Category Archives: Blog
By: Aaron Greenfield
After discussion of nearly two years, the excitement and drama died down in an instant. Steven Stamkos announced he would be returning to Tampa Bay for eight years. As tempting as it was for Toronto to sign him, the Maple Leafs will benefit by not signing him to an irresponsible contract that would likely have cost the team down the road.
The Leafs organization has a history of giving out big contracts to players underserving of them. For a while in the pre-lockout era, it was to veterans, some bound for the Hall of Fame, who were in the twilight of their careers, looking for one last dash for a Stanley Cup. That Cup never came and those contracts ended up hurting the team in the long run. Then post-lockout, the Leafs tried to fix their drafting or managerial woes by signing players with experience in the league, but again, were a fraction of what they used to be once they donned the blue and white. Oftentimes, these signings were miscalculations of player ability versus age and player decline. The Leafs are building up a strong core from within and bringing in a big name like Stamkos, who would have commanded a bigger contract than what he signed in Tampa Bay, may have disrupted their ability to stay competitive in the long run.
On June 24, the Leafs selected Auston Matthews as the first selection in the 2016 NHL draft. He is pegged as a potential number 1 centre and is likely able to step in immediately and completely change the course of this franchise. After recently locking up Nazem Kadri to a longterm deal the Leafs are essentially set down the middle for when they plan to start contending for a playoff spot and beyond in two to three years. The Leafs also have Mitch Marner and William Nylander patiently waiting and preparing for regular NHL duty, both of whom have experience playing centre through junior (Nylander is more suited to play centre in the NHL, and did last season in his brief call-up). With a potential 3rd centre in that mix, there is little to no need to go out and spend on a free agent centre, regardless of who that free agent is. When this management group made their initial pitch to the fans, it was that this rebuild would be done by drafting, developing and making smart, calculated moves. So far, they have stayed on course. Now that their toughest test of controlling the urge to make an irresponsible signing is out of the way (thanks in part to Steve Yzerman and Stamkos), the Leafs can continue on their path.
If the Leafs want to be competitive for a while, and keep their core as well as have the money to pay for depth, a Stamkos deal would have been costly. By the time the Leafs truly are Stanley Cup contenders, players like Matthews, Marner and Nylander, arguably some of the most important players to the Leafs core will all need new contracts and depending on their success in the league through those first few years, it isn’t hard to imagine them commanding $5-7 million deals each. That, coupled with all the other contracts to their defense (Rielly will need a new deal two years after that) and depth, will make a GM awfully nervous. Chicago, for example, has done a masterful job at staying competitive despite matching eight year, $10.5 million per season deals for Kane and Toews. They recognized that with a core they mostly drafted and developed, they could remain competitive by rotating depth pieces and limit high spending on free agents. When they won their first Cup, most of their core was on very cap-friendly contracts. As these players got older and their contracts expired, they were paid handsomely, however, as seen from the 2016 Playoffs, their depth suffered from lack of cap room and they could not escape the first round. The Leafs could follow a similar process and potentially get to a stage one day with the pieces they have, where they compete for multiple Stanley Cups. But these core players too will need new contracts and with a big $10 million+ contract given to Stamkos, someone important to the core would eventually be forced out (similar to Saad, Shaw and others on the Blackhawks).
Stamkos is unquestionably talented and can change the look of a franchise completely. He has done a remarkable job with the Lightning in helping them become Cup contenders year after year. The Leafs, a team that suddenly has built up somewhat of a strength at centre, can now spend their remaining money elsewhere such as on defense or just stay idle and save that cap space until two to three years down the road when they need a player to push them over the top into a serious contender. Had Stamkos in fact left the Lightning and pursued another franchise like Toronto, it would be exciting at first but it would have meant the Leafs would be signing a player preparing for a decline in production.
