July Deep Dive: An imperfect, but acceptable month

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:10 am by Jeff Veillette

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

I don’t think this was the summer that many people expected. Some expected massive, foundation-shaking moves, while others expected radio silence. What we got was somewhere in between, and it left a lot of questions to be asked. But looking strictly at July, how did the Leafs do?

Free Agency

In Case You Missed It…

It’s been a few weeks, and now that the dust has settled, I’m still in an “I get it, but I don’t” mindset towards Toronto’s signings. I truly believe that Matt Martin is a serviceable bottom line player, both from a play structure perspective and a data perspective. The salary is stomachable in the present I still don’t believe in giving four years of term to players you know are fourth liners, though.

The Polak signing is a bit easier to justify because it’s a one-year throw-away deal. Even if it contributes to other players’ rookie bonuses sending the team over the deep end next year, the Leafs are in very reasonable cap shape in 2017/18. Now, as much as I love watching Polak block shots with his face, I still feel there many have been better options for the price and the name of the game is to maximize every dollar you have to make the best team that you can, and I don’t think he really helps in either regard. But this won’t be a “regret for years to come” situation.

Finally, while Justin Holl is spiritually more of a re-signing than he is an acquisition, I like the idea of locking him up to an NHL deal. Despite what some might say, he was a stabilizing, dependable force on the Marlies last year, will start the year as their main right-handed shot, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he could play some decent hockey under the right situations if called up.

As well, while we don’t know if Trevor Moore is ever going to be an impact player, he appears to be a very logical risk to take on an ELC. His numbers in the NCAA are impressive, he’s reasonably young, and he’ll get to strut his stuff with the Marlies before the Leafs need to start making serious decisions.

Ultimately, you’re probably lying to yourself if you think that these were the best signings they could’ve made. There’s a case to be made, in fact, that not making any at all may have been better. But there are worse things to have than a play disruptor, a promising if low-profile prospect and a couple of familiar temporary soldiers. At least they didn’t respond to missing out on Steven Stamkos by signing Franz Nielsen or Kyle Okposo until eternity like certain divisional rivals…

RFA Management

In Case You Missed It…

If the Leafs hit a home run with the Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly deals in April, this was a solid RBI triple. Locking up your restricted free agents is already a game where you hold most of the power, but it’s hard to argue that any player on this list came out ahead in negotiations. 

All six players have the talent to be on an NHL roster next year and are all probably being paid less than the performance they can output. Half of them even signed two-year deals! Best of all, though, they managed to settle outside of arbitration with Holland, Corrado, and Marincin, preventing a name-calling fight that could’ve strained relations.

Top Level Roster Management

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It’s hard to fuss much about the Bernier trade. All of us saw it coming once Andersen was acquired, though some were surprised to see him end up with the Ducks. The conditions could have been a bit better, in the sense that they could’ve given the Leafs greater than a 5% chance at actually getting something back, but dumping the cap hit was the top priority of the team and they achieved it.

Matthews was a gimmie put in theory, but it ended up turning into a PR roller coaster. Some people wonder if it really was a “ten-minute process”. Others wonder why the team waited out public drama if it was such an easy process. It’s hard to know for sure what was going on behind the scenes, and if it was really ‘that easy’, it’s not front office’s responsibility to maintain all of our heart rates, so getting it done without any visible signs of drama that actually matters is good enough in the long-run.

Minor League Depth Management

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The Leafs don’t ever want their minor league cupboards to be empty ever again, and it’s more obvious now than ever. While they lost Mark Arcobello to Europe and TJ Brennan to Philadelphia, they’ve brought back a couple of their most impactful forwards in Smith and Clune, bolstered their call-up and injury depth in Hohmann, Faille, Cameranesi, Corrin, and Findlay, added another veteran presence in Cliche, and have Watling around to sign up to another level if need be.

Maintaining minor-league depth is good, as long as you either believe the players have futures, or they can be placed on deals that don’t effect the big club’s roster limit. The Leafs did a great job of doing both here, with a few of their minor-league signings appearing to have outside chances at a brighter future. That does mean that they run the risk of losing those players to other NHL teams if they work out, but it’s presumed that their data and video will lead them in the direction of locking them up before another team catches on to their success.

Looking Ahead

As you may know, we’ve shown our skepticisms towards a lot of the moves the Leafs have made over the course of the offseason. And there are still a lot of questions to be asked in the coming months. How will management sort out an overflowing roster of NHL-ready players? How will they navigate the salary cap heading into the start of the season? Who is backing up Frederik Andersen? Will the team lose players to waivers? Will they name a captain? How will the lines look? The jersey numbers? Will they sign Jimmy Vesey?

There are a lot of micro-concerns to be had here. But there are micro-concerns to be had with pretty much every move a team makes. At the end of the day, you don’t win the Stanley Cup by doing a good enough job, you do it by severely undercutting your competition in resource development, management and acquisition (and getting some luck along the way, obviously). Teams should always be in pursuit of a more perfect solution, and until that day comes (probably never), looking for the next step or the ways to improve upon your steps that you’ve just taken, is always the right call.

So despite the skepticism, when you look at the month as a whole, I still see a pretty decent picture. Toronto’s signings could have been better, but they could have been a whole lot worse. They did an excellent job with their restricted free agents, got out of having Bernier on the books unscathed, and bolstered the Marlies up to maintain a competitive environment for their current prospects and perhaps unearth some new ones.

To say that the Leafs did the best job the could have this offseason would be overly optimistic, but saying it was a total bust would be too far in the other direction; the end result, ultimately, is still quite decent.