2013 – 2014 New Maple Leafs and Marlies Family Members

The Toronto Maple Leafs, like every other team in the NHL this summer, are revamping their roster and have been forced to shake things up a little with the impending drop in the cap next season. Gone are Grabovski, MacArthur, Kostka and Hamilton, all to a certain extent victims of the cap reduction. Grabo replaced essentially by the younger Kadri and less expensive Bozak, MacArthur replaced by Clarkson given the impending line shakeup, Kostka replaced by T.J. Brennan while Hamilton left to continue his career with Dallas Eakins and the Edmonton Oilers organization.

Recently the Maple Leafs announced they had signed Trevor Smith, an Ottawa native and University of New Hampshire alumni who had been tearing up the AHL with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburg Penguins farm teams along with a handful of NHL games played in between. The 28 year old, 6’1 195lbs center was very likely signed to take the place of recently departed Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton, who followed former coach Dallas Eakins to Edmonton. He brings some much needed scoring ability and veteran leadership to the dressing room of an incredibly young squad where his Calder Cup winning experience with the 2012 Norfolk Admirals will most certainly be an asset. It would not surprise me in the least to also see him named the next captain of the organization as well.

Hockey’s Future described Smith as “…gifted with a great set of hands and terrific hockey sense. Based on his offensive production last season at the UNH, the Islanders see him as having great potential. While his speed is average, he’s quick to get a shot off. The Islanders scouts are particularly excited about his tenacity in going after the puck. It seems that wherever the puck is, Smith is there chasing after it.”

The knock against Smith from what I could find online was that his skating does not appear to possess a second gear (hopefully he can spend some time with Barb Underhill at the Mastercard Center) and his faceoff percentages appear to be below the fifty percent mark. A solid depth signing for the Maple Leafs in the off chance they need a call-up with experience and who will ultimately spend a fair amount of time guiding the young Marlies through the 2013-14 campaign. You never know though, given his age we may see him in his prime and he will hopefully be afforded an opportunity to impress at main camp.

Excuse the video quality but Smith definitely has some decent hands:

Troy Bodie was another Leafs signing recently announced, a 6’5” 226lbs Manitoba native who has bounced around a little in the American Hockey League these past few years and is most likely destined to bring some much needed grit and veteran leadership to the Marlies. New MLSE boss Tim Leiweke is actually Bodie’s father in law so you have to wonder a little about the signing but overall a grinder who will create room for teammates and stand up for them if necessary; will definitely be interesting to see where he fits in line wise.

Here is Bodie having an on ice disagreement with of all people Mark Fraser:

Finally, the Maple Leafs also announced the signing of T.J. Brennan a 24 year old former 2nd round pick in the 2007 entry draft by the Buffalo Sabers. This was one of the more intriguing signings as it appears that Brennan, a Willingboro, NJ native is still coming into his own after spending time with the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabers organizations. An offensive minded defenseman with upside given his age (24), he has most likely been brought on as a depth defenseman to replace Mike Kostka (who I wish the organization would have given more sheltered minutes to in his first NHL season) and is a similar player albeit at an earlier stage in his career.

The 6’1”, 214lbs lefty averaged a solid 15 goals and 20 assists in each of his seasons at the AHL level and put up reasonable points last season with the Florida Panthers although his -8 last season would be cause for some concern. Hockey’s Future has him pegged as an offensive defenseman with decent skating and a hard shot but developing a little on the slow side and who will need to pick it up a notch to make it to the NHL full time. Will definitely be interesting to watch his continued development here in Toronto.

Here is a really interesting video produced by Comcast about Brennan and something that is definitely worth the watch:

…and this video just makes me laugh:

Some solid depth signings all things considered. Kostka has been replaced with a player who could still be considered a prospect at only 24 years old, whom at the worst will make the Marlies that much better of a team. A sizeable grinder added to the organization who can chip in with some points and protect younger prospects if necessary and finally a vetern center who can provide leadership and depth at center should it be required during the year. The Marlies will be an interesting team to watch given the amount of vetern players that have departed the team but with this comes the opportunity for younger players in the organization to step up and show what they have. Anways some food for thought.

