By #jontent (@yakovmironov)
The next Leafs game is on October 12th. They last played April 9th. That’s a pretty long stretch (186 days) of going without watching bad hockey. Thankfully the Leafs are far more interesting in the off-season, so it’s not a complete loss.
This year I foolishly planned my vacation in the mountains to overlap both the NHL Draft and NHL Free Agency. It’s nice from a “life is better away from the keyboard” sense, but it’s meant that I haven’t had a chance to weigh on a few weeks worth of Leafs #content that has already been heavily debated.
I appreciate that not many of you care what my opinions are what you’ve deemed to be old news, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway because it’s really not about what you want. I want to be able to look back at this post next year and say I was completely wrong about Matt Martin.
Day 1 of the Draft:
There really isn’t much to complain about here. The Leafs ended the day with Auston Matthews. There is hope that Toronto has a franchise center and potentially for the next decade the Leafs have their primary position addressed. That’s a nice feeling. The day is a win no matter how you slice it after that.
I went into the draft with some hope that names like Bozak, van Riemsdyk, and Komarov would be shopped about. Knowing this wasn’t a particularly deep or high-end draft outside of the early part of the first round, acquiring additional futures was something I wanted to see.
Seeing absolutely no one make those kinds of trades this year, and the return being potentially underwhelming anyway I’m not disappointed. The Leafs may be tight to the cap with these players still on board, but they aren’t desperate to move anyone. Day one of the draft was a huge win for the Leafs and that’s about as boring of a take as I can offer up.
Day 2 of the Draft:
The fun thing about watching a lot of junior hockey and being the fan of a bad NHL team is that you become incredibly opinionated the draft. A good percentage of the posts on this site or Tom and I compiling lists of viable draft candidates and deep down, we know that very few of players we like will actually wind up the team we like.
Of course, that generally makes for an obnoxious day two of the draft where we’re constantly in awe of who is left on the board. That’s pretty much the same story for everyone, I guess and when you see the Leafs go in a dramatically different direction this year compared to last, you’re going to be left scratching your head even more.
I can’t say that I hated day two of the draft as much as a lot of people. I think the Leafs added some solid prospects, took a couple of worthwhile risks, and I’m content to have some WHL players to watch as they come through Edmonton next season. That being said, I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DIDN’T USE MY DRAFT LIST!!!
Here’s my quick breakdown of each pick
Yegor Korshkov: I’m not going to pretend that I know a ton about him, but I hate the idea of taking an overager this early especially when you had a whole night to think about your pick. Korshkov wasn’t in my final top 120, so I can’t pretend I like this pick, but I can’t say I know enough to hate it either. He seems like an interesting project.
Carl Grundstrom: I had Grundstrom ranked in my top 30 so getting him in the late second round is like Bracco all over for me. He’s probably going to be a middle six player, and that’s fine. Basically this is the Leafs getting on the Detroit model and going out and finding their Holmstrom/Franzen.
Joseph Woll: There are a lot of goaltenders I liked in the draft, and amazing two of the ones I liked the most (Sawchenko and Raaymakers) didn’t get drafted. It’s worth noting that I actually don’t know a lot about goaltenders and you can argue the USNTDP has produced some of the best in recent years. Woll seems like a solid pick up and I’m excited to see the Leafs add a worthwhile goaltender to their system.
James Greenway: Greenway was a player I had ranked at 106 on my list. He’s a fairly raw talent, but the NCAA route affords him a chance to continue developing his offensive game and he seems like he could be more than a shutdown guy. I warmed up this pick fairly quickly once it became clear the Leafs wanted some size in their system.
Adam Brooks: I had Brooks 78th on my list because this year after the top sixty it seemed perfectly reasonable to entertain the idea of overagers. Brooks is one of the best overagers as he has speed, hands, and knows how to kill penalties too. The Leafs still have relatively poor depth at center in the organization, so Brooks is a great way to add to that.
Keaton Middleton: Middleton seems like the player that most Leafs fans are upset about being selected, but I had him 87th on my list. Again, this is largely because I think this was a weaker draft year, and getting a raw defensemen with size wouldn’t be the worst use of a mid round pick. If Keaton gets moved away from Saginaw and joins an OHL team with a better development track record this could have long term payoffs. At the very least, if Middleton shows some signs of progress, a prospect with size is still valuable trade bait in the NHL or he could serve a purpose on the Marlies, which in reality will be what happens for most of the picks anyway.
