Hey gang, let’s start off this first post by kicking up some controversy. The Leafs are terrible at hockey. There, I said it. Sue me.
On February 12th, Cathal Kelly reported that the Leafs finally had been given approval from MLSE to execute a full-on “scorched-earth” rebuild. It seems that the Tank Nation dream is finally becoming a reality. As a loyal Leaf fan for 20 frustrating years, I can confidently say that it’s time. I’m sure you feel the same way. The Leafs have meddled in mediocrity and awfulness for too long. Sure, I loved ex-Leafs like Lee Stempniak, Jeff Finger, and Jay McClement as much as the next guy, but only if the next guy didn’t like them at all. Short-term fixes and minor restructurings have failed to do the trick. As torturous as this rebuild is going to be, take some solace in the fact that the Leafs are finally doing what should have been done years ago.
To fans who expected the Leafs to dump all of their players right away, the Trade Deadline seemed like more of a buzzkill than Buzz Killington. Let’s have some patience though. We’re probably about a month into a 5+ year rebuild, so if you’re already impatient, it’s going to be a really rough process. It’s clear though, that the early stages of the rebuild are underway, and I couldn’t be happier.
I’m not exactly Dave Nonis’ biggest fan, and to be honest, I don’t know why he’s employed by the Leafs. In my opinion, he inherited a decent situation from Brian Burke, made some moronic decisions, and set the Leafs back quite a bit. But despite the fact that he goofed up early on, I think that his decisions in the last few weeks (along with the likes of Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, and Mark Hunter) have actually made a lot of sense.
Let’s take a gander at some of the bigger moves:
1. Leafs trade Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson to Nashville for their first-round pick, prospect Brandon Leipsic, and Leaf legend Olli Jokinen:
It seemed unlikely that either of these former Leafs on their own would fetch a first-rounder. Although it’s a late round pick, Nashville has faltered a bit since the trade. Under the new draft order rules, the pick could easily end up as low as 24th overall, which in this draft, could land a stud. Leipsic is an intriguing player. A 2012 third-rounder with a Tucker-like edge and impressive point totals in the WHL and AHL, he shows some promise to be a solid piece in the rebuild. Watching this video will make you love the guy even more, guaranteed. What a beauty. Definitely a solid return for two expiring contracts in Franson and Santorelli. The trade looks even better when you take a look at their numbers since the move down south, a combined 8 points in 44 games between the two of them. Oof.
2. Leafs trade water bottle police chief David Clarkson to Columbus for Nathan Horton.
I fault Nonis for bringing Clarkson in, but credit him big time for somehow managing to unload him. It’s a miracle that they could find a taker, even if the return is a guy who can’t even walk. With Horton on LTIR, his salary does not count against the cap, meaning that this trade frees up 5.25 million in cap space that would have been committed to Clarkson until 2019. Oh, and he’s out for the season with another injury. Rough go, Columbus. I still just can’t believe this went down.
3. Leafs trade Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh for a 2015 fourth-rounder, a 2016 second-rounder and fourth-liner Zach Sill.
Like many members of Leaf Nation, I was a big fan of Winnik and sad to see him go. He’s a guy who will really help the Pens in a cup run. But since he was another player with an expiring contract, it made sense to try and get something for him. This return is pretty much what one would expect for a player of his calibre. Fingers crossed the Leafs can land a good player with the picks this year and next year. As for Sill, while I don’t imagine he’s part of the long term plans, I wouldn’t mind bringing him back on a short-term deal next year. Seems like a solid character guy to have around while Tank Nation continues next year.
4. Leafs trade Korbinian Holzer to Anaheim for a 2016 fifth-rounder and Eric Brewer.
Not much to see here, but I am shocked that they were able to find a taker for Holzer. I know some people in TO seemed to really like him, but I never really understood that thought process, to be honest. According to advanced statistics guru BehindTheNet.ca, his On-Ice Corsi of -15.87 this season only ranked ahead of Leaf greats Greg McKegg and Carter “I accidentally took steroids” Ashton. This means that when he was on the ice, the opponent averaged 15.87 shot attempts more than the Leafs per 60 minutes. Yeesh. Realistically, Eric Brewer was just included as a throw-in expiring contract to free up some cap space for Anaheim so that they could make the deal work. He’s well past his prime, but not many players reach the 1,000 game plateau, so he deserves some props for that. Now, time to retire, grandpa.
5. Leafs trade Olli Jokinen to St. Louis for a 2016 sixth-rounder and Joakim Lindstrom.
Let’s take a moment of silence to remember Olli’s legendary career with the blue and white. He will be missed.
I hope they have good waffles in St. Louis…
In all seriousness, it’s hard to believe that a team like St. Louis would have any use for him. It’s nice that the Leafs were able to nab a draft pick, though. With an expiring contract, Lindstrom’s illustrious Leaf career will be done at the end of the year, I suspect.
The Leafs recently made two interesting free-agent signings just a day apart. 23-year-old winger, Casey Bailey, is a big power forward with a big shot, producing at over a point-per-game pace this year with the Penn State Nittany Lions (who thought up that name) of the NCAA. Reports say that he has tremendous upside in both the offensive and defensive ends, and that he was perhaps the most highly touted college free agent. The Leafs have had some disappointing college signings, like Christian Hanson and Brayden Irwin, in recent years. Other guys, like Tyler Bozak and Ben Scrivens, have gone on to have some success. Who knows how he will pan out, but may as well give it a try. He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his play as of yet, but it will definitely be interesting to see how he progresses.
Nikita Soshnikov is a highly-skilled 21-year-old winger playing in the KHL. He had a break-out year this season, netting 32 points in 57 games, playing with men much older than him. Leafs Director of Player Personnel (and perhaps Nonis’ future replacement) Mark Hunter is said to be the man behind both of these signings. He said in an interview with TSN that he thinks Soshnikov will have no problem adapting to the North American style of hockey.
While we don’t know much about either of them at this point, it makes sense for the Leafs to stock up on as many of these low risk, high reward entry-level contracts as possible. Although, after these signings Toronto is at its 50 contract limit, and will need to move some players before bringing more in.
Clearly the early stages of the rebuild have begun. I expect that we’ll see some major unloading once the off-season rolls around and teams have more cap flexibility. This off-season will have tremendous implications for the Leafers, and it will be very interesting to see how things unfold. The Leafs have 1 game left, and then this season will finally come to it’s merciful conclusion. Thankfully, 27th spot is locked up, so we can put #TankNation on hold for the last game and hope for a Leaf win over the Habs. (Side note: In case you didn’t hear already, Colton Orr will dress for one last time as a Leaf before his likely retirement this off-season. He seems like a good dude, so I think this is a nice farewell gesture. I still re-watch this amazing fight every so often).
More importantly though, let’s mark our calendars for the April 18th draft lottery and the July 1st draft, and get ready to shift our attention to the Jays and Raptors for a while.