Take heart, Leafs fans. Toronto is prepared to do things the right way. Sure, the road has been long. Hard. Arduous. Painful.
But the Leafs have changed course, finally. And the long-awaited, much-needed rebuilding process began to take real shape at the 2015 NHL trade deadline.
The Leafs shipped out expiring contracts for prospects and picks.
The Leafs recaptured cap space.
The Leafs made minor depth moves, addressing needs for the Marlies.
They rocked it.
Here’s an overview of the new-look, on-the-road-to-recovery Maple Leafs after a hectic month in Leafland.
Reflecting on the deadline, Leafs GM Dave Nonis was blunt and honest:
Nonis: "We did as much as we could… we'd hoped there was a couple other things that could have gotten done."
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 2, 2015
And Nonis wasn’t kidding.
At the deadline, and in the stretch just prior, Nonis managed to deal away nine players (seven forwards, two defensemen). In return, Nonis acquired some prospects (like Brendan Leipsic from Nashville), some deadweight (like Eric Brewer from Anaheim), and a boatload of draft choices (six picks altogether).
That’s a lot to digest. Here’s a visual to help sort it all out:
|F||Joakim Lindstrom||F||Mike Santorelli|
|F||Brendan Leipsic||F||Daniel Winnik|
|F||Zach Sill||F||David Clarkson|
|F||Nathan Horton||F||Spencer Abbott|
|D||TJ Brennan||F||David Broll|
|D||Tim Erixon||F||Carter Ashton|
|D||Eric Brewer||F||Olli Jokinen|
|2015 – 1st Round Pick (Nashville)||D||Korbinian Holzer|
|2015 – 4th Round Pick (Pittsburgh)||D||Cody Franson|
|2016 – 2nd Round Pick (Pittsburgh)|
|2016 – 5th Round Pick (Anaheim)|
|2016 – 6th Round Pick (St. Louis)|
|2016 – 7th Round Pick (Tampa Bay)|
For those of you keeping track at home, that’s an enormous amount of turnover and change.
And while big ticket names like Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, and Joffrey Lupul survived the deadline (far more likely to be dealt at the draft than in-season anyway) the Leafs have clearly showed a willingness to do a few things:
– follow enhanced stats when making personnel decisions
– find alternative ways to make their financial might pay dividends
– restock the team’s depth chart through the draft
In the meantime…
At the post game press conference, Nonis laid out the challenge for his Leafs during the final quarter of the season:
Nonis: You want your young players to grow. You want your veteran players to take it seriously. 19 games to go. We have to compete.
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) March 2, 2015
With 19 games left, the Leafs aren’t finished for the year yet. And although Leafs fans may have been disappointed that more moves weren’t made to help expedite the rebuild, the Maple Leafs have a lot of hockey left to play.
In that way, acquiring veterans with expiring contracts makes sense. Sure, the Leafs will enjoy the cap space left when vets like Brewer and Lindstrom depart in the summer. But, in the short term, these new Leafs need to play:
Leafs take Brewer, who is in the last year of a four-year deal. Hey, like Lindstrom, they need bodies to play rest of season.
— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) March 2, 2015
So, how might the Toronto Maple Leafs look over the last 19 games? Here’s a look at some projected line combinations.
The top three lines and fourth-line centre Trevor Smith are assumed to be lineup locks.
31-year-old Joakim Lindstrom, acquired from the Blues in the Jokinen deal, has never played more than 44 games or scored more than 20 points in a season. With an expiring, one-way contract, Lindstrom is likely to remain in Toronto for the rest of the season but is unlikely to remain in Toronto after the year ends. He and Zach Sill, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Winnik deal, will likely spell each other at the bottom of the Leafs lineup.
In the final forward spot, the Leafs will be forced to promote from within.
Brandon Kozun, Sam Carrick, Josh Leivo, Matt Frattin, Greg McKegg, and Troy Bodie each have spent time in the NHL this season. Any of these are a fair bet to claim the roster spot but the Leafs may be content to spread the playing time around.
Most interestingly, the hole in the Leafs’ lineup creates an opportunity to allow prized prospect William Nylander to take an NHL turn this year. Nylander has only nine points in 16 games at the AHL level but the Leafs may still choose to have the youngster test himself against NHL-level competition.
Roman Polak, Jake Gardiner, Phaneuf, Stephane Robidas (an awful, awful signing) and Morgan Rielly are set to continue pulling the Leafs towards the end line.
The sixth defenseman spot is of interest as Stuart Percy, TJ Brennan, and Petter Granberg will battle for the job. Any of the three might step up and into in the NHL.
All in all, the Toronto Maple Leafs rocked the NHL trade deadline.
By acquiring a slew of picks, finding a way to make the David Clarkson contract disappear, acquiring one promising prospect, and opening up NHL opportunities for Marlies skaters to play for, the Leafs are well-positioned to restructure their roster.
And though it may take a lot of time, at least the Leafs are finally (finally!) doing things the right way.
Noted Senators analytics blogger Emmanuel Perry put it perfectly:
I hate smart Toronto.
— Emmanuel Perry (@MannyElk) March 1, 2015
What do you think, Leafs fans? Has Toronto’s rebuild started on the right foot? Or, can the Leafs really change their locker room culture as long as Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, and Phaneuf are around?