Penny Dreadful

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August 24, 2014 1:55 pm

Following the conclusion of the disastrous 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs campaign, the common theme discussed by “General Manager” Dave Nonis was how the team needed to get back to their 2012-13 identity. Coincidentally enough, since the Kyle Dubas hiring, that idea hasn’t really been discussed as frequently. That could either be to the fact that the new kids on the block have changed the tone of the conversation surrounding the Leafs, or that some of the people who believed the Leafs needed to get back to the 2012-13 team are no longer employed by the organization. The actions moving forward by the blue and white will answer that question.

A couple of the first moves made by the Leafs was re-acquiring 26 year old Matt Frattin from the Columbus Blue Jackets and bringing back Leo Komarov from the KHL. Frattin may be someone who I’ll discuss on another day. For this article I’d like to focus on the Komarov. A few days prior to the draft Leafs (then) Assistant GM Claude Loiselle had this to say when asked whether the team wanted to bring back Komarov:

Absolutely. We’re still in contact with him. It’s a process. We just saw the cap go up to $69 million, we thought it was going to be higher. Believe it or not, that $1 million dollars, effects a lot. That’s one player on your roster. It’s going to be so tight. There were so many teams that were in overage last year. They were in LTI and ended up spending too much money. The overage ends up coming off your cap this year. It again brings your cap down to a lower number.

Loiselle’s point about teams being in overage includes the Leafs. Under Loiselle’s astute handling of the salary cap the Leafs actually have $512,500 less to spend this year on their team (all figures courtesy of CapGeek). When one looks back and analyzes just how embarrassing the 2013-14 Leafs season was, the fact that they were over the cap sticks out as one of the most shocking components. Interesting that Loiselle mentions about how tight things are considering the aforementioned overage money on this season’s cap as well as that interview taking place on the same day the Leafs retained $200,000 of salary in the Carl Gunnarsson-Roman Polak trade. Throw on top of that the Tim Gleason buyout ($833,333 this year) and the Leafs have $1,545,833 less to operate with this year.

That takes me to Komarov. I’ll begin by saying I think Komarov is an effective role player who can contribute on the penalty kill and help an NHL team. I think the myth of Komarov has far exceeded the reality of him though. He is definitely a fan favourite, but even his biggest supporters think he is at best a checking line forward. If Komarov is expected to provide offense or play second line minutes for an NHL team then I think that team should expect to not win many hockey games. I don’t know how a capologist can say money is tight and every dollar counts then go out and pay a role player $2.95 million dollars a season over 4 years. This has been a problem that this organization repeatedly makes. The Leafs overpaid Komarov just like they overpaid David Clarkson, Colby Armstrong, Mark Fraser, Mike Komisarek and others because they provided an “identity” they were obsessed with. The reality is, players like this can be acquired every year to play these roles and paid very close to the league minimum. There is absolutely no reason at all to pay a premium for these players.

When it comes to the 2012-13 Leafs and Komarov’s impact, I’m still somewhat confused as to why the Leafs thought it was so critical (and the money they paid him demonstrates they did). Komarov finished that season with 4 goals and 5 assists in 42 regular season games. In the playoffs, Komarov had 0 points in 7 games. It’s not like he didn’t have a chance to produce offensively, Komarov’s most common linemates were Nazem Kadri, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur. Komarov did begin 43.5% of his even strength shifts in the offensive zone (4th lowest among Leaf forwards behind Grabovski 36.7%, Nikolai Kulemin 35% and Jay McClement 27.9%), but, if we’re going to point to zone-starts as an excuse for low offensive numbers, keep in mind those other three forwards all outscored Komarov in 2012-13. I also remember many saying Grabovski and Kulemin’s zone-starts weren’t a valid reason for their offense. Can’t have it both ways.

Some point to Komarov being a crucial part of the Leafs’ stellar PK unit. He averaged 1:48 per night for Randy Carlyle that season (second only to McClement) and was very effective. If the Leafs are going to be paying a premium for PK specialists though, they might as well have kept McClement. Coincidentally, the Leafs signed Daniel Winnick this season from the Anaheim Ducks. Winnick has averaged the most short handed time on ice the past two seasons for the Ducks (2:32 in 2012-13 and 2:31 in 2013-14). The Ducks ranked 13th on the penalty kill in those two seasons. Is Komarov’s effectiveness on the PK that much greater than Winnick’s?

If Komarov was so critical to the Leafs’ success why did his ice time go from 13:56 a night in the regular season to 9:13 in the post-season? In the final three games of that series (where the Leafs were facing elimination) Komarov saw 6:42, 7:57 and 8:23 respectively. That doesn’t scream identity or crucial to the team to me. Those numbers would point to Komarov being a non-essential member of the team and a player Carlyle didn’t trust playing when the stakes reached their highest point.

When it comes to Komarov, my thoughts align with what Loiselle was preaching above: things are tight and it’s a process. The Leafs are a work in progress and they can always find someone to play Komarov’s role for less money than they handed the popular Finn. In fact, this summer, the Leafs handed out one-year deals to Mike Santorelli ($1.5 million), Winnick ($1.3 million) and David Booth ($1.1 million). That is the proper way to fill out the bottom of the roster. Cheap and low-risk one year deals. Loiselle has since been replaced by Brandon Pridham as Leafs capologist. I’m curious to see in what way Pridham navigates the choppy waters he has inherited. How Pridham handles this situation may be the biggest factor in how quickly the Leafs return to becoming a successful team. He sure has his work cut out for him.

