Nonis and Maple Leafs getting into defensive trouble?
After the signings of Tyler Bozak (5 years, $21 million) and David Clarkson (7 years, $36.75 million), and the trade for another hot shot young goaltender in Jonathan Bernier, I thought the Maple Leafs were well on their way to becoming a legit Stanley Cup contender over the next few seasons at least.
Retaining Bozak was necessary, and everyone in Toronto knew that the Leafs were still another experienced forward away from becoming a legitimate threat. Perhaps seven years for the 29 year old Clarkson was a bit too much, but that is a done deal.
Then, GM Dave Nonis and company continue their inexplicable love for a very soft, and weak defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, awarding him a three year deal worth $9.45 million.
Soon later, Nonis gets an extension for five years, and rumors spread that the Leafs may end up trading their best defenseman, Cody Franson after the team inked Paul Ranger a one-year deal for about $1 million.
Ranger, the former Tampa Bay blue liner has not played an NHL game since 2009, appearing in just 8 games for the Lightning that season.
But somehow, Nonis and his front office staff think that he (and Gunnarsson for that fact) are more important to the organization than much better players in both Franson and Mark Fraser, who also remains on the outside looking in.
What is going on here? How come Fraser, who proved his worth last year is left out on the bus stop along with Franson seeing two clearly less talented and unproven players get signed on? If I am Franson or Fraser, I'd be ticked off, and I am sure they are. They have good reason to be angry.
Without Franson or Fraser or both, I think the Leafs take a rather large step backwards after a promising start to the offseason. I am very concerned that the $3.15 million towards the undeserving Gunnarsson and the other $1 million to Ranger, who has not suited up for an NHL game in years, could (should) have been used to at least sign up Franson.
If anyone should be traded to create some cap space, it should be either Dion Phaneuf or JM Liles...or BOTH. If Nonis truly is worthy of a five year extension, then he better be ready to be somewhat creative with his roster and his budget.
Look at it this way...would you rather have a defensive corp of Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Ranger, Liles, Gardiner and Brennan or a defensive corp of Franson, Fraser, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, Brennan and I guess Ranger since Toronto would rather ink him than proven guys...?
On top of Gunnarsson and Ranger, Cody Franson and Mark Fraser are also more important to the Maple Leafs going forward than Dion Phaneuf and JM Liles. I just think the Leafs lose two big cornerstones of their future defensive core by failing to sign these guys.
If anyone in Toronto thinks that the deals to Bozak and Clarkson are going to hurt the organization, just think about the deals given to guys like Carl Gunnarsson and Paul Ranger. For Nonis' sake, Paul Ranger better turn out to be the next Bryan McCabe or something. Still, I don't even see Ranger playing in a single Leaf game, which would be inexcusable from Nonis' standpoint.
Of course, the Leafs still have several young defensemen in the AHL such as Morgan Reilly and Jesse Blacker. Perhaps Nonis sees one if not both of them making the jump to the NHL next season? But if he also thinks that Korbinian Holzer can fill those shoes, then I think Nonis has really missed the boat on this one.
Talk about taking a couple big steps forward, and then several large ones back!
Nonis needs to get creative and not just sit there, wondering what should I have done instead...or even regretting the terms of the deals with Bozak and Clarkson.
Losing Franson and Fraser is not acceptable at this point. I wont be looking forward to seeing Gunnarsson and Phaneuf make so many mistakes that end up behind Bernier and Reimer next season...! Ugh!
Kings Ready for Another Run?
It seems as if the LA Kings are set, after singing up Trevor Lewis to a one-year deal. Lewis was arguably one of the team's best fore checkers and penalty killers. His presence on the ice is so valuable to the Kings still being one of the hardest teams to score on.
Kyle Clifford remains the only RFA unsigned, but with the acquisition of Daniel Carcillo from Chicago, his services may no longer be needed.
I am still skeptical of the Carcillo trade, seeing that "car bomb" played in 23 last season for the 'Hawks and just 28 games the season before. The most games he has played in a season was 76 back in 2010 for the Eastern champion Philadelphia Flyers.
Clifford on the other hand, played in all 48 games for the Kings this previous season and 81 the season before.
It is not like GM Dean Lombardi to take such a risk, but if Carcillo is basically taking Clifford's spot on the roster, then this deal is definitely a risk...one that is also unnecessary. But again, I am sure it has to do with the money...and I just don't feel like digging into it that far.
