Marlies sign Colin Smith, Marc-Andre Cliche

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.

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.

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.

  • Trevor5555

    Funny how “additional depth and veteran presence” are a good thing in an organization except when it comes to Polak and Martin on the leafs.

    Same shoe different smelly foot

    • The difference (and keep in mind that my answer on Martin was “I don’t know” and my answer on Polak is “I’m indifferent”) is that the AHL has no salary cap, more lenient roster limits, and is designed for development, allowing a bit more flexibility for mentor players.

      Hell, Justin Johnson got paid based on how good his teammates did, barely played, was shut down early in the year, and basically just hung around the room and kept everybody going, but the fact that it was an AHL contract made it meaningless.

      The Leafs can only sign so many contracts and spend so much money and they’re probably not in a tank position next year, let alone the three after. So it’s fair to critique moves from an asset and dollar management perspective. Most of the Martin criticism comes from dollar and term.

      If the Marlies announced tomorrow that they signed Rich Clune to a 4 Year, $10 Million AHL contract tomorrow, I’m sure the league would be very confused but it would have absolutely no bearing on the Leafs moving forward. There would be no questioning of whether he’d outperform the value of his deal because there’s no consequence if he doesn’t.

      In the NHL, dollars and commitment are part of roster composition and need to be taken into account in evaluation. If Martin underperforms compared to his paycheque than the Leafs have limited their competitive potential. It’s riskier and risks on fourth liners are a slippery slope.

      tl;dr – I’m not overly stressed about Martin and Polak being Leafs but there’s definitely an additional layer of thought to be added to the conversation with a salary and roster cap considered compared to an AHL team where the parent club doesn’t care if they lose raw dollars or not.

      • Gary Empey

        With the Marlies having unlimited cap and roster spots, who cares. The ownership is rolling in money. Better they spend/waste it on the Marlies than hiring better accountants to squeeze more money out of their cellphone and cable subscribers.

  • Trevor5555

    Martin and Polak may be a bit more expensive than your typical 4th line winger and 3rd pair d-man but I think they are worth every penny. Martin has great skating and hitting ability and is no slouch with the fisticuffs. He could form a very good checking line with Bozak and Komarov.

    I question whether he could jump from 10 min to 16-18 min a night and still keep his intensity. If he can scale up to that 3rd line checking role he is an absolute steal at 2.5M. If he is limited to 10-12 min against bottom 6 lines 2.5M is a bit pricey for sure. But the leafs will have lots of cap space the next 2 years anyway so its not going to be prohibitive.

    Polak is a good 3rd pair d-man who work hard and hits everything that moves like Martin. I absolutely love having Polak, Martin and Komarov on the same team. 2.25M is fair and a price we can afford this year with all the cheap contracts.

    Our bad contracts are the only reason we are anywhere near the cap, not Polak and Martin. We really ought to move Michalek or Laich or Lupul to create breathing room in case we trade for a top 4 d-man or sign Jimmy Vesey not to mention we should do it to open a roster spot(s) for Vesey or Soshnikov or Hyman etc.

    So my assesment is Polak and Martin are good players who bring skillsets we need at fair prices. Once our bad contracts are gone these guy are totally affordable and we will value their contributions even more. Martin could be a steal.