Here at Editor In Leaf, we’re all about keeping the powers-at-be of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club accountable for the decisions they make. One such decision, made by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment President and CEO Tim Leiweke, was to extend the contract of Senior Vice-President and General Manager Dave Nonis for five more years six days ago.
The move was puzzling, to say the least, to many observers around the Twitterverse and blogosphere. Nonis still had three years left on his contract; so to extend him an extra two after just one 48-game season of work seems kind of hasty. And, as any regular reader of this site can attest to, it isn’t like Nonis has earned himself any General Manager of the Year nominations from most of the team’s fan base lately.
Leiweke and the rest of the bigwigs atop MLSE seem to be very impressed with Nonis, obviously thinking one shortened season of playoff hockey was enough to hand him the keys to the car, so to speak. A five-year extension might not mean as much in a profession where people get fired constantly, but nonetheless, it can still be seen as a “vote of confidence” for Nonis from Leiweke. But, looking back at Nonis’ full body of work over the last few months at the helm, does he really deserve it?
EIL readers seem to be split on the issue. The results of our poll showed that half the participants liked the extension, while the other half didn’t. The following is a list of some of the bigger moves by Nonis from January 9th of 2012 (the day Brian Burke was fired and Nonis was promoted to GM) to today to try and judge Nonis on a case-by-case basis. Hopefully by the end of it, you’ll have a better idea on whether or not he really deserved his extension. (All contract figures were taken from the Leafs’ CapGeek page.)
January 20, 2013: Joffrey Lupul signed to a five-year contract extension worth $26.2-million
It’s a lot of money and term for a player who was coming off a point-per-game season (the only such season of his career) and will be 30 years old when the contract kicks in at the start of this season. Another warning sign is his injury history, as he only played in 143 games over the three seasons before he signed the big contract. His injury troubles continued last season, when he only appeared in 16 regular season games. Nobody knows if Lupul’s injuries will continue, but he did suffer a concussion last season, and those tend to recur during a player’s career.
I like Lupul a lot. I think he’s an all-star level scorer and showed fantastic chemistry with Nazem Kadri last season. He’s also an alternate captain and seems to be the type of veteran leader this team needs. But is he worth a $5.25-million per season contract that won’t expire until he’s 34? I don’t think so, but on account of Lupul being an awesome player, I’m willing to cut Nonis some slack on this one.
January 31, 2013: Frazer McLaren claimed off waivers from the San Jose Sharks
You could very well say, “Who cares? McLaren didn’t cost the Leafs anything”, but I beg to differ. Forwards who can actually make an impact at the NHL level such as David Steckel and Keith Aucoin were cast off in favour of McLaren, he of four career NHL goals. The pickup wouldn’t have really been all that bad if head coach Randy Carlyle hadn’t proceeded to play McLaren in 35 regular season and one playoff game. The move was the beginning of a disturbing trend of Nonis and Carlyle valuing players who don’t bring any NHL-level talent to the table beyond that of the face-punching variety. For this, Nonis receives an F-.
March 5, 2012: Korbinian Holzer signed to a two-year contract extension worth $1.575-million
Holzer had played 18 NHL games to this point in his career, and most of those games were memorable for all the wrong reasons. Many of Holzer’s games last year were played on the top pairing alongside Dion Phaneuf, and the results were as grim as expected. 14 days after he signed him, Nonis assigned Holzer to the AHL, where he spent the rest of the season. Again, the contract might not cost the Leafs a whole lot, but for a depth defensemen on one of the worst defensive teams in the league, it’s a bad contract nonetheless.
April 3, 2013: Ryan O’Byrne acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth-round pick
The fourth-round pick is basically inconsequential. This trade speaks to Nonis’ ability as a talent evaluator, and it’s not saying anything good. Nonis picked up O’Byrne in hopes of shoring up a weak defensive group, which is the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire in an attempt to put it out. The only thing worse than O’Byrne’s skating ability is his Corsi. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t re-signed this offseason.
June 13, 2013: Colton Orr re-signed to a two-year contract extension worth $1.85-million
What this really comes down to is team needs. The Leafs were coming off a season in which starting goaltender James Reimer was the unquestioned MVP. The backup goalie, Ben Scrivens, also played well when he was called upon. It’s worrisome that Nonis could look at the team at this point and say: “We need to upgrade our goaltending.” The Leafs gave up a capable backup in Scrivens, an effective top-nine forward in Matt Frattin and a not-insignificant draft pick to, basically, upgrade their backup goaltending position. Meanwhile, the team’s defense still resembles a dumpster fire and we’ll probably be seeing the Leafs play two Coke machines on its bottom two forward lines every night. And on top of all this, we’ll get to see Toronto Sun covers like this one every day. Woohoo.
June 30, 2013: Dave Bolland acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for second- and fourth-round picks in the 2013 Draft and a fourth-round pick in 2014
Bolland had a poor season with the Blackhawks last year as far as his point totals and Corsi are concerned. However, he did face the toughest matchups of any regular forward on the team. Bolland won’t be relied on to put up too many points with the Leafs, but he will be needed to shut down opposing forwards on the checking line. If he can bounce back from his poor performance last season, the Bolland acquisition could turn out all right. It’s not saying much, but I like this move more than most of Nonis’ others to date.
July 4, 2013: Mikhail Grabovski’s contract bought out
Wait, what? This move seemed totally out of left field, and might as well have been made by Carlyle, who apparently had a less-than-stellar relationship with the possession-driving Belarusian. Nonis cleared out $22-million in cap space over the next four seasons, only to (SPOILER ALERT!) use that cap space to sign two more god-awful long-term contracts. Remember: Grabovski has scored over 50 points twice over the last three seasons, while neither David Clarkson or Tyler Bozak have ever hit that mark in their respective careers. Just something to keep in mind.
July 5, 2013: David Clarkson signed to a seven-year contract worth $36.75-million
Clarkson is a 29-year-old winger with one 30-goal season to his credit. In his next-best season, he had 17. He’s a decent hockey player, but this is an absolutely horrendous contract. Clarkson will be 36 when his contract expires. I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if many are calling for him to be bought out three years from now. It’s clear Nonis fell in love with trying to catch the big free-agent fish in an especially weak free-agent pond, and will likely hamstring this team for years because of it.
July 5, 2013: Tyler Bozak signed to a five-year contract worth $21-million
The only positive I can come up with from this deal is it might increase the chances of Bozak’s buddy Phil Kessel sticking around beyond this season. But if that’s the only reason to keep him around, why sign him to such an onerous contract? It’s pretty clear that Leafs’ management severely overrates Bozak’s ability. He’s a third-line centre at best riding Kessel’s coattails.
I’ve been pretty critical of many of Dave Nonis’ decisions, but I did like his recent restricted free agent deals to Carl Gunnarsson, Mark Fraser and Joe Colborne. But now Nonis faces another tough task in trying to re-sign RFAs Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri with only $4.895-million in cap space left. Franson is rumoured to be looking for $4-million. Nonis dug himself into Cap Hell, now he has to dig himself out.
After looking at his full body of work, I would have to answer the question stated in the headline to this piece with a resounding no. But what do you say? Am I being too hard on Nonis? Are you more optimistic about this team than I am? Let me know in the poll and comments