Even with the addition of Matt Frattin from Toronto in the Bernier deal, I still do not think the Kings have addressed their main problem, and that is a little more speed and skill up front. I would have loved to see the Kings sign a guy like Mason Raymond, who I think would fill in those needs very well. Instead, Lombardi and company felt it necessary to improve the blue line after Rob Scuderi left for Pittsburgh and also retain familiar faces.
Overall, I am okay with what the Kings have done so far this offseason. Perhaps Lombardi and the organization are also hoping that younger players like Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson for example, will be able to fill those other needs, including the absence of playoff hero Dustin Penner. Any of those young guys should be able to fill in nicely for Penner during the regular season, in which Penner was a mere "skater in black and white" out on the ice.
It was also good to see captain Dustin Brown locked up for another eight years...although I would have offered five or six years maximum. With that deal, Brownie will be a King for life...and I am fine with that.
Updated July 30th
Leafs and Mark Fraser Find Common Ground
Mark Fraser and the Toronto Maple Leafs have avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.275 million. Not a bad deal, considering the Leafs still have $4.595 million roughly to spend on Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri.
Dave Nonis is still not out of the woods yet. Even if Dion Phaneuf stays over Franson, it would be a foolish mistake to possibly lose both after this season anyway as Phaneuf's contract ends in 2014. Thus, making the likelihood of a Phaneuf trade more reasonable. Or, if Nonis can find a taker for the declining 32 year-old John-Michael Liles, could be just enough to be able to sign Franson and Kadri.
Liles, is due $3.875 million of Toronto's cap space, but would only make sense if he were traded to a team that is in need of an offensive defenseman, with some leadership experience and a team wanting to get to the cap level.
Personally, I think the Leafs would be better off moving Phaneuf, because they wont have to necessarily sell high on him, or Liles for that fact. A trade involving either of the two would strictly be for adding cap space.
NHL clubs that could use a JM Liles or Dion Phaneuf:
NY Islanders- Lost veteran Mark Streit to free agency and have roughly over $14 million of cap space remaining. Could do better than Lubomir Visnovsky and Andrew McDonald.
Buffalo Sabres- After Tyler Myers, Christian Erhoff and newly acquired Jamie McBain, the Sabres blue line is fairly thin. Buffalo also has just over $9 million of cap room. However, seeing them as hated rivals, I doubt a deal between the two would come to fruition.
Calgary Flames- Have just over $9 million cap space left and after Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman are also very inexperienced (just think of a reunion for Dion Phaneuf, unlikely, but a young team that could probably use a guy like Liles?).
Carolina Hurricanes- About $5.5 million space, already took Mike Komisarek off Toronto's hands, why not another?
St Louis Blues- Around $7.5 million cap space, could perhaps use a little more offense from the blue line? Guys like Jay Bouwmeester, Barrett Jackman and Roman Polak are more stay-at-home defensemen types.
A side note, just looking at several teams around the league, many of them are even worse shape when it comes to cap space! Toronto is actually in a good spot. Still, work needs to be done.
Also, in case Nonis really wants to get things interesting when creating cap space, how valuable is a guy like Nikolai Kulemin? He seems like another player to me who, similar to Mikhail Grabovski needs a lot of extra motivation from shift to shift. His performance in the Boston series also leaves a lot to be desired, but could be useful for a team in need of some bottom six depth (as if Toronto doesn't need that either!). But for someone making $2.8 million, he could be a decent bargain for a club looking for a solid checking line winger with a little bit of skill.
In other words, Leafs fans should be on the lookout for a trade involving either Phaneuf or Liles, or even better both. I actually have some confidence in Dave Nonis right now going forward. It seems to me that he understands that keeping guys like Mark Fraser and Cody Franson are very important to the team not only right now, but down the road as well...much more valuable than Phaneuf and Liles.
Need to Have a Whipping Boy!
One commenter said to be easy on Carl Gunnarsson. When he first came up, I liked him a lot, but since then, has really become a defensive reliability in my opinion. Perhaps I am being to hard on him due to the fact that he was playing top minutes as a top defensive pairing, and could not handle it well enough as the organization thought or still thinks.
The signing of Fraser also takes some pressure off of Gunnarsson, but Toronto is still looking for a solid 1-2 punch at the top. Cody Franson could be the answer on top, if Toronto were to move Liles and/or Phaneuf, but Gunnarsson definitely is not a top pair defenseman. In reality, the Leafs are chock full of second and third pairing defenseman. Somebody needs to step up...especially if Phaneuf were moved.