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2013 Maple Leafs Free Agency and a Possible Lack of Focus on the Importance of Cap Space

Recently stumbled across this video summarizing the past season and for once my ADD didn’t kick in, an amazing collage and my hats off to the individual that spent countless hours putting it together, worthy of a LeafsTV spot. The video actually managed to capture and highlight a couple of points that should remind us of just how far this team has actually come.

Firstly, one cannot deny the affect Brian Burke’s tenure had on the overall makeup of the team, he may have not been able to build the championship winning team as quickly as everyone had envisioned but his ability to stock the cupboards deserves plenty of credit. Those prospects have not only begun to yield tangible NHL results, from Kadri to Colbourne to Fraser but have also been utilized by Nonis to garner additional returns in the likes of the Benier acquisition. Burke’s staunch refusal to give in to signing free agents to long term deals left the Maple Leafs in an enviable salary cap position and not yielding to outside pressure to signing players in panic moves, especially when goaltending appeared to be an ‘issue’, left us with one of the healthiest collection of player contracts in the league. The Leafs are definitely in a better spot due to his leadership.

One cannot deny that Mark Fraser is a heck of a lot better than anyone had expected and his refusal to accept the initial two way qualifying offer you have to applaud. You hear media and social circles cite that he is at best a 5-6 defenseman and is easily replaceable with comparisons to Clitsome and Scudari but in all honesty they really aren’t upgrades over Fraser and here is why. I am not arguing that he is anything more than an as stated 5-6 defenseman but what I am arguing that he is one of the better options. He lead the team defense in plus minus (and was one of the highest in the league if I remember correctly), played reserved albeit smart minutes, allowed Cody Franson to focus more on his stronger offensive production while appearing to rub off on Franson’s overall grit level and in the end fits into the very mold of truculent. After Clitsome was signed to a 3 year contract that averaged $2million per season I would hope that we can fit Fraser in around the same, he is after all still only 26 years old and is coming into his most productive seasons, why not offer him some security and term playing in Toronto, he really has earned it.

The next point is bound to get me roasted alive on a very large fire in the middle of Maple Leaf Square by a mob of angry pitchfork wielding fans but has to be said as it leads into a larger argument. I hope they resign Tyler Bozak…

..there, I said it; it wasn’t an easy decision to make but in all honesty there really aren’t a lot of options available out there unless you dream up a crazy trade scenario or two of which there are plenty out there. This is not to say that the Maple Leafs should over extend themselves to sign him but a reasonable 3 or 4 year contract at decent term is worth it…and here is why.

Bozak is still coming into his best production years as a 27 year old. His statistics have expressed a marked improvement every year whereby he would have reach the mid-50 point mark had the year run its entirety. He possesses both decent speed and size compared to some other available free agent centers available and believe it or not is a serviceable face off performer, just look up the stats. He has developed into a dangerous shorthanded goal scorer at the NHL level which also means he see’s PK time. With the Grabovski buyout there is now not only available cap space to resign Bozak to a more reasonable and I stress the importance of the word reasonable contract while adding some valuable cap space with it dropping this year. It also allows them to place him on the second line where he would appear to be better suited.

Fans have been calling on management to improve the defensive core and get better goaltending but appear to forget about the logistics of just such requests. You have to consider where the money is going to come from to pay for those players in a cap centric world, it’s a balancing act. You also have to taken into account of just where these ‘better’ players are going to come from. The cap space is pivotal to the Leafs bringing on just such players, whether it be via trade or free agency.

I agree they just should have bought out Liles and not resigned Orr if they were attempting to just save cap space but this hints at something more. Obviously there are bigger moves to be made that we are just not yet aware of. Perhaps one could speculate that another team is going to trade a less than stellar contract of a relatively high value center to the Leafs for cap relief now that we have the space e.g. Colorado and Paul Stastny or perhaps another comparable player. Anyways enough ranting but as always food for thought!