Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
The deadline for pending restricted free agents (RFAs) was Monday, June 27th at 5 p.m. The clock moved its hands past the 5 and still, Percy had received no qualifying offer (QO) to return to the Maple Leafs. It must have stung for the former first-round pick of the Leafs, to be indirectly told that he could serve no purpose to the organization he grew up a fan of any longer.
Brendan Shanahan and company made the decision to issue a QO to Percy, which would have allowed them to retain his RFA rights. This means that come July 1st, Percy will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA), free to sign with any team he chooses.
How did a 23-year-old player who was once a future top four defenseman drop so far in the depth chart that the Leafs chose to not give him a QO?
Percy suffered his second publicly-known concussion as a part of the Marlies in January of this year. He was kept out for just one game. The first was also in January, this time of 2015, which kept him sidelined for six games. These are on top of several other injuries as part of the Leafs organization.
It may not be the case that concussions are currently affecting his ability to play. That would be speculating about medical issues I have zero expertise in. However, I would hypothesize that the injury issues have hindered his development, not from a medical perspective, but from a “constantly improving” perspective. A big part of developing prospects is growing a particular skill, or set of skills, by edging it in a positive direction on a game-by-game basis. When you’re recovering from an injury every 6 months or so, I’d imagine that would get in the way of that step-by-step development.
When Percy made the team out of the 2014-15 Maple Leafs’ training camp, many (including myself) were excited to see where that would take him. He played just 9 games (8 of the first 14 and one additional game in January). He lost his job to Korbinian Holzer at the time (remember how great Randy Carlyle was?), and wasn’t allowed to rejoin the roster later on due to the utter tire fire that the Leafs were both in performance and in emotional state. It wasn’t a good environment. Plus, he was battling injuries as described above.
Last season, it was much of the same. Percy was very good in training camp, but this time, he lost his job out of camp to Harrington, who was then overtaken by Corrado. He got called up post-trade deadline during the prospect carousel to see how he’d fare, and it wasn’t good. His performance was lacking (once again, injury issues may have contributed to this) and he was sent down after 3 games.
Looking into next season, with Nikita Zaitsev being brought in and us just seeing Scott Harrington traded, it’s not hard to imagine that management sees the defense as ready for next season as it is now, without Harrington or Percy around. I’ll admit, I thought there would be a training camp showdown, that would see one player make the team and the other exposed to waivers. (I figured the same situation for Corrado and Carrick, however now it seems they both have opportunities to make the team permanently).
The league saw trade value in Harrington and Toronto capitalized on that by acquiring Kerby Rychel. Unfortunately, no such interest appears to have existed for Percy. Thus, he was simply released to go freely on the market.
Here’s an interesting chart from Corsica.hockey showing Percy’s xGF% relative to the league distribution:
It’s pretty clear that Percy has been underwhelming during his time in the NHL.
The chart above shows the defensemen from Percy’s class. You can find the full data, and investigate the bubble chart further, in this public Google Sheet. The red dot on the bottom left is Percy. The other players in this chart who didn’t receive a QO were Klas Dahlbeck (bottom middle), Adam Clendening (middle), and Darren Dietz (far right),
We can see pretty easily that Percy has significantly underperformed relative to other defensemen his age. As such, it’s no longer that surprising that the Leafs were willing to let him go.
As much as I’m hesitant to let a defenseman under 25 go for free, I’m not completely surprised or upset that the Leafs went this route. Even if Percy were to turn his development around, it would have led to a replaceable position on the bottom pairing anyways. This is a role the Leafs currently have a plethora of players to develop into.
All in all, I hope Percy can find an opportunity and stay healthy, even if that place isn’t Toronto, or isn’t even in the NHL. But at the end of the day, I believe this was the right move for the Leafs.