. If he wasn’t senior vice-president and director of hockey operations before becoming GM when Burke was relieved would this even be a discussion. No matter who the Leafs had gotten as GM fans wouldn’t have been happy period.

    This season was basically a tryout for players for next season, thus so was his GM position he earned a right to be hired on a 5 yr contract same as Burke did. Only difference he got a tryout, where as Burke did not. That’s the way I look at it anyways.

    There will always be good and bad decisions as a GM no matter what, no GM can ever say they were perfect. You take good with the bad.

    What has he shown some good trades, fine tweaking to get Leafs into playoffs, addressed what he and governing body thought would improve the Leafs and made a decision for the team. Let them play a season and then decide if what they did hurt or helped team.

  • jasken

    I strongly disagreed with Burk being fired. However, that is not Nono’s fault. What, he’s supposed to say no, fall on his sword? So, he’s there, he’s the GM, the moves during the season were good although not earth shattering. I still don’t get the Bernier trade, and I think Fratten will make us look silly when he puts up 30 goals for another team. I don’t like the cap situation right now, but that doesn’t matter, the season hasn’t started. I think it’s too early to tell about the cap. The RFA’s will be signed, a decision on Rielly will be made at camp, if he’s good enough, he should stay. Signing Ranger was a no brainer, but he still got it done. Ranger could have stayed close to home and signed in Buf or Ott, or gasp, Mon, but he didn’t he’s a Leaf so good on that. There is going to be some kind of move that we don’t see before the season. Maybe Liles(if anyone will pay for him) or maybe something else is in the works (Phaneuf trade) or something else even wilder. I liked the draft picks we got were solid and we now have one or two elite prospects to add to the stable of good solid prospects. Burke did a fantastic job of turning this team around and stocking it for the future, remember the best Leaf was Blake. Yikes! Out of thin air he built a team. What is concerning me is Liewicki, I think he pressured the Bernier trade and extending Nono’s pact is more about him than Nonnis, because everyone is right and you are wrong….It’s only money if the team crashes and burns next yr he’s expendable with or without an extension. In summation, I think that this situation…….what was the question again?

  • jasken

    Well, I fall into the “who cares?” Category, and I think it’s a perfectly valid argument. My friend who is a big Habs fan posed the same question to me. He said “how do you feel about signing this potato to an extension? With this link http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/dave-nonis-doing-great-job-gets-five-extension-193642123.html” and my response copied and pasted here is this:

    “Sure. Sign him to a 50 year extension. It doesn’t matter because MLSE prints money so if they fire him next year they wouldn’t even think twice about the money they owed him. Generally i think Having that kind of security is good for a GM because they’ll be planning long term for the team and wont think winning only in the short term while leaving garbage contracts for the next GM to deal with.”

    I’m on the same page as you guys with your opinion of his offseason moves, but for any contract extension or other management changes or acquisitions…who cares? The Ron Wilson thing didn’t work out? They got rid of him and the story is over. If Nonis has crippled this team in 2 years, say bye bye and it’s on to the next chapter.

  • jasken

    So we’re all clear, I forgot to say that Nono’s contract, the new one, started yesterday, they ripped up the old one. He’s not signed to whatever was left plus 5, its just five years, I don’t know if that makes anyone feel better cough Steve.

  • Jeremy Ian

    The longer contract, means Nonis won’t make “shorter sighted” moves to qualify for the sake of showing progress. The longer contract, lets Nonis focus on building a solid foundation and structure and let the results come from that. Rather, then trading away assets for a player just so the leafs can win a few more games this year or next.

  • jasken

    It’s clear that Tim Leiweke knows very little about hockey operations. My opinion is that he arrived at MLSE, saw the horrible shape of the Raptors and TFC and decided to focus on those teams first. He saw that the Leafs made the playoffs, had a new management team, fans love the team and he chose to just give Nonis an extension and stay out of the way.
    I am happy to hear you complain about the Leafs. The past 3 months have been terrible for Leafs fans. I still can’t stomach the Bozak signing.

  • jasken

    People complaining about the Nonis extension are just complainers. The contract extension is completely irrelevant. Nonis’ time as a Leaf GM is no different before or after this contract extension. If the team is successful over the next 2 years he’d be staying Leaf GM regardless of this extension. If the team fails over the next 2 years he’ll be shown the door regardless of this extension. This contract changes nothing except how much $$ MLSE is contractually obligated to pay Nonis and as a fan, that is irrelevant to me.

  • maxdistortion

    After 15+ years of supporting this team of which half that was unbearable, I think we’re just getting excited about change, just for change’s sake. I’m guilty of this as well.

    Maybe management thinks this way as well. Burke was too conservative, Pheneuf for spare parts deal notwithstanding.

    People gave Brian Burke alot of flack for not doing enough to change the team. Because we’re used to rapid-fire moves. Gillis is trying to pull off the same mentality that Cliff Fletcher or Turd Ferguson er um John Ferguson Jr. “win NOW.”

    The only logic I can find here , aside from maybe Leiweke and Gillis are drinking buddies (?) is that Leiweke likes his initiative. And he buys into that Carlyle prototypical team of defense first and character players.

    Sadly, Grabovski as hard as he played just didn’t fit that mould .

