With call-ups and waivers leaving room for a potential need to restock the Toronto Marlies’ cupboards, the Leafs organization has added a pair of AHL contracts into the fold in Colin Smith and Marc-Andre Cliche.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) July 3, 2016
Smith was acquired by the Leafs in February in a trade that sent Shawn Matthias to the Colorado Avalanche. In return, they also received a fourth-round pick that turned into stay-at-home defenceman Keaton Middleton.
At first, the move seemed like an absolute slam dunk, as Smith put up 7 goals and 15 assists in his final 23 regular season games with the Marlies. But there were some concerns about his lack of physicality, and his less-than-stellar playoffs led to healthy scratchings and questioning of his long-term upside.
With Smith now 23 years old, he found himself on the older side of the Leafs’ prospect pool without an overly convincing resume to back it up. As a result, the Leafs did not tender him a qualifying offer in June. It seemed like a surprise at first, and many drew a connection between that and his KHL rights being drafted and traded to assume that he was headed to Europe. But instead, he’ll stay in the organization.
It’s a good move for both the player and club. Smith gets to play on a team where he has a sense of familiarity and one that’s going to see a few of its top players graduate to the NHL. This gives him a chance to further audition himself in hopes of getting a contract in the big leagues, which is something he can do with any team at any time. The Leafs take the risk of losing him to another club, but also gain a player that they know has been productive for them in the past to keep the team competitive. If he lights it up in an increased role, they’ll be more prepared than anybody to pinpoint why and decide whether it’s worth re-adding him to the prospect pool.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) July 4, 2016
Cliche is a more interesting acquisition, in the sense that he’s a veteran presence that comes from outside the organization. The 29-year-old was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Cliche was projected to become a heart-and-soul middle six player, who could keep his team inspired while playing a solid two-way game.
He never panned out. The Rangers traded him to Los Angeles in the midst of his Draft+2 year as part of a package for Sean Avery, which led to him spending six years with the Manchester Monarchs. He eventually got his NHL shot with the Colorado Avalanche. In 150 games, Cliche put up three goals and 14 points in 150 games.
In that span, Cliche’s best trait was his shot suppression: He had a CA60 rel of -2.72. As I theorized when talking about Matt Martin, though, I wonder if that comes as a byproduct of the type of minutes he plays (role player on role player) rather than any sort of defensive ability. In terms of relative CF%, he was a -5.92% over the two years, which is a little concerning seeing as the Avalanche are one of the league’s worst shot-possession teams.
There is the possibility that Cliche is a AAAA two-way player, though. The best that the public has to work with in the AHL is plus-minus, unfortunately, but he’s been an even or plus player in six of seven seasons. He’s also been about a half-point per game player since 2010/11.
The Marlies got a bit of a look at his play this spring. After a deadline trade to the New York Islanders in exchange for Taylor “Leaf For Zero Games” Beck, he was sent to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to help them with their playoff run. He scored two goals in Game 3 of the series, which saw his team go up 4-1 before the Marlies scored five goals to finish their sweep.
If nothing else, Cliche will provide some additional depth and veteran presence to a team that expects to be very young next year.