Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Leafs #1 Question - Who Will It Be?

Kyle Farrington
Staff Writer

After a 48 game campaign, it would appear the Leafs goalie talks were laid to rest thanks to James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.

"But wait!", yells Dave Nonis, holding a contract signed to Jonathan Bernier.

The talks are back, but this time it's not about finding a goalie - we're here to decide which (#1) goalie we should use more. A "problem" which is much better than previous years.

I don't think many doubt the ability of either goaltender. Both are young, high potential, hard working guys. There is also many differences that can make you lean towards one or the other.

For Reimer, he's played in a playoff setting - quite well, actually. He brought his team to game 7 against the Eastern Conference champs, despite a collapse that would have sent us to round 2. In regards to playoffs, Bernier has been there, but hasn't played, nor been the "man" for his team. It's likely no fault of his own, considering his competition was a playoff MVP. That being said, he's a Stanley Cup winner regardless if he played in the games or not.

Whether you believe Reimer is more talented or not, one thing is for sure. The team has trust and respect for him, which is something earned - not provided on a silver platter. I'm not saying they will sit and pick daisy's in front of Bernier, but there is no denying the support the Leafs currently have for Reimer.

As for Bernier, the 24 year old was selected 11th overall by the Kings. You don't pick a goalie 11th overall hoping they become just a good back-up. As his previous team-mates, management and coaches have said, he's ready to be a #1 goalie in the NHL.

So who do I think will be the starting goalie? Well, it's Reimer's to lose, Bernier's to take. It could also be Bernier's gift, Reimer's to re-gain, but either way you look at it, failure from one will be the other's pathway between the pipes.

Our season opener is October 1st, against the Montreal Canadiens. The starter of that game will more than likely back-up against Philadelphia, the following night. But I have a hunch that Reimer will be our starter against Ottawa for the home opener, considering his success (undefeated and 2 shutouts) against the rivaled Sens. After that, playing the hot hand, or glove, will be the theme.

To take everything into account, training camp and pre-season will be the first test (or tryout - if you wish to call it that) for the duo. At the end of the day, they are both Toronto Maple Leafs, and the competition should only go so far. A win is a win, the totality of the team's success is more valuable than a save percentage.

Here's some questions you can speculate answers for; Who will be the starter for game 1? Who finishes the season? Who get's the playoff starts if we make it? Nobody knows, but let's just be thankful we're debating on which goalie is starting, instead of which goalie will cost us the least amount of losses...... Oh, and be happy our goalie's name isn't Vesa ToskaLOL.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Morgan Rielly - Maple Leaf or Warrior

Kyle Farrington
Staff Writer

As training camp is set to open in just 2 months, projected line-ups are becoming a hot topic for the Leafs. The question is, who will stay with the big club, and who will be sent down?

One person hoping to make the cut, is our 5th overall draft pick, Morgan Rielly.

Abelimages/Getty Images
The 19 year old finished his 3rd year with the Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL), having 12 goals, 42 assists, 54 points in 60 games played. He also saw time in the AHL after his Moose Jaw season came to an end. In that short tenure, Rielly put up 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in 14 regular season games, along with 1 goal in 8 playoff games.

Those numbers may not appeal to you, but consider the experience he gained more valuable than any goal or assist. A taste of professional-level hockey is something most 19 year olds do not have the opportunity to experience, and I'm sure that taste is still sitting in his mouth as he trains this off-season.

Now, the question remains whether or not Rielly is capable of jumping into the NHL this up-coming season. I'm sure the answer will not be determined until training camp begins (and/or finishes), but as I speculate, I can certainly see some games - maybe the 9 game tryout - given to him.

I suppose 9 games wouldn't hurt anyone. In fact, like his AHL stint, it would supply him with a sample of NHL-level hockey. Or, in those 9 games, he could take advantage of the opportunity and force Nonis/Carlyle to keep him up. Either way, I see it as a win-only scenario for the Leafs.