Vladimir Bobylev: Of course the Leafs draft two players from my least favourite WHL team. I can’t stand the Royals, and think Dave Lowry is overrated as a coach. Most people disagree with me on Lowry, and if he’s viewed as someone who can develop Bobylev, that might be the reason for taking the physical Russian.
Jonathan Walker: Yeah, I still don’t like overager Royals. If there were two picks in the draft I’d like to have back, it’s probably the last two. (Just kidding. I still want the 31st overall pick back more.)
Nicolas Mattinen: Really surprised he didn’t go earlier, but Mete sliding was an indication that there wasn’t going to be a run on Knights except in the first round. Mattinen will get a lot more playing time next year and that’s great. When the Leafs add a project defensemen London is where I want them to be.
Nikolai Chebykin: I can’t pretend I know a thing about him. The only reason I have to complain is that with Zach Sawchenko still available I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to add him instead.
In a nutshell, the drafting on day two was underwhelming for me. I mean odds are that most guys in the draft end up never getting a sniff of the NHL, but it didn’t seem like the Leafs were chasing high end potential the way that had last draft.
There certainly was a lot less of that potential this year, but it seems reasonable to feel unfulfilled after having the bar set so high. Instead what the Leafs have are a bunch of players that will help fill out the Marlies in various roles, project players who benefit from a slower approach, and potentially the most intriguing goaltender prospect since James Reimer. With the reality of day two being one that at best fills out the lower part of the roster, the Leafs did a solid job of finding players who are suited to that role, but it certainly isn’t as appealing as watching them swing for the fences on every pick.
The Leafs have long been rumoured to be fans of Kerby Rychel, so the fact that they were able to add him for Scott Harrington has to be considered a huge win.
The fact that Rychel is younger and still doesn’t have to clear waivers is great asset management. Hating on this trade is pretty hard to do even if I was one of the few people who was truly excited about Scott Harrington and I’m somewhat meh on what Rychel will be like as an NHLer.
Rychel is likely coming into the Leafs camp with a legitimate shot to earn a bottom six role and that’s encouraging. I’d prefer to see a lot of youth competition in camp rather than stop gapping roster spots with Boyes, Grabner, and Parenteau again. Besides, the Leafs still have plenty of those types of players in the roster thanks to last season’s deals with Washington and Ottawa.
Stamkos isn’t Coming 😦
Yeah, it sucks.
The idea of adding an elite talent for just cap space was appealing, but Stamkos in Tampa Bay is at least a known. Stamkos being added to a different roster would have terrified me. Knowing that tough decisions will eventually start hitting Tampa Bay is something to be excited about, and while there is no indication that Stamkos will continue to face his health issues, I’d be lying if that wasn’t something I could completely let go of.
The Leafs will instead have even greater ease in the future in making sure that Nylander, Matthews, and Marner all comfortably fit under the cap and we can start the clock on the 2018 Tavares Watch.
This is surprisingly easy to get over.
Okay. I’ll admit I don’t get this at all. I get that Matt Martin isn’t a liability in the bottom part of the lineup. I get that while the emphasis of a team should always be on speed, there’s a need for a physical component too. Martin has both of those components, he just lacks in offensive production. None of this seems bad if he’s a player that the Leafs signed for a couple of seasons at $1.5M or less, but they’ve got him for four years at $2.5M. That’s ugly. I fully expect Martin to be dealt before that time, but it looks ugly.
For the most part, this is a case of me hating the contract, not the player. Babcock is not Carlyle. He may like Martin’s hitting and “compete level” but he’s not likely to have any desire to play Martin beyond 14 minutes a night or have him riding shotgun with Nazem Kadri.
By eye test or by the numbers Martin is an ideal player to have in the bottom of the Leafs lineup and gives the Leafs some potential in putting together a shutdown line not that dissimilar from the Isles “Best Fourth Line In Hockey”…
Greening and Martin both are capable shot suppressors and for that matter so is Byron Froese who compared well against the Isles $3.35M/yr blunder Casey Cizikas.
