Monday, July 8, 2013

My Take On The Leafs' Offseason So Far

When you're a fan of a sports team, it seems like every offseason is more important than the last but this offseason really was a different animal than your usual summer for the Maple Leafs.

The new CBA brought with it a pair of amnesty buyouts and there were no shortage of candidates on the Leafs' roster.  Add to this a number of key RFAs, gaping holes on the blueline, and the team's best two players one year removed from Unrestricted Free Agency, and it's safe to say that this is an offseason like few others.

With most of the dust of the offseason settled, here are my impressions of the Leafs' summer thus far.

Leafs Trade Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, and a 2nd Round Pick for Jonathan Bernier

If you're wondering why the Leafs moved assets to acquire a goalie then you're probably not alone.  James Reimer was the team's MVP last year and the primary reason why the team was able to break its playoff drought.  That said, while a goalie upgrade wasn't a high priority, I do think that the Leafs got the better end of the trade.

My concern with the deal is what it may mean as it pertains to management's belief in James Reimer.  If I were a betting man, I'd put money on Reimer being the better goalie but it doesn't bother me at all to have two viable options.  What would bother me is if Reimer weren't the leading candidate for the starting role heading into the 2013-'14 season.

Leafs Trade a 2nd Round Pick and Two 4th Round Picks For Dave Bolland

In a vacuum, I like the move.  Bolland is a talented third line player who can play up in the lineup when injuries strike.  He's gritty, a tight checker, and he'll spell some of the pressure on Jay McClement and the penaltykill. 

Leafs Buyout Mikhail Grabovski

This is the unfortunate consequence of the Bolland trade.  After Carlyle mis-cast Grabovski primarily in a checking role last season, the writing was on the wall after the team acquired Bolland.  Grabovski was bought out after one less than productive season.  Grabovski played impossibly tough minutes and was buried in the defensive zone to start the vast majority of his shifts but he did seem to have lost a half step.  I would have let Grabovski play out this season and considered whether or not to buy him out at that point.  Buying out the Leafs' best centre over the last three years after one unproductive year was a big mistake, in my mind.

Leafs Re-Sign Tyler Bozak

It took less money than I thought it would, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.  I spent the better part of this season bemoaning Carlyle's reticence to play Kadri on the top unit and re-signing Bozak all but guarantees we'll all be subjected to more watching Kessel's centre stifle his offense.  Too much money, too much term, and too many negative consequences.

Leafs Sign David Clarkson

Too much money, too much term, and too many negative consequences.  Clarkson is a good player who brings an element of physicality to the Leafs' top-6 which is nice.  What are the consequences of such a longterm, lucrative deal?  Well, for one thing, there's a very real chance that this will be Kulemin's final season as a Leaf.  Kulemin is a UFA at year's end and with the vast majority of the salary cap's assumed growth earmarked for Phaneuf and Kessel extensions, there aren't enough dollars left.  The team's other possession-monster winger, Clarke MacArthur, is already a casualty of the deal and with the team's depth at the wing, I suspect he wont be the last.

There's still some offseason left but I can't say that I'm terribly optimistic about this team as it's presently constituted.  They were lucky to have made the playoffs last year and I can't say that they've meaningfully upgraded the team this offseason.  I like their goaltending and there's an opportunity for Carlyle to use players like Kadri and Gardiner more effectively but there isn't much evidence to support that belief.  It's hard to fathom that the PK could be as good as they were last year and they'll need it to be.

The long and the short of it is that this team still needs defense and a first line centre -- the same things we've needed since the puck dropped on the 2012-'13 season. 


FlareKnight said...

Certainly good to just look at these different transactions and think about them.

As to the Bernier trade, I'm fine with it. Leafs paid a respectable price for the chance to upgrade in goal. Reimer was great, but his luck with staying healthy has been questionable. Feels like the team wanted insurance with the talent to take over if something happened. I like the talent level with Bernier and whoever ends up winning this goaltending duel will be good for the team.

Bolland seemed like a good move. A much more legitimate option for the third line center job.

The situation with Grabo sucked. I think he was misued badly, but I'm not sure how bad the relationship between Grabo and Carlyle was by the end. They obviously felt Grabo as the third line center wasn't going to work. So the question was Grabo at 5.5 or Bozak at something lower. Guess they felt appeasing Kessel and hopefully getting an extension from him was worth it. Still not a huge fan of it though.

I'm fine with Clarkson. Brings an important element to the top 6 and should work well with a good passer such as Kadri if he's slotted with him on the second line. The cost is just what you have to pay these days and the term isn't something to worry about right now, especially with a guy who has shown to be durable.

I'm completely on the opposite side of being far more optimistic. I don't think it will be impossible to keep Kulemin. He got that number thanks to his 30 goal season and isn't likely to score that much if he's on the shutdown third line. The cap should take a good jump next year. Phaneuf won't get a lot more than the 6.5 he's making and neither should Kulemin. Kessel will be the big focus but should be able to afford to up his salary.

Luck or not this team did make the playoffs and almost knocked out Boston. They can compete in this division. Top 6 is upgraded, bottom 6 is better with Grabo off it and Bolland in. Put out there a legitimate shutdown line than a make-shift one we had to use last year. A healthy Gardiner will do wonders for the blueline as will a healthy Gunnarsson. Don't have to worry about a Reimer injury killing us either.

I think things are looking up.

Hope_Smoke said...

Nice article. Great to see some new content.

Curt S said...

Wow. That comment is almost as long as the post -- that's awesome!

I wish I could be more optimistic but aside from being thrilled with our goaltending duo, I think we're still a long way away from reliably being a playoff team.