One thing if for sure, though, and that is Rielly will be expected to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors again this Winter. In addition to Rielly, the Leafs have 3 other prospects (Matt Finn, Frederik Gauthier, and Ryan Rupert) invited to camp.

Speaking of tryouts, last week we were given a sneak preview of the Leafs future, as prospects gathered to audition for the main training camp. As I watch the rookies scrimmage in a slightly high intense game, Rielly is among the clear standouts. Most notably was his dramatic end to end rush, which resulted in a quality scoring chance for his team. But, it didn't end there, as the opposing team begins an odd-man rush while Rielly is the furthest player from his own net. In turn, Morgan puts his head down and makes it all the way back to his own end, lifts the stick of the breaking player, and saves what would have been a potential goal.

I understand this was only a scrimmage game in a rookie camp, but being defensively aware is a must if you want to make Randy Carlyle's team. Everyone knows the offensive talent Rielly has, but some question his ability in his own end.

So will Morgan Rielly make the Leafs? I guess only time will tell. A slow development certainly does not hurt, but if he can play at the NHL level, I see no reason to pull on the reigns. Training camp and/or a 9 game tryout will decide his destiny.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Blaire Gable/Reuters

Justin Smith

     Anybody who really knows me, understands the type of thing I look for in a special hockey player. Its no secret to those people that I like tough, gritty and high scoring players for my beloved Maple Leafs. Most of last five or six years Leafs management has been searching for this type of athlete who wold be able to step in as a bonafide #1 centre. My message, if I could give one, to Leafs brass and fans alike; please be patient.

Now I'm not going to preach in this article because quite frankly I think there is way too much of it out there. No, I'm ust going to start off with one number.


     For those of you out there that can't seem to drag yourself away from the stat sheet, this one is for you as well. This number is the projected point total for C Nazem Kadri if this past season had been 82 games. Now I understand that a lot can happen in 82 games but don't discount the fact that he was moved around...a lot. So which player did he have the most success with? Easy. If you are any kind of Leaf fan then your answer will undoubtedly be Joffrey Lupul. The assistant captain was injured for a good chunk of the season and I believe with more playing time next to Kadri, the chemistry will only flourish between them even further. 

What does this have to do with procuring a #1 centre?

     Well, lets put it this way: If you haven't figured it out yet, refer to the past 6 years of Leafs teams and tell me how many 21-year-olds were playing with a 75-point season projection? Can't find any? Ya, that's because most of those players that MAY have had a shot at getting anywhere near 50 points as a centre was either traded or on another team.

     I know there will be many doubters saying that you can't judge a player on one season. You would be accurate if that is what you think. The unfortunate thing is that as accurate as that statement may be, it works both ways. Players can play awful for their first five years in the league and then all of the sudden  have a 60 point season. If you think that a 21-year-old Kadri won't get better for the rest of his career, I don't think you haven't paid attention to what has been going on during his career with the Leafs thus far. 

     How many times has he impressed management in the last three years, only to be sent down? Seems to me that every time he had a chance to show what he could do on the ice, he impressed. But ok I guess that could just be Leafs brass exercising a little patience. During his nine game stint with the Leafs a few years back he couldn't hold on to the puck to save his life. He was weak and clearly needed to grow into his body a little so he could be stronger on the puck. That was around the time that Dion Phaneuf allegedly made some remarks to him regarding his play and reiterated that if he doesn't change he won't ever make the NHL. That alone from the captain of the team that drafted me would be a true emotional nightmare for me. Nazem didn't let it bother him and went back junior openminded. 

     Then there was the whole Ron Wilson hate fest going on between the two of them. For some reason Wilson felt that the only way Kadri could become a better defensive centre was to play him with subpar players and on the wing at that. I'm sure that fans can agree the relationship between player and coach had been decimated by the time Brian Burke finally decided that Wilson was not helping the team.

There are other racial issues that I could get into about some things that people have said about him, but I feel like to write about it is to give substance to ignorance, and that is not my way.

So as fans worry about Clarkson's contract, Reimer's feelings and Phaneuf's future just remember one thing if you can:

He isn't perfect, but the Leafs drafted him. He's now a playoff performer. He has mental toughness. 

