Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
In part six of our continuing look at the Toronto Maple Leafs season we’re examining the moves that General Manager Dave Nonis made this year. We’ll start from after the end of last year, look at the additions and the subtractions he made to put a winner on the ice. We’ll also answer the burning question, should Dave Nonis be back to manage the Maple Leafs next season?
General Manager Dave Nonis
After the brutal and disappointing collapse against the Boston Bruins, Nonis made the decision that this team needed to be changed in order to succeed. New players needed to come in and several players for the Leafs had to go.
The players of note shipped out were Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Mike Komisarek.
Grabovski and Komisarek were bought out, while MacArthur was not re-signed.
We’ve previously covered how both Grabovski and MacArthur had successful seasons this year, and how MacArthur in particular would be third on the Leafs in scoring, but Komisarek is worth looking at too.
Komisarek was a slow, immobile defencemen who played only four games for the Leafs in the lockout shortened season. He was buried in the minors along with his $4.5-million salary.
The Leafs used one of their two compliance buy-outs on Komisarek. The compliance buy-outs were granted after the lockout to be used after either the 2012-13 season or the 2013-14 season. These buyouts would have no cap hit against the team that used them, as opposed to regular buyouts that do.
Komisarek had one season left on his deal at $4.5-million. While he was completely untradeable at that salary, he would cost the Leafs just one year and he’d be gone from the books.
John-Michael Liles, another barely used Leafs defencemen, was making $3.875-million over the next three years. He’d cost the team $11.625-million over three years.
Despite that, Komisarek was bought out instead. That’s a horribly short sighted move. Instead of sitting here at this moment free of Komisarek and Liles, Nonis now has Tim Gleason, who he traded Liles for, for two more years at $4-million. That’s more than what Liles cost per year.
The other buyout was used on Mikhail Grabovski. He had four years left at $5.5-million on his contract.
Grabovski was also coming off of years of 58 and 51 points, before a feud with his coach left him with limited minutes in a defensive role. Grabovski finished 2012-13 with only 16 points in 48 games.
So Nonis made the decision to give his coach the players he wanted, he bought out Grabovski and let MacArthur walk away.
He then went for his big splash, trading Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, cash and a 2014 or 2015 2nd round pick for Jonathan Bernier.
At the time Bernier was an unproven but highly valued backup, stuck behind Jonathan Quick on the Kings depth chart for the foreseeable future. Frattin was coming off of 13 points in 25 games, while Scrivens had had a mediocre season as a backup.
While we’ll talk about how this wasn’t the best deal in the world a bit later, Bernier was outstanding for the Leafs and looks to be a big part of the future for the organization.
The other big summer acquisition through trade was Dave Bolland. Bolland was sent to the Leafs for their 2013 2nd and 4th round picks, as well as the 2014 4th round pick.
Bolland looks ready to walk away, costing the Leafs three picks for 23 games played. While hindsight is 20/20 and it’s unfair to blame Nonis for the freak injury that cost Bolland his season, Bolland does have a history of being injury prone, so something like this happening isn’t exactly shocking.
On the free agent front, on the very first day of free agency Nonis re-signed Tyler Bozak and brought in David Clarkson.
Bozak got five years at $4.2-million while Clarkson got seven years at $5.25-million.
The jury is still out on the Bozak re-signing. He’s bolstered by his Olympic line-mates and isn’t the number one centre the Leafs need, but he does play a decent defensive game and comes with only the sixth highest cap hit on the Leafs.
Clarkson on the other hand is in position of the worst contract Nonis has ever given anybody. We’ve looked at it before, but it can’t be bought out, he has a limited no trade and he can’t be put on waivers or sent down to the Marlies.
He also re-signed Carl Gunnarson for three years at $3.15-million, brought in Paul Ranger for a million dollars and brought back RFA’s Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri to cheap low term contracts.
His best signing proved to be Mason Raymond, who was given a tryout by the Leafs and turned it into a one year $1-million contract.
He also signed T.J. Brennan to a one year deal. Brennan won the AHL’s defencemen of the year award for the Marlies this season.
Nonis re-signed Frazer McLaren, Joe Colborne and Mark Frazer in July and Troy Bodie, Trevor Smith, Jerred Smithson and Spencer Abbott were all acquired cheaply as well.
So Nonis was a mixed bag on the free agent front. He showed a real ability to get quality players who could contribute on cheap contracts. Ranger and Raymond played significant minutes for the Leafs for only a million each, while Kadri, Franson and even to an extent Carl Gunnarson all played the entire year on cheap contracts.
The Marlies were bolstered by the signings of Brennan, Bodie, Smith, Smithson and Abbott.
His larger deals, like the one with Bozak, are questionable. His biggest deal with Clarkson is indefensible.
In Season Moves
As the season started the Leafs traded Joe Colborne to the Flames for a conditional fourth round pick. The Leafs promptly ran into injury trouble at centre and without Colborne to fall back on were forced to make another trade, where they brought in Peter Holland and Brad Staubitz for Jesse Blacker, a conditional 3rd round pick and the Ducks 7th round pick, which they had previously acquired.
While this doesn’t look like a slam duck, even less so once the conditions were met and the 3rd became a 2nd rounder, this was one of Nonis better trades. Holland is a former 15th overall pick with upside that cost the Leafs a 2nd and Jesse Blacker. Blacker probably wouldn’t have found a chance to fight for a spot on the Leafs blue-line, while Holland could be a mainstay of the Leafs for years to come.