While none of this is overly exciting, it’s the Leafs committing to traditional shutdown line, something that has pretty much come standard with Mike Babcock whether you agree with it or not.
Martin also gives the Leafs a face punching option in the lineup, something that is by no means a requirement or in many cases desired, but since Martin is someone who can actually play hockey, we’ll take this a nice feature like an unexpected cup holder in new vehicle.
Between Martin and Komarov, the Leafs now have two of the most frequent hitters in the league (albeit Islanders and Leafs hit counters are the most generous in the league) and that is helpful. As much as puck possession is the name of the game, a good team still doesn’t have the puck 40% or more of the time and it’s nice having human missiles as a way of getting the puck back.
I really felt the urge to complain about offering NHL contracts to likely career AHLers, but I’ve warmed up on the Holl contract for a few reasons.
- The Leafs let Sam Carrick, Stuart Percy, and Colin Smith go without qualifying offers clearing up additional contract space. Particularly letting Percy go created a defensive position opening.
- Trading Harrington for Rychel eliminated yet another defensive callup option. After Loov and Valiev, the Leafs really have just Campbell and (sigh) Cowen as options.
- He seems better than I give him credit for.
While I consider myself an advocate of avoiding deaths by a thousand cuts, I’ve come to terms with the fact that Holl isn’t a cut, he was a good July 2nd safety measure where the Leafs rewarded a good young player in their system.
This is damned gross. It’s pretty indefensible. Polak was a tire fire all of last season. He then put on a clinic in the Stanley Cup Finals of why he should never be on the ice against talented players. There is no good reason for having to put up with another year of him.
The weak reasons seem to be that he’s a right handed shot shutdown defender, he’s a veteran presence, and he’s someone that can be flipped at the deadline even easier this time because his salary is lower. Okay.
Conclusion: Roman Polak is bad and we should feel bad.
Jared Cowen Buyout?
I still think the buyout eventually goes through, so I’ll stick with my general optimism but lack of enthusiasm around the Leafs offseason here. The Leafs handled this well (although dickishly) by having Cowen cleared in season for the Leafs before sending him home to avoid Cowen being injured and preventing a buyout.
Nonetheless here we are, and Cowen claims to be injured at the time of the buyout, and we can have the straight forward departure we all hoped for.
This seems like a stupid play by Cowen who was about to receive a decent chunk of his salary and would have been available to teams looking for defensemen on July 1st. Given my generally low opinion of hockey executives I assume that he would have received multiple offers.
Instead, the Leafs were kept in a state of limbo through July 1st (which was probably a good thing) and Cowen hasn’t done himself any favours in attempted to salvage a pro hockey career. It’s pretty safe to say that Cowen will not dress for the Leafs if he stays on and at best will see some usage at the bottom of the Marlies defensive depth chart. Of course, if Cowen truly does believe his career is over, I don’t blame him for wanting to collect on all the money that’s owed to him.
The Leafs drafted Auston Matthews so it’s hard to not look back at the last couple of weeks fondly. The fact that we are so quick to lose sight of that is what makes us Leafs fans and a little dumb.
Everything else has fallen somewhere on the scale of “it’s okay, I guess” to “DEAR GORD NOT POLAK AGAIN” and that’s a bit harder to stomach. Martin will be fine. The draft went fine. Holl is what he is, and Cowen still won’t be in a Leafs uniform next season. It’s just that whole Polak thing and are larger expectations that make this harder than it needs to be.
If I’m mapping out the rest of the summer, I still would like to see the Leafs shed a couple of veterans. I would be cautious about the Corrado and Holland arbitration rulings, especially since they will likely fall into the range where the Leafs can’t walk away (Marincin is good, we’ll live with his no matter what). I’d still like to see the Leafs find another right shooting defensemen who isn’t comically bad, but presumably things are about to go very silent, very soon.
(click image to embiggen)
While it may not feel like it’s fully met our needs, this has been a fairly busy summer and it’s really only two months until rookie camps start. We still get to watch arbitrations and the Jimmy Vesey situation play out so it’s not going to be 100% boring either.