So not five minutes after it was annouced that the Maple Leafs had managed to avoid salary arbitration at the 11th hour with defenseman Mark Fraser at an incredibly reasonable $1.275 million for one year, Twitter comments started to pour in questioning the deal. Being a little taken aback on some of them, I thought I would join the fray another way by putting proverbial pen to paper.
One of the main arguments against the signing was the view some held that Fraser was at best a number six spot defenseman on the team (something I wouldn’t argue against) and that the Maple Leafs had overpaid for his services. Personally, in my opinion Dave Nonis should be applauded for his work in avoiding salary arbitration althogether, given that it was very real possibility that Fraser could have been awarded more in the hearing and the Leafs would have been forced to honor the 1 year award based upon the new CBA rules, as it falls under the $3 million dollar mark.
Fraser at 26 years old, is a big (6’4″, 220+) mobile defensive defenseman who led the NHL in plus minus; even if you don’t believe in that particular statistic, it is still pretty impressive and definitely would have been stressed during the hearing. He doesn’t put up many points but neither does Gunnarsson. Personally I have always argued that defenseman on average take a little longer to develop and 27 year old seems to be about the norm, Fraser appears to be no different. He plays solid low end minutes and I personally never feel concerned about his time on the ice unlike when Holzer or even Kostka were out there. Not to slander either of those players but Fraser is just simple and effective and goes about his business relatively unnoticed, a definite sign that his job is being done correctly.
Plus he does things like this:
For those using the argument that Fraser is an easily replaceable 6th spot defenseman, it is interesting to note that not one possible replacement example was offered; who else could fill that positional hole right now? Using Capgeek, the UFA market for defenseman is thin at best and at Frasers age and amount signed you could perhaps land the likes of Steve Eminger, Cam Barker, Michael Sauer or even perhaps roll the dice on Blake Kessel and let him and TJ Brennan fight for the spot. However all are essentially unknown quantities. Barker has bounced around a fair amount these past few years and ended the season as a minus on a decent team, Eminger finished the season in the AHL, Sauer is still reported to be recovering from a concussion handed to him by our very own Dion Phaneuf and Kessel is still a prospect with potential. Looking at comparables on Capgeek you can clearly see this signing was on par with the rest of the league league, inexpensive enough for the team and enough to satisfy the player while granting him another year to prove himself further.
If one truly wanted to argue overpayment for a player then one really has to go no further than the Clarkson signing (to clarify I am a big fan of the signing regardless of the amount, it is not often you can pick up a player that is that effective in multiple areas of the game). To further the discussion of fiscal mismanagement by MLSE then please let them start with the $2 million that is still owed to Darcy Tucker and Colby Armstrong or the recent Grabovski buyout (how do you honestly buy out a player after only a half season of play on a brand new multi-year contract? No wonder it costs $70 to sit up in the rafters of the ACC).
Everyone, myself included wants to see the club make a big splashy move to acquire a proven NHL stud defenseman but the reality right now is that the cap situation this year just does not make that possible and shoring up Fraser was key to keeping the defensive core relatively intact. Fraser is a known quantity at a reasonable sum. Hopefully Kadri and Franson will be as equally understanding when the time comes. Anyways enough ranting but thought it warranted. Food for thought.