According to Tulsky, the scoring rate at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes peaks just before age 25, then enters a steady decline. For the 26-year-old Stamkos, the saving grace is he is a powerplay specialist and one of the best players in the league at scoring with a man up. He has perfected the slap shot from the faceoff circle, thus explaining why nearly 35% of his career goals have been scored on the powerplay. A second article hosted on the SB Nation site explains that most players, even extremely skilled players, hit a decline in powerplay goals and shooting percentage by age 30. Had Stamkos signed a max deal in Toronto, he would be four years into his seven-year deal when he hits age 30 and will enter some sort of production decline. While he may put up similar stats to what he has done throughout his career in those first four years, by the time the Leafs would have expected to be annual playoff contenders, his decline would begin to take charge, the worst time for this to happen to a prized free agent signing. As seen through the past few Stanley Cup Finals, with parity at its highest, sometimes all it takes is for one team’s offense to go cold at the wrong time for another team to win the Cup. If Stamkos is not able to score at the same rate as he used to and enters cold streaks more frequently, the Leafs would therefore be burned by signing him and have to wait another three seasons before his contract would be up again, when the star centre is 33 years old. Now, as explained in the Tulsky article, the production drop off isn’t as rapid as I make it out to be here in this article. And elite players such as Stamkos oftentimes are outliers and face a slower decline than the average NHL player. However, every player is different and even elite players can still enter a decline at an early age.
One can argue that valuing Stamkos over some of the other centres in the Leafs organization is a move that could have been done. This would mean Stamkos would have slotted into the number one centre position with Matthews at number two, and Kadri either sliding to number three, or is traded to upgrade another position. Stamkos has made it clear he wants to be put in a prominent role and he wants to be a centre, and not a winger. Therefore with this scenario, it is likely that newly re-signed Nazem Kadri could have been the odd man out and be shipped off, which I have a hard believing the Leafs brass would be willing to do. Regardless, it is a decision the Leafs no longer have to worry about.
Lastly, it can’t be ignored that Stamkos has suffered a serious injury as well as blood clots. The devastating broken leg that kept the Markham native out of the Olympics was tough and despite the remarkably quick recovery, it is unknown the long term effects of that knee break. Many experts say the blood clot that Stamkos suffered from was one that most players recover from completely (including his teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy). However, the fact he suffered from it at all is enough to raise some red flags.
As many reporters who cover the team have noted, the Leafs management should and will be disappointed with Steven Stamkos’ decision. The Leafs organization would have found a way to make it work to make the ‘Hometown Boy’ the face of his hometown franchise. It would have been very exciting to sign such a big name free agent, who has put up elite level scoring numbers through his career. However, the Leafs have a lot of exciting players already that can make a serious impact in the league which some fans lose sight of because they haven’t truly made their mark in the NHL yet. Steven Stamkos has many good years ahead of him and has an excellent shot to win a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay for the next five years. While it may be disappointing to some fans at first, the end result of a competitive Maple Leafs team for a longer period of time thanks to a well-managed salary cap is well worth the trade-off.
By: Geoffrey Martlin
James Van Riemsdyk is a 30 goal scorer with a cap hit of $4.25 million over the next 2 years. He was on pace for 59 points and a 30 goal year last season on a consistently bad team before getting injured and he could garner an attractive price this offseason from cap crunching teams who want to win now.
The cap is only being raised $1.6 million because of the struggling Canadian Dollar and because of this many teams aren’t likely to spend a lot of money. In comes JVR, a player with a reasonable cap hit for a top-6 left winger. Read Article
By: Aaron Greenfield
As the dust settles from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the focus now shifts to the Draft. Barring any surprises, Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Co. will call out Auston Matthews’ name, making him the first selection at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Once the celebration dies down in Leafs Nation, the Canucks make one more trade that hinders their franchise’s development and the Oilers prove they are still too afraid to trade one of their former first round picks for defensive help, the real question marks will arise: What should the Leafs do with their second 1st round pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins? Read Article
As the Toronto Maple Leafs shift their focus to the 2016-17 season a bulk of the discussion will be whether 2015 1st round selection Mitch Marner is ready to take the next step and join the Leafs, rather than play another in junior, where he has nothing left to prove after winning every MVP trophy awarded throughout the OHL and CHL, as well as the Memorial Cup Championship. Another part of that discussion involves Marner’s longterm success in the NHL and how the numbers he scored in junior will translate to the pro level. I looked back at the last eleven CHL MVPs, their points per game and playoff points game in the year they won to try and find a correlation between being named CHL MVP and having longterm NHL success. Here is what I found: Read Article
By: Aaron Greenfield
The IIHF World Hockey Championships coincide every year with the NHL playoffs and while this rarely is an issue for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs to tune in, the tournament is still widely an afterthought as most countries are unable to ice a full roster. Usually, at least one high profile player from each respective nation is still alive in the quest for the Stanley Cup, which leads these countries to instead select a different player whom otherwise would not have made the cut. It’s a fortunate break for those players just below the cut for other tournaments such as the Olympics to get their shot but often lowers the excitement level and legitimacy of the tournament for some fans, as these aren’t the true rosters that would otherwise have been picked. This has been especially true for countries such as Canada, that despite the wide pool of players to choose from, often still have less-exciting rosters because the superstars are largely on rosters of the final few NHL teams that battle for the cup, or decide not join their fellow country-men once eliminated. This year, the theme for many rosters is youth, bringing back excitement to the tournament and once again giving fans an incentive to tune in. For Leafs fans, not only will three roster players be playing and have large roles but also this tournament will feature their first overall selection in this upcoming June’s draft, and for many fans, will be the first professional games they see them play. Here are the Leafs and potential Leafs featured in this year’s tournament. Read Article
By: Aaron Greenfield
An agonizing one-hour left to wait. The 2016 season began with a stern warning from new Head Coach Mike Babcock that there will be pain. For me, hearing this as a lifelong fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs was a bit puzzling at first, because, well, what were the last 20 years all about? Now after waiting all season to see where the team would finish, there was just one more hour left to see if it all worked out in our favour.