...oh, and a 

31 goal and 44 assist season pace is pretty good for a young Leaf centre.

Good Day.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Leafs Offseason Overview: Thoughts Following A Busy Start

(Photo: Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Matthew Hedge
Staff Writer

A lot has happened for Dave Nonis and the Toronto Maple Leafs since the beginning of the month. Actually, saying that is an understatement. The team has made some huge changes since the month has started, and whether or not these changes have been positive ones or not have been wildly debated among Leafs fans.

Things all started for the Leafs at the draft on July 1 when they selected Frederik Gauthier with the 21st overall pick in the draft and traded their second round pick along with two fourth round picks for David Bolland. Both of these moves were solid ones for the Leafs. It was obvious that the Leafs had interest in Gauthier and he was one of the best available players when the 21st pick came around so it’s hard to dislike the pick.

Trading for Bolland gave the Leafs a third line center who could play in a shutdown role that Grabovski had played in last season. Bolland is also a Carlyle-type player who can excel in a pure shutdown role better than any of the Leafs’ other centers, and he came at a fairly low cost to the team, so it should be a move that pays off for as long as he can play his role effectively.

At the time, I thought that the trade for Bolland signaled the end of the Tyler Bozak era in Toronto. Nazem Kadri had played well last season and was looking to be a solid top six center going into next season, and the acquisition of a true shutdown center for the third line seemed like an opportunity to free up Grabovski to be used in a more offensive role in the top six, so it looked like the Leafs had no room for Bozak on their roster. All signs pointed to Dave Nonis realizing that Bozak was not worth nearly what he was asking for and that he was ready to move on with his new group of centers.

I was excited for the potential of a top six of Lupul-Kadri-Kessel, Van Riemsdyk-Grabovski-Kulemin (or some other combination of those six players) as they all have shown they can handle top six roles and have proven themselves in Toronto. This would give the Leafs two solid scoring lines with a lot of scoring depth and good possession players. The second line would feature three solid two-way players that seemed to excel together when they were used in the playoffs against Boston. The top line would feature the dynamic duo of Lupul and Kessel who have proven they can be an offensive force together, and Kadri would be a great improvement at center for them over Bozak. Things were starting to look very good for the Leafs.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly when Leafs’ management decided to mess with the good thing they had to make changes to the roster. The Leafs used their first compliance buyout on Mike Komisarek, as expected, which opened up a much needed $4.5 million of cap space, but then on July 4, Dave Nonis shocked Leafs Nation by buying out the final four years of Mikhail Grabovski’s contract. Arguably the Leafs’ best center over his entire time in Toronto, as demonstrated by his 125 points he put up over the previous three seasons, apparently Nonis felt that Grabovski’s $5.5 million cap hit could be better used elsewhere.
(Photo: USATSI)

Grabovski’s production had seen a decline in the shortened season, but that was largely due to the fact that he was used in a shutdown role that held him back offensively, not due to a lack of skill. Buying out a solid second line center who was arguably the best center on the free agent market once his buy out was completed was more than a questionable move by the Leafs, it was a poor one. The move had more to do with Carlyle misusing Grabovski, potential conflict between Grabovski and Carlyle, and the “chemistry”/relationship between Bozak and Kessel than actually trying to ice the best roster possible. The move did give the Leafs more cap space to work with, but ultimately it was hard to watch the Leafs dump such a talented player for absolutely nothing in return.

The Leafs followed the Grabovski buy out by signing Tyler Bozak to a five year deal worth $4.2 million per year, and David Clarkson to a deal that would see him have a cap hit of $5.25 million for each of the next seven seasons. Just like that, $9.45 million of cap space was committed long term to two players, and neither of them has exactly proven that they deserve such high cap hits.

