Toronto Maple Leafs: Free Agency in Review
By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)
As the most intense part of NHL free agency winds down and hockey fans return to their every day routine, it is safe to say that most teams have their rosters set for the upcoming season. That is no different for the Toronto Maple Leafs barring a surprise from GM Dave Nonis or few minor deals.
The Maple Leafs certainly weren't quiet during the days leading up to and including the first few moments of free agency. While not all of their moves were free agent related, each one of them had a major impact on the team's roster and make up for the upcoming season.
Now it's time to reflect upon and analyze those decisions made by Nonis.
Jonathan Bernier trade/signing
Although it may not be the most questionable move Nonis has made thus far, it is certainly one of the more head turning transactions he has orchestrated with the Maple Leafs.
In a half-expected trade thanks to the media hype, the Maple Leafs shipped Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a second round draft pick to Los Angeles in exchange for Bernier. The move is one that will provide James Reimer with support and motivation in net but Reimer also happens to be one reason why acquiring Bernier was a poor decision.
Reimer is beginning to come into his own in the NHL at the right age. He succeeded as the Maple Leafs' number one last season and carried his strong play into the post-season. For some reason, rather than spending less money on a perfectly capable backup goalie in free agency ─ or even maintaining status quo with Scrivens ─ and going after defensive help, young players and an early-round draft pick were shipped out.
That, defensive help, is something the Maple Leafs are in bad need of. Don't get me wrong; Jonathan Bernier is a very talented goaltender and he is definitely an upgrade at the position. However, on a team whose second best defenceman is Carl Gunnarsson, it's time to bulk up on the blue line.
Regardless, the trade was a fair one for both teams and it's not one that can be overly criticized. One can see what Dave Nonis was thinking when he brought in Bernier, but the fact that he didn't and still has yet to improve the team's weakest position is a little disappointing to Leafs fans.
As for the signing: it had to be done. No one didn't see this coming; a trade for Bernier without a new contract when he was set to become a free agent in such a little amount of time made no sense. Just as the trade was, Bernier's new contract with the Maple Leafs turned out to be a fair one for both sides. Of course it's impossible to fully critique the contract before its expiration but it is acceptable to say that a cap hit of $2.9 million is about accurate for Bernier's services.
Mikhail Grabovski buyout/Tyler Bozak re-signing
There was only one thing running through the minds of Leafs fans when news broke about the remainder of Mikhail Grabovski's contract being bought out: Has Nonis gone crazy?
Tyler Bozak is not a bad hockey player by any means; he is a third line centre at worst and on most teams he would find himself on the second line. However, despite the fact that Grabovski was slightly overpaid, there is no doubt that Bozak should have taken a backseat to Grabovski on this one.
It's no secret that Grabovski's ice time was noticeably cut back by head coach Randy Carlyle from where it was when Ron Wilson stood behind the bench. Not surprisingly, Grabovski's smaller role brought less production. He averaged only 0.33 points per game this season compared to 0.69 the season before and 0.72 the season before that. Bozak's role did not decrease in 2013 and the team elected to re-sign him for more than he is worth at $4.2 million with a modified no-trade clause (according to Cap Geek) even though he regularly puts up smaller offensive numbers than Grabovski.
Few people, including myself, would argue in support of Nonis & Co. in the case of Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak.
David Clarkson signing
In another not-too-shocking move, the Maple Leafs locked up unrestricted free agent David Clarkson to seven-year contract on the first day of free agency. The term of the contract had people shaking their heads but as Nonis said, he had to hand Clarkson a seven-year deal or he would've gone elsewhere.
Few people are surprised by the amount of money Clarkson received, nor should they be. He is often compared to Milan Lucic, although not quite at the same level; Clarkson plays a physical game but produces plenty of goals, making him a top-six forward most teams would love to have on their roster. With the way players are being paid these days, $5.25 million per season is an amount fans should be able to swallow.
There is no doubt that Clarkson is a good signing but with money and fame comes pressure to succeed. That is exactly what the former 30-goal scorer will face as he enters his first season in Toronto.
Dave Bolland trade
The Maple Leafs needed an upgrade to their bottom-six and they got it with Dave Bolland. More of a physical presence who contributes here and there offensively, Bolland will be stuck behind Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri at the centre ice position leaving him to anchor the third line.
Not only do the Maple Leafs now have someone to hold down the third and fourth lines along with Jay McClement but they also have a player who can move up and down the lineup. Whether it is the first or fourth combination, Bolland is able to fit in. Perhaps Nonis now has a piece of the puzzle that he can used to effectively shake things up during times of struggle throughout the season whose name isn't Nikolai Kulemin.
It's impossible to say the Maple Leafs didn't improve this summer; Jonathan Bernier is a goalie who can shut the door quite well and he will surely push James Reimer to play even better, while David Clarkson and Dave Bolland are key additions up front that will spark the forward group. However, it is certain that GM Dave Nonis and his staff could have found a better way to use their trade bait and money, most obviously by improving the defence.
Only time will well whether the Toronto Maple Leafs' current defence group will hold up over an 82-game season and the playoffs.
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