Only ten more minutes to see if one of the least statistically successful seasons I’ve ever witnessed my favourite sports team endure was worth it or if it was all for naught. Losing one or two or even all three of the lotteries may not set them back as much as Leafs fans may think but winning one of them puts them in a great spot where they can soon shift their focus from rebuilding to contending. While the Leafs had the best odds at winning the lottery, just 20%, it meant that the Leafs had much better odds of not having the opportunity to draft a potentially franchise-altering player in Auston Matthews.
The big screen at Real Sports Bar & Grill in Toronto changes from showing the Blue Jays game to Sportsnet’s coverage of the Draft Lottery. Adrenaline picks up quickly and there’s a feeling of nervous excitement in the building. Read Article
While there is still a chance that James Reimer can still return to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer, we look at memorable moments from his career.
By: David Morassutti
When news broke that James Reimer was traded to the San Jose Sharks and people saw what the Toronto Maple Leafs got back in return, there was not an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction with the result of the trade. On one hand the team got what they could for a rental goalie considering the limited number of suitors, but seeing the reaction from fans and the media following the trade shows what Reimer meant to this city. Reimer debuted with the Leafs back in the 2010-11 season where he posted a 20-10-5 record with a .921 SV% and a 2.60 GAA at the age of 22. After that impressive run the Leafs looked like they were set in net for the long run with the former 4th round pick in 2006. It was a rare time where the Leafs properly drafted and developed a player in an important position and were set to make a commitment to him going forward. After an injury riddled season in 2011-12, Reimer was back to his dominant form in the 2012-13 season posting a 19-8-5 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 sv% getting the Leafs into the playoffs and keeping them in a tough series against the Boston Bruins. Read Article
With three deals in the books, there are still plenty of Leafs players on the trading block. Here’s a preview of where some might be heading and what the Leafs can expect in return.
By: Aaron Greenfield
P.A. PARENTEAU + BYRON FROESE
Parenteau has had somewhat rejuvenated his career this season with the Leafs but it’s almost a guarantee that he will wear a different jersey in March (though he has expressed interest in signing with the Leafs in the offseason). The former 20-goal scorer leads the Leafs in powerplay points with six and his 30 points on the season is good for third best on the team. A lot of his offense seems to come from linemates creating the initial play and P.A. being in the right place to put the puck in the net. A contending team with a solid offense but struggling powerplay looking to improve is the team that will pursue him. Froese is a wildcard who Babcock likes and hasn’t been mentioned as being on the trading block but because I don’t think the Leafs see him in the long-term future, they may package him along for a better return. Read Article
With the former captain and his untradeable contract gone to the Ottawa Senators we look back at bright moments from Dion Phaneuf’s time in Toronto
By: David Morassutti
While Dion Phaneuf’s time in Toronto did not work out in the way that he or the Toronto Maple Leafs would have like there is no doubt that he did have an impact on the team. Whether it was his shot from the point (when he actually hit the net) or the hits and fights he brought a presence that the Leafs desperately needed. Miscasting him as a number one defenceman and prematurely making captain too soon set expectations that were not going to be easy to accomplish in the pressure cooker that is Toronto. Here are some highlights from Phaneuf’s time in Toronto. Read Article
By: Aaron Greenfield
At the conclusion of episode 5 of The Leaf: Blueprint, a mini series created by the Maple Leafs to give fans an inside look at the rebuild process, the team unveiled their new logo which they will wear in their centennial 2017 season and beyond.
The Maple Leafs have unveiled their new logo. #TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 3, 2016