Bozak has never been able reach 50 points over a full season despite playing with one of the league’s best goal scorers on his wing, and Clarkson despite tallying one 30 goal season has also never reached 50 points. $9.45 million is a lot of cap space to commit long term to two players who haven’t really proven that they are worth that kind of cap commitment. Obviously the argument could be made for Clarkson coming in and producing well with his new linemates in Toronto, but Bozak is a known commodity already with the Leafs, and his production will most likely remain at the same low level it’s been over the past few years with the Leafs.

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar / AP)

 The $1.3 million of cap space the Leafs saved by choosing Bozak over Grabovski isn’t nearly worth the difference between their production, and when you consider that the Leafs could have used that buy out on Liles to open up an additional $3.875 million of cap space, really choosing Bozak over Grabovski ended up costing them an additional $2.575 million of cap space, assuming they are unable to move Liles. It’s really looking like the Leafs made the wrong choice in keeping Bozak over Grabovski. Hopefully Bozak can prove that statement wrong, but really all indications point towards Grabovski being the better option of the two, and as I said before it’s really sad that Nonis would base this decision more on the differences between Carlyle and Grabovski and Bozak’s history with Kessel rather than actual skill or production.

Following the Clarkson signing I was very much against it but I have warmed up to it a bit given more time to think about it. I don’t think that he is worth the $5.25 million he is being paid, but in the short term that slight overpayment wouldn’t be something that would be a huge issue. If it was for a deal for four years or less I’d be fine with this deal, I mean sure they overpaid slightly for the guy but at least he should still produce for them, and worst case scenario it is still a deal that would be movable by trade if the Leafs decided he wasn’t worth the cap space they had committed to him.
(Photo: Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

The problem with the deal is that it carries a seven year term. Clarkson, barring a trade or buy out, will be with the Maple Leafs until he is 36 years old. Even if his $5.25 million cap hit wasn’t overpayment for his production when he is 29 years old, it will be by the time he’s in his mid-thirties.

The contract could eventually be a burden to the Leafs long-term, but in the short term it shouldn’t be too bad. He’ll most likely be used in a second line role, and the Leafs have the personnel in their top six that should be able to be successful with Clarkson. Clarkson also brings a grittier, tougher style to the top six that Carlyle loves, and has had decent production in New Jersey his past two seasons, so as long as he can keep producing at a good enough level then this deal won’t look too bad. It’s just when or if his play begins to deteriorate (as usually happens early on with players who play a rough style as he does) that this deal will look worse and worse for the Leafs, as it is a long-term deal that could be very difficult to move if the cap hit eventually outweighs the benefit of having him on the team.

So overall the two signings aren’t terrible right now. Clarkson should prove to be productive for the Leafs in the short term and keeping Bozak will still allow the top line to be fairly productive, but as I said earlier buying out Grabovski in order to keep Bozak is the issue at hand. It was a poor move that overall didn’t really help the Leafs’ cap situation at all, and when you compare the production levels and skill sets of Grabovski and Bozak, it really seems to indicate that the Leafs’ top six would be better off with Grabovski in it making $5.5 million per year than with Bozak there making $4.2 million per year.

After those signings, the Leafs also signed depth defenseman TJ Brennan for one year at $600,000, re-signed Jonathan Bernier to a two year deal worth $2.9 million per year, and also brought back Frazer McLaren for a two year deal worth $700,000. This has left the Leafs with just over $10 million in cap space to re-sign Kadri, Gunnarsson, Franson, Fraser and Colborne. Obviously that won’t be nearly enough cap space to re-sign the 5 RFAs, so it’ll be interesting to see what the team does to free up cap space. The obvious move would be to try to move Liles out, and Nonis will probably do this if there proves to be a market for him. If not, it certainly will be interesting to see what moves the Leafs make to open up cap space for re-signing their restricted free agents.

