After making the playoffs for the first time in seven years, the Toronto Maple Leafs may not be sure what they're doing.
Last season's Leafs team showed the dynamic ability to score goals thanks to Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, and James van Riemsdyk, among others. James Reimer's play in the net gave fans hope they had their franchise goalie already in the fold.
After a crushing Game 7 loss to the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, the Leafs headed back to the boardroom to figure out what had to be addressed to make them a true Stanley Cup contender. What happened then has us still scratching our heads.
General manager Dave Nonis has certainly been busy:
- Acquired via trade: Jonathan Bernier (G), Dave Bolland (C)
- Bought out: Mikhail Grabovski (C), Mike Komisarek (D)
- Re-signed: Tyler Bozak (C)
- Free agent signed: David Clarkson (RW)
- Free agent lost: Clarke MacArthur (LW—Ottawa)
But all the salary-cap room created thanks to the buyouts? Gone. Plus, defensive questions are still there—and they've still got to re-sign two key restricted free agents in Kadri and defenseman Cody Franson.
What the heck is going on here? Does this team want to be one made up of highly skilled scorers or rough-and-tumble characters? Perhaps the coach wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
Last season, coach Randy Carlyle seemed to have issues with straight-up offensive guys like Grabovski and MacArthur, benching them for stretches of time and even scratching MacArthur on occasion. Meanwhile, players like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, two guys whose roles are mainly to fight, had consistent time in the lineup.
With Grabovski and MacArthur gone and replaced by Bolland and Clarkson, you can argue that the team kept an equal talent level but got tougher. Are they better for it, though? Digging into the stats will tell you otherwise.
Bolland was used as a second-line guy for the past two years, and you’d argue he’d be in a similar role with the Leafs. With Kadri and Bozak to contend with, he could wind up on the third line. Nonis believes Bolland will be a perfect fit, according to Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
Bolland did have serious struggles keeping up with those two last season, and his advanced stats per Behind the Net tell you all you need to know there. Perhaps Clarkson and Nikolai Kulemin will be more his speed.
As for Clarkson, his monster contract (seven years, over $36 million) created shock waves, as he’s broken 40 points in a season just once and had to score 30 goals to do it.
After playing with Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac last season, he’ll be counted on to be a top-line-type of performer even though his career has shown he’s a complementary player who isn't afraid to drop the gloves (over 100 PIMs in four of his six seasons).
Perhaps this is just Nonis helping Carlyle feel more comfortable with his lineup. Adding more of a sandpaper-like presence over just offensive players is what he wants. After all, the Ducks team he coached to a Stanley Cup in 2007 had equal parts brilliant talent and nastiness. If that’s what the aim is here, then that’s what it seems like they’ve done.
Teams don't get extra credit for hits and fights, but the Leafs' moves this offseason make it seem like you do. Sacrificing offensive pressure for fisticuffs and body checks is dubious at best.