The Leafs were one of the more active teams on the first day of free agency, as was expected with the buyout of Grabovski and the glut of cap space. As always, the market prices were inflated, which should be taken into consideration when evaluating the moves made.
I was a fan of Grabo, and was looking towards a bounce back season from him since he would be returning to a top 6 role if Bozak wasn't signed. When he was bought out, at first I was disappointed, but then came to accept he really wasn't that great of fit in the top 6 with Kadri looking to be a permanent fixture.
Even so, what's done is done and what we have is Bozak and not Grabo so we might as well except it, whether we like the move or not.
One good thing about the bozak signing is that he signed less than market price. I think he is worth closer to 3.5-4 per but 4.2 million over his prime years isn't so bad when you consider the older weiss got 4.9 per season. No doubt Bozak left some money on the table.
Though many are not a fan of Bozak, he seems to be a reliable player and while not prone to gaudy offensive numbers, he does a lot of the little things that allows his line mates to focus on offense.
This brings us to the Clarkson signing. Firstly, I think he is a valuable player and will be a great fit providing toughness and another net presence in our top 6. I also think 5.25 is not a bad cap hit considering Clowe got 4.85 per. I was hoping for a little less still, but Clarkson, like Bozak, definitely left some money on the table to play for his childhood team.
My issue with this signing is the term. No doubt the 7 years was a requirement on Clarkson's end and any team seriously interested had to make that investment. But I think in 4 or 5 years, we will be really kicking ourselves.
Clarkson turned 29 this year and we can probably expect three more strong years from him. Maybe a 4th if we're lucky. After that, expect a significant decline by the time years 6 and 7 roll around. By then, we will have nothing more than a tough third liner (Which is still useful) but at a 5.25 million cap hit. This would be a problem, especially since Leafs plan to be a regular playoff team by then, so cap will be tight.
According to Capgeek, Clarkson gets paid 4.75 and 3.25 in the final two years of his contract. That could allow a buyout option if his play is severely affected with age. If they buyout his final two years, only 1.33 mil for 4 season will be counted against the cap and if they buyout his last year, only 1.08 mil for 2 seasons will be against the cap. I think when constructing this deal, Nonis put this trapdoor in place in case Clarkson's play seriously declines.
This is a problem the team will have to live with and they must hope to make hay while the sun shines. Make some sort of deep run while guys like Clarkson, Phaneuf and Lupul are still in their prime.
Bernier was also signed two a 2 year, 2.9 mil per deal. A typical "prove it" contract and he is still a RFA at the end of it.
Those are the new contracts, now let's look at the team assembled.
The forwards lines will b similar to last year, and continue to get closer to a typical Carlyle team. I see it being two balanced scoring lines and a checking third line.
I like this forward group a lot. Skill, speed and grit in the top 6. A great checking line that breaks solid two way play, physicality, and an agitator in Bolland.
For the fourth line, I'm not sure who the other pieces will be. We have our two enforcers that will take up one or two of the wing positions, depending on who we play. The other wing position could easily be Jerry D'Amigo who has developed a strong two way game and solid pk ability, while still being able to pot a few. As 4C, I'm not sure if they give it to Colbourne, or some other Marlie like Zigomanis, or sign a 4C. I would prefer them give Colbourne bi minutes in the minors and bring a more traditional 4C in such as Zigomanis. At least the top 9 are pretty set but I expect Carlyle to juggle his lines to find the right chemistry. A pretty solid bunch IMO.
Now the D: I was really hoping for the Leafs to sign Scuderi, but it looks like we might go into next season with what we have.
This has the potential to be a pretty solid D group if the following things happens:
1) Gunnarsson returns to form and stays healthy. He had a rougher season last year, mostly due to a hip injury during the lockout that it appears he never fully recovered from. If he is healthy, he can form 1/2 of a solid shutdown pairing with the Captain.
2) Phanuef's playing time is slightly reduced, hopefully limiting his one or two boneheaded plays per game. Having a more reliable Gunnarsson can help with that too.
3) Gardiner and Franson continue to grow their two way games and become a consistent offensive force from the blueline. I think Gardiner's mobility can compliment Franson and Franson's size and new found physicality can compliment Gardiner's game.
4) Liles bounces back to become a solid PMD, while Fraser handles the defensive side of things. Also, do not let Fraser touch the puck.
I think it could be an ok year on defense, but I expect our goaltending will have to bail them out often.
That leads us to our netminders.
Reimer and Bernier. Both good young goaltenders that will battle it out for the starts. I'm confident one or both will step up to the task and we will be provided solid goaltending for the entire season.
Well those are my thoughts on the team. I really look forward to next season because I think this team could do some damage. Interested to hear what your thoughts are.