Overall, it has been a crazy offseason for the Leafs. There’s a lot to like and a lot not to like in what the Leafs have done so far this offseason, and there are also a lot of questions to still be answered. How will they open enough cap space to re-sign key RFAs? Who will fill the hole on the third line wing left by the departures of Frattin and Macarthur? Will Nonis work on locking up key players like Kessel and Phaneuf long term? All these are questions that will need to be answered before the start of the season, and hopefully they are answered in a way that will help the Leafs continue to build on their success from last season.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Abelimages/Getty Images

Kyle Farrington
Staff Writer

Just days after the Free Agent Frenzy, it appears dust is finally being settled. The league seems to be much more quiet, and rumours are at a stand still. As for Maple Leafs General Manager, Dave Nonis - his work is far from done.

The ink is still wet after 2 large contracts given to Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson, and our (once 2nd highest) cap space is tighter than most imagined.

With a budget of 10.3 million dollars, Nonis will need to sign 5 restricted free agents without exceeding the salary cap. On top of that, all five of those players will seek a pay raise - some more significant than others.

To lay out this situation a little more clear, here are some rough numbers.

Cap Space = 10.3 M

Kadri Contract - 3 M

Franson Contract - 3.5 M

Gunnarsson Contract - 3.5 M

Fraser Contract - 1.5 M

Colborne Contract - 1.0 M

Total Cap Space Remaining = -2.2 M

After these signings, which I feel are low-average offers, we would need to free up 2.2 million dollars. How do we do that? Simple!

Ok, well maybe it's not that easy, but my solution is to trade John-Michael Liles and his 3.875 million dollar contract. Keeping in mind that this is a player who watched from the press box on some nights, his value cannot be high. In fact, he likely holds little-to-no value as far as gathering a decent return via trade goes.

But this is a theory that isn't about finding a good asset in return. It's about finding the cap space to resign our own players, which should be priority #1 on the list for Dave Nonis.

With one player going to arbitration (Mark Fraser), we really cannot afford to have more players choose that route, and even worse, risk having another team offer sheet one of the aforementioned players.

To make matters worse, next year we have to deal with more free agents - some looking for a raise as well. Most notable;  Phil Kessel, Jake Gardiner, James Reimer and Dion Phaneuf. Luckily, reports suggest the salary cap will be raised, which should cover the cost to resign these players.

So, is there a team that will welcome Liles with a price tag close to 4 million dollars over the next 3 years? Who knows. But the 32 year old, puck moving defenseman stands as a burden to our salary cap - more than a useful asset to the team.


Ed Mulholland - USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Theriault
Staff Writer

     One of the major story lines in Leafs Nation over the past week has been free agency. Many were speculating over who the Leafs were going to sign (or trade for) on July 5th. After the buyout of Mikhail Grabovski the day before "free agent frenzy" it was imminent that a few moves would be made on the first day of free agency. There was mixed reactions over the buyout of the centerman and while a lot of fans were upset, most agreed that his contract was too expensive to keep him. Mikhail signed a five-year extension with the Maple Leafs last season for a total of $27.5 million with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million. That is far too much money for a center man who was unable to live up to his potential value.
     Within the first hour of the free agency period it was announced that Clarke MacArthur had signed a deal with rival Ottawa Senators. After the two moves it was obvious, the Leafs needed to sign a center and a winger to replace Grabovski and MacArthur. Almost three hours in to free agent frenzy it was announced that David Clarkson had signed a 7-year contract worth $37 million, which brings a cap hit of $5.25 million a season. Tyler Bozak was also re-signed to a 5-year contract worth $27 million, a cap hit of $4.2 million a season.
     The signing of David Clarkson brought even more speculation than the Grabovski buyout did. Is a $5.25 million cap hit too much for the gritty winger? Is a 7-year term too long for a forward in his prime? Is David Clarkson the spark the Leafs need to make a deep playoff run? While all these are valid questions I believe Clarkson's grit and playoff experience will prove to be a priceless commodity in the Leafs locker room. While the price for Clarkson may seem a little steep, we cannot judge Dave Nonis' decision until the season gets underway. One thing's for sure, Clarkson will be a feisty player that will have no trouble making his way to the front of the net, something the Leafs haven't seen since the presence of Darcy Tucker. While Clarkson is just as feisty as number 16 used to be, he also has the potential to be a very successful power forward with goal scoring abilities.