|(Photo: Chris Young/The Canadian Press)|
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.
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.
(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.
|(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.
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.