 

This article was written by on Sunday, August 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • simmsation

    Thanks for this. The juices are flowing again. At the time that Nonis flew over to Finland, he was batting horribly on FA signings. The Komarov deal was an act of desperation to save face that Leafs could not pull down anyone. Komarov’s agent obviously went for the jugular. I believe a number of discussions between Nonis and agents at that time gave sufficient feedback that Toronto as a destination was a negative factor.

    Nonis had recently re-upped a non-player and generally unpopular coach that feuded with several players, was at a loss as to how to correct problems, and chastised Reimer & Holland etc on their injury recoveries. It is no wonder the predicament Nonis found himself in. Hence the Komarov blowout deal. That is completely on Nonis+ for 2 reasons. The negative atmosphere was one he fought hard to maintain, and the relenting on the Komarov overpay gambit.

    Since that day, Shanahan has slowly but surely injected a tremendous counter to the atmosphere and the talent/salary evaluation process.

    • hope_smoke

      Yeah, I’d say PR was a big factor in this signing. Komarov definitely had the leverage in this situation. Thanks for the comment.

  • dont73

    Good quick read – glad you’re back to posting regularly.

    I too was astounded at the money they gave Komarov. I liked him in his first season with the Leafs, but that was as a cheap bottom six guy who liked to throw his body around a little and wasn’t a liability defensively. But flying to Europe to throw that money at a bottom-six guy? Come on!

    I have to admit I was a fan of Nonis up until last season – that is when I realized he didn’t correctly understand where the team was in the rebuilding process, was allocating too much money to players in roles that can be filled much cheaper, and didn’t see that Carlyle was an impediment to success.

    I just hope the competition for bottom-6 jobs brings out the best in Komarov and he succeeds on a 3rd line that is hard to play against. At least then I may forget how much cap space he is taking up.

    • hope_smoke

      Going to be a year of transition with both Nonis and Carlyle. I was scared to see how Nonis and company would hamstring this organization moving forward. I”m happy both the Bolland and Gorges deals didn’t pan out. Komarov is bad, but those would have been worse. Thanks for the comment.

  • Dee Fence

    You brought some interesting PK TOI between Komarov and Winnik up, that I wasn’t aware of. The one positive that I take away from the signing is that potential for an improved PK with those two.

    Would help out for that 78.4% PK% from last year return to the 87.9% from the previous year.

    • hope_smoke

      I don’t think the fortunes of a PK unit can be tied to one or two players. Righting the ship that is the PK is a big part of the upcoming season. Komarov and Winnick replace Kulemin and McClement. Big thing for me is finding a way to get JVR off that unit. His ability to create offense in that role is valuable, but so is taking some of the burden off of his shoulders. Carlyle relied too much on JVR last year and it showed. Thanks for the comment.

      • Greg

        The Leafs were 25 overall in penalties per game, or 6th overall for the most penalties per game last season. How about fixing your PK by not taking so many penalties before blowing the cap out by signing PK specialists?

  • JudeMac17

    Well said. I’ve been critical of your views in the past. I see the error in my ways. I to like Leo but that’s a lot of coin.

    • hope_smoke

      I don’t think having a strong opinion means you were wrong. Maybe we disagreed, that happens. As long as the insults don’t get personal I have no problem with it.

      I like Leo too. However, in a hard cap league that is just too much money to hand a role player. I’d prefer Kadri play with players who can both forecheck and produce offense. Can’t see Komarov being one of those guys.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Jude MacDonald

        No, I probably went too far. Enough about that anyways, hate to admit I was wrong but I was on several issues. Love the new direction and stale approach being turfed.

      • JudeMac17

        I blog with The Hockey Chat now. Leafs stuff. Getting sick of searching your name for the goods. Any chance I get a pass for being new to twitter and overly sensitive. @JupJupLeafs17 is blocked, likely for good reason. I was an old guy new to it all and was too aggressive I think. Can’t recall why I was blocked. Wouldn’t make this request but your feed is just too damn good. I don’t have an enemy in life. Regretful of the ones I made on here, with yourself and PPP. I was caught on the other side of the war, only to realize we are all fighting for the same thing. Blocked or not, your work is excellent.

        • JudeMac17

          I was likely a pest, lol. I’ve learned. Still have opinions but I’m not tyrannical.

        • hope_smoke

          Sure, no problem.

  • JudeMac17

    I do however think he can play up in the line up, if not producing on the scoresheet maybe he can create some turnovers off the forecheck. Like to see him with Kadri, actually.

  • Jude MacDonald

    I thought I’d leave a guest comment just as a goodwill gesture and as an apology for anything I would have said or done under LeafsLawyer that was over the line. I was knew to Twitter and got very caught up in the emotions of it all. I won’t ransack your blog page, just wanted to say keep up the interesting work. I’ll delete after you’ve read. Cheers.

    • hope_smoke

      Emotions get high on twitter. I’m happy to leave things in the past.

  • Jude MacDonald

    *new

  • Jude MacDonald

    I had to circle back to my comment on Komarov flanking with Kadri. Probably pushing it there in thinking he could be a major impact with him. One guy I do see sliding in there is Booth. I think he ends up having a bigger role than Leo at a third the price. Still stand by bringing Komarov back, but he had them over a barrel. Simmsation is bang on with the PR slant. The agent took them to task.