The Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the busiest teams this off-season but has the club actually improved its chances at contending for a Stanley Cup?
It’s been another interesting off-season for Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas as, after watching his team underachieve in the postseason once again, he was forced to shed salary due to the flat cap.
The revolving door of players coming and going began almost immediately after Toronto was eliminated from the playoffs. Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson and their combined $6.6 million cap hit were traded. Cody Ceci, Kyle Clifford, and Tyson Barrie were not re-signed. In their place, Dubas managed to sign T.J. Brodie to a reasonable $5 milllion cap hit over four years but after him it has been bargain basement shopping for Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
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Dubas managed to sign broken down 32-year old Wayne Simmonds to a one year, $1.5 million contract. It’s a great gamble for a team desperate to fit players in under the salary cap, however, this is Simmonds’ fifth team in less than two seasons as he’s struggled mightily since leaving the Philadelphia Flyers.
Simmonds also turned down more money from the Montreal Canadiens in order to sign with his home town Maple Leafs. Therefore, it’s tough to give Dubas credit for signing a player eager to come home and willing to do it cheap.
It’s a no-risk move but it’s hard to classify it as a move that truly improves the club. Simmonds’ physical style of game is exactly what the Maple Leafs need but can his body still hold up at his age to compete at the level he once did with Philadelphia? The winger might be a quality player capable of replacing Johnsson or Kapanen at ease, or he might be near the end of his career unable to still be the player he once was.
Speaking of players who are breaking down, Toronto also brought in 41-year old Joe Thornton in a clear throwback move to the early 2000s when the Maple Leafs were constantly bringing in old All-Stars at the end of their careers.
Thornton is also somewhat of a hometown kid growing up less than two hours from Toronto, however, what are the future Hall of Famer’s true expectations for this coming season? He’ll likely begin on the third line but can he hold up the entire season? Will he platoon with the re-signed Jason Spezza as the two take turns in and out of the lineup?
It’s another no-risk move to sign Thornton but it’s also another move that, when you take a step back and look at, it is hard to see how it truly improves the club. His veteran leadership will help in the locker room, and perhaps that’ll be enough, but will that help win a puck battle against a grittier Playoff team?
Speaking of potential players that could help win a puck battle, Zach Bogosian on a one-year, $1 million contract is the exact type of signing you could argue improves the club. His size, physicality, and newly won Stanley Cup ring checks all the boxes of what the Maple Leafs need and will continue to need. His presence should help clear the way in the front of the net and help dig out pucks behind the net that the likes of Ceci and Barrie would have never gotten.
The interesting part of Bogosian’s signing is he admitted he also wanted to be close to home and said he would have preferred to sign with the Maple Leafs after he was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres before signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning for more money. So, once again, Dubas has signed a player who has admitted to just wanting to be close to home.
There were plenty of other bargain basement one-year signings such as goaltender Aaron Dell, who’ll begin the year as the third goalie, Jimmy Vesey, the once highly sought after college standout who will look to put his career back on track after difficult years in Buffalo, and Travis Boyd is another player who could rotate as the team’s 12th forward or simply disappear to the Toronto Marlies.
It was a lot of patchwork for Dubas as he needed to ship out quality mid-20s wingers to create cap space to fill out the roster, only to do so by signing a bunch of one year deals for people who just wanted to come home. The older talent brought in certainly doesn’t replace the younger talent lost, however, Dubas has to be banking on the experience and character he signed being the X-factor that improves the roster.
Brodie is without question a defensive upgrade over Barrie but that’s like saying oxygen is better than not breathing, and Bogosian is certainly more physical than Ceci but whether he can play a full season is in question. The likes of Simmonds, Thornton, and Vesey can’t be expected to contribute too much but they aren’t being paid to either.
The one positive for Dubas is he no longer has the long-term injury reserve contracts of Nathan Horton and David Clarkson on his books. The General Manager expressed his frustrations with those deals at last year’s trade deadline when the Maple Leafs were banged up and had no cap space to acquire players to help fill the holes. Entering next season and leading into the trade deadline the Maple Leafs will now have more cap space flexibility than they’ve had in recent years.
Toronto will certainly need the extra flexibility as at-best they’ve stayed the status quo this off-season, if not slightly regressed.