Toronto - July 2, 2014 - This year’s start to free agency had Leafs Nation’s blood pressure level rising.
With the need to essentially sign complete third and fourth lines, along with the need for a defenseman after the buying out of Tim Gleason’s contract, it was clear that today would define the Toronto Maple Leafs direction for the next few seasons.
The first domino to fall for Toronto was Dave Bolland’s departure to Florida. The Mimico-born centre signed a 5 year, $5.5 million AAV deal with the Florida Panthers, officially opening a hole up on the third line to be filled.
Leaf faithful should be pleased to hear that Dave Nonis said in his 5pm press conference that young center Peter Holland will be given a good shot at making the team.
It’s also worth noting that Bolland’s cap hit is now the same as Islanders captain John Tavares. It’s safe to say the Leafs are avoiding grossly overpaying for a 3rd line centerman who may not even be able to skate.
Speaking of people who may not be able to skate, Toronto proceeded to sign ex-Dallas Stars and more recently Anaheim Ducks blueliner, Stephane Robidas. The veteran defender broke his right leg twice this year, once in November and again in April, but has served as a solid team player no matter where he has been. If Robidas is healthy he should, at the very least, serve at a level comparable to recently departed Carl Gunnarsson.
Following the Robidas addition the Leafs re-signed fan favorite Leo Komarov. While he did play in Toronto during the 2012/2013 lockout shortened season, the twenty-seven year old was almost exclusively used in a fourth line role but still put up great possession numbers, including a PDO stat of 100.7 and a Corsi rel. stat that was nearly 2% higher than the team average.
Komarov appears to be coming back in at least a third line role, which would require more scoring than he put up during his previous stint in Blue and White. However last year in the KHL, he put up 34 points with a +16 plus/minus stat. His contract at 4 years, $2.9 million AAV looks even better after former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland signed a similar contract with the Calgary Flames. Leaf fans should be thrilled to have Komarov back, especially in a third line role that could also include another acquisition from today.
Toronto also traded Marlie and occasional fourth liner Jerry D’Amigo to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for former Leaf Matt Frattin and a conditional 7th round pick. This trade could pay off if D’Amigo doesn’t mature, however he looked poised to make the jump to the NHL and is 4 years younger than Frattin. I don’t hate the trade, nor do I love it. Judgement on this will have to wait a year or two until D’Amigo has been given a fair shot as a regular.
Toronto Maple Leaf fans should feel good right about now. Nonis and Co. didn’t over spend on Bolland, or Dan Boyle. Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner were not moved for a player nearing retirement, and Leo is back in town. Frattin adds some established depth, Robidas has the potential to be a first pairing defenseman as well as adding a third right handed shot; assuming Cody Franson does not get moved. Without question, the most important thing the organization accomplished was showing their commitment to the youth already in the system.
Dave Nonis has made it clear that players like Peter Holland, Petter Granberg and Carter Ashton will all get ample opportunity to play on the pro squad. It also showed an understanding of where the team is against the salary cap, as the future of the franchise was not endangered by the risk of signing a player to simply fill an immediate role and disregarding future financial ramifications.
This was a mature, well thought out start to free agency by Toronto. Yes, Robidas’ leg problems are a concern, and there are still a number of questions to be asked (Franson, Reimer) however there was a clear understanding that the Leafs are building for maintainable success over a long stretch of time with the current core of players: a concept that has not been implemented in some time in Toronto.