As you may have seen already, this series is dedicated to making predictions for the Leafs’ upcoming restricted free agents (RFAs). Last time we took a look at Andreas Johnsson and the several possibilities there.
Today’s post is dedicated to both Miro Aaltonen and Frederik Gauthier, two of the main centers playing for the Toronto Marlies.
Leafs fans will be very familiar with Gauthier at this point. He was a first round pick for them in 2013, selected 21st overall; the result of surging to the playoffs in the middle of a rebuild, which contributed to the delaying of the Leafs’ progression to being a legitimate playoff team. Gauthier unfortunately serves as a reminder of that, while also being a pretty much consensus miss at that selection. It’s definitely an unfair situation for him. It’s not his fault he was selected in the first round, or that the Leafs made the playoffs when they shouldn’t have.
Since then, Gauthier has seen himself fall way down the prospect rankings for Toronto. Partially because the team has done such a good job of collecting assets, but also partially by his own doing (or lack thereof), by providing mediocre results each season.
As for Aaltonen, he’s much more new on the scene in Toronto. Originally, he was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the 6th round in the same draft as Gauthier, 2013. He was picked up this past off-season from the KHL by the Leafs. Many presumed he would step into the 4th line center role, and had a good enough training camp performance to earn it. However, Babcock’s “tie goes to the veteran” rule became “job goes to the veteran regardless” in this case, as the 39 year old Dominic Moore won the job instead (and quickly lost it to Marleau first, and then Tomas Plekanec at the deadline). Aaltonen never did get the call-up he probably deserved.
Gauthier scored 18 points in 57 games this season, continuing his inability to best the 20-point-mark in the AHL. In the playoffs so for he’s been excellent, scoring 7 points in 9 games. This isn’t exactly a trend for Gauthier though, with 11 points in 24 playoff games in his AHL career including this most recent stretch.
I don’t want to dump on Gauthier too much in this post, because he’s a hilarious guy and seems like a genuinely good person, but the facts are that he’s been mostly ineffective each season he’s played so far. This year has somehow been even worse. In his previous seasons, Gauthier has provided around a 5% boost to the even strength goals ratio for the Marlies (both scoring and preventing goals). However, when he’s been on the ice this year, the Marlies are 23% worse at scoring and preventing goals against (at even strength). You may suspect that is a function of the Marlies being ridiculously good, but his actual goals ratio this season (39.53%) is nearly 30% worse than his 2015-16 rookie campaign (66.67%) and around 20% worse than 2016-17 (58.06%). The Marlies are approximately as good as they’ve ever been – it’s truly a representation of Gauthier stumbling.
Conversely, Aaltonen has been providing a very positive impact this year. He’s scored 43 points in 63 games, and has mostly been playing on the first line with Johnsson and a platoon of Kapanen (before he was permanently on the Leafs roster), Timashov, Marchment, Grundstrom (recently) or Rychel (before he was traded). Those familiarities should be helpful if he was to transition to the NHL and hopefully join some of Johnsson, Grundstom and Kapanen on a skilled 4th line.
For even strength on-ice goals (a slightly better version of plus/minus), Aaltonen is sitting at a marvelous 73.77%, a 19% boost compared to when he’s off the ice.
So, what about the contracts?
For Gauthier, there’s probably a pretty good argument not to bother bringing him back next season, considering how he’s failed to demonstrate real NHL quality to this point. Of course, the Leafs could actually love Gauthier and expect him to fill in spot duty on the 4th line, like a center version of Justin Holl.
Let’s take some quick guesses:
Optimistic: 1 year AHL deal
Realistic: $650k for 1 year, two way deal
Pessimistic: $650k for 2 years, two way deal
Pessimistically, if we were to really suspect the Leafs actually really like Gauthier, a 2 year deal at league minimum might be a route that makes sense to them.
If it were me, I would really like them to avoid using an NHL contract on Gauthier. He hasn’t been good enough to earn one, and there’s not really a risk of someone snapping him up because I don’t see him being good enough to contribute at the NHL level even in a desperate injury situation. It also would use up one of only 50 available slots for those.
I truly do suspect the Leafs might go this route, but there’s also a part of me that can see them giving him a contract. Their center depth is going to be woeful at the NHL level if Bozak leaves, and it’s already pretty thin at the AHL level. That’s why I’ve left it as the realistic option. The harm would be minimal, and it at least keep a warm body ready to play in the NHL.
For Aaltonen, it’d be pretty weird for the Leafs to bring him in last year, watch him have a really good season, and then decide they don’t want him anymore. Some guesses:
Optimistic: $700k for 1 year, two way deal
Realistic: $850k for 1 year, two way deal
Pessimistic: $1M for 1 year, two way deal
This is throwing numbers at a dart board really. I’m certain it’ll be worth less than $1.000001M dollars, and the term will be one year. Past that I really am not sure.
Regardless, Leafs fans can probably count on seeing Aaltonen back at training camp trying to earn a job again.
There’s not a whole lot to these, especially in the case of Aaltonen. Some signings are easy enough that even a layman with no hockey management experience like myself can figure out what the right moves are.
I know I was pretty hard on Gauthier, and I made a concerted effort to not be unnecessarily negative, but unfortunately it can’t be avoided. Gauthier hasn’t been good enough, and at 23 years old, there’s not much more room to wait for him to turn it around.
What do you think? Am I being unfair with Gauthier? Do you think the Leafs should look elsewhere for center help than with Aaltonen? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Next time we’re going to tackle the biggest one of them all, the Brandon Jacobs of posts (sorry non-NFL fans), what Auston Matthews will make on his next deal. I trust you’ll, as usual, keep your eye out for it.