    Clarkson and Bolland are character players. You win cups with character players. Nonis sgned character players.

    And in goal, whether or not he still “believes’ in Reimer, Bernier is an upgrade on Scrivens.

    Leiweke wants to see change. he’s getting that. Lets’s see what happens.

    Cus after 5 years of not doing enough to make the changes to become a cup contender, I’ll take one summer where we actually take a few risks.

  • rw970

    What I’m curious about is what is Nonis’ “plan,” and what does it mean that he needs 5 years to do it? I would like to witness just one of those ownership/management meetings and hear what they talk about, exactly. It’s not like owners know anything about building hockey teams or scouting, so what do they want to hear? Probably the same old crap about “positioning for success,” “being hard to play against,” “icing a hungry team,” and “maintaining cap flexibility.” That’s probably the extent of Nonis’ pitch. After all, what else can he say? It’s not like you can have a 5 year GM plan that can be very detailed:

    Year One: Add more talent.
    Year Two: Add more talent.
    Year Three: Add even more talent.
    Year Four. Add less talent.
    Year five: Now some more talent.

    Unlikely. Unless…you’re planning to tank, in which case the plan is to suck for a while, while maintaining only the barest illusion of trying to compete. But Nonis can’t seriously be thinking about tanking, can he? Certainly his moves suggest a win-now mentality (albeit stupidly executed), unless he’s playing like 8 dimensional chess and he’s been steadily ruining the Leafs for a tank while only pretending to improve the team.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Steve — it’s a good question, but I’m with the this-is-not-a-big-deal camp. My worry is more with the CEO than with the GM. If he is getting into the weeds of hockey decisions, yikes.

    The problem is, as we all know, that the Leafs got themselves into a real mess after 2000: squandered money and emptied out the supply chain of youth.

    Largely because of the severe cap, which is designed to prevent the sunbelt expansion teams from going under, hockey managers have to rely more on the former and hope for the occasional big trade or free agent signing. But big trades are now rarer because management now has to be very cautious about husbanding their resources and are ultra-afraid of the potential downsides of being a net loser.

    The point is, in a business that “bunkers” its management (information does not flow openly across its divisions) and puts more and more curbs on using older incentives (like concept-busting salaries), managers have become more incremental. Nonis is neither a genius nor a fool. He’s managing the team within the constraints and incentives that have been given to him by a dysfunctional league. The decisions he made this summer suggest the tactics of a manager pushing at what economists call “the production possibility curve”. Whether this delivers a MUCH better team in October is hard to say; but it’s better at the margins than last year, which is the only place management can make a difference these days, especially in the short run.

    I am not worried about the RFA’s. It will get done. And Liles’ days as a Leaf are numbered.

    The real issue on the extension is how Nonis is managing the Leafs’ supply chain. THAT is where Nonis’s skills should be assessed in the coming years. And this is where the Bernier trade came in. What N picked up was eventual trade bait. If N’s confident, either Reimer or Bernier will get traded to a team hungry for a good young goalie now and willing to give up a high draft pick. Moves like this are clever. We don’t see them pay off soon, and we will wince every time we see a Frattin highlight, but it and others like it will pay off in the longer run, which is how you keep the core of a team strong and add in elements incrementally so that they pay big dividends at the margins.

    I also agree with the others that at least there’s now some coherence between management, coaching, and the players on the ice. Burke and Nonis get credit for that.

    Bozak? I dunno. The salary was not off the charts. The only other option was bumping Grabbo up to 1st line. But then the team gives up a Ranger and a Fraser. And for whatever reason, Carlyle was never going to make that work. So, Nonis opted for the larger picture rather than to plug the one hole with a risk. Remember, people tend to overweigh outcomes from decisions that are certain compared to outcomes that are probable or even risky. Given the incentive structure Nonis is dealing with, he opted for certainty over risk.

    I can go into the management theory if you want. But this is why Nonis got the extension. By banking on him, they are banking on the strategy. And it’s not working too badly for a team that was really really uneven, if not crap, a few seasons ago.

    Now, should Nonis be getting the extension and Burke fired? That was nuts. Clearly there was a falling out at the very top.

    Thanks for your posts — they are great to follow.

  • Jeremy Ian

    I think the question Steve is asking that nobody really seems to have answered yet is what has Nonis done so far that warrants this extension (considering he still had 3 years on his current contract).

    You can say you don’t care all you like, but the fact of the matter is that this extension, much like the Bernier trade and Grabovski buyout, show a lack of a process in the decision making at MLSE. Wouldn’t it make more sense to see how the moves Nonis made translate to success rather than give him a public vote of confidence already? I need to look no further than to baseball and football to see that teams that look good on paper can fail in actuality ex. Jays, Angels…and in football the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Wait and see what the results are first, then make the appropriate action. It’s something that MLSE constantly fails to do.

    • Jeremy Ian

      As I heard the CEO explain it, he needed to make his GM contracts consistent, plus Nonis’s contract was essentially the same as it was when Burke was around. It was less a hockey decision than a corporate management one. It just so happened that the manager had made all kinds of moves prior to rearranging his contract — so it does look weird. But you are right: now we have to assess whether the plan will work. The good news (in a perverse kind of way) is that Nonis gave Carlyle the team he wanted. Now it’s time to see whether is works.