Later on in January, Nonis got rid of the under used John-Michael Liles for Tim Gleason. While Gleason looked great his first few games, he now looks old and broken down by injuries, which is why Carolina was willing to move him.
Liles is a free skating defencemen who not shockingly caught on with the Hurricanes and looks like a fine addition to their club. He is also cheaper than Gleason.
The only other deals Nonis made were minor. He flipped prospect for prospect and dumped Mark Fraser to the Oilers for two prospects.
Also during the season Nonis gave contract extensions to Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. While both deals are expensive, Kessel got eight years at $8-million and Phaneuf got seven at $7-million, both were necessary moves.
Kessel is the Leafs offensive leader and looks to be for the next decade or so and would have fetched more on the open market.
Phaneuf is a big minutes eater and as bad as the Leafs defence was this year, it would look so much worse if Phaneuf wasn’t there.
What Do We Know?
Which brings us to now. Nonis is looking ahead to the draft as well as free agency. As we’ve just reviewed though, he hasn’t proven to be a very good judge in any facet of his job.
For every good signing, like the majority of his cheap contracts, there’s a terrible Clarkson contract.
For every good contract negotiation, like keeping Kadri and Franson on the cheap, there’s overpaying for Bozak.
For every good trade, like bringing in Bernier, there’s a bad trade, like bringing in Bolland.
Those that feel like I’m being harsh on the Bolland signing would do well to remember that at the trade deadline in 2012-13, Nonis brought in Ryan O’Byrne for a 4th rounder. O’Byrne played in eight regular season and six playoff games for the Leafs, was often a healthy scratch and was not offered a deal by any of the 30 NHL teams in the offseason. He now plays in the KHL.
So should Nonis be back next year?
Perhaps the better question is what has Nonis done to prove he should be back next year?
Assets And Comparing Nonis With Another GM
All a general manager can work with is assets. An asset isn’t just a player, it’s a pick, it’s cash, it’s whatever you have that you can work with to make your team better.
The Leafs are the richest NHL team in the league, it stands to reason they should have the best coaches, trainers, managers, everything. Their wealth is an asset. Yet the Leafs lag behind many other teams in analytics, as Nonis has said multiple times in interviews he doesn’t consider them when making decisions.
Ignoring for a moment how foolish that sounds, should the Leafs, who have money to burn, not invest in every facet of hockey that could make them better? Obviously, they should.
So let’s for a moment compare Dave Nonis to one of his counterparts in the league, L.A. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi.
In the summer, Nonis decided to upgrade his goaltending, despite Reimer being amongst the best goalies in the league in terms of sv%. So he traded Frattin, Scrivens, cash and a pick for Bernier. The cash in the deal was retained salary in the case of $62,500 for Scrivens and $437,500 for Frattin ($500,000 total).
Lombardi on the other hand, realized the market was hot for Bernier and with Martin Jones ready to play the backup role, Bernier was expendable.
So on the face of it, the Leafs traded Bernier for minor pieces. In reality, Lombardi had picked up multiple assets he planned to use.
The Kings didn’t need Scrivens, so they flipped him to the Oilers for a third round pick.
Frattin played 40 games with the Kings, but failed to catch on.
At the deadline the Kings acquired Marian Gaborik for Frattin, a 2nd round pick in either 2014 (the Kings pick) or 2015 (Toronto’s pick) and conditional 3rd round pick in 2014 (Edmonton’s) or 2015 (Kings).
So the Kings basically traded Jonathan Bernier for Marian Gaborik. Lombardi used all his assets to make that happen, even using the cash he got (through retained salary), to barely stay under the cap. That $500-thousand in retained salary was used to its fullest, as the Kings finished only $98,873 under the cap.
The Leafs, meanwhile, had cap issues all season and finished only $22,721 under the cap. An extra half a million dollars sure would have helped to be able to recall one of the more expensive Marlies.
Lombardi showed what you can do with assets, even limited assets, in the NHL. Nonis meanwhile bought out a legitimate asset in Grabovski and gave him away for nothing. He also let Clarke MacArthur, another asset, walk for nothing. Getting a return of zero on your investment is a good way to go bankrupt. Likewise getting nothing for two players who other teams coveted is also disconcerting.
While Grabovski may not have been coveted at $5.5-million, the Leafs could have eaten some salary and traded him for something. Likewise they could have forced Bozak to return at a much smaller price-tag or simply let him walk had Grabovski been around. The Leafs also wouldn’t have felt the need to trade for Bolland, and give up three picks, had Grabovski been one of their top three centres.
Overall, the Clarkson contract stands as borderline grounds for termination. Bringing in Bernier, as well as a lot of effective and cheap signings helps save Nonis somewhat. So Nonis isn’t quite a failure this year, but he’s close. He’s done nothing to show he has a good handle on what the new NHL needs in a GM or that he’s learned any lessons from this year. That’s part of the reason why he now has Brendan Shanahan looking over his shoulder.
That’s it for Dave Nonis. Next we’ll at the future, the Leafs RFA’s and UFA’s, who from the Marlies could contribute next season and what the Leafs will be looking at in the draft. If this is your first after season report, you can read about the top six forwards here, the bottom six forwards here, the defence here, the goaltending here and Head Coach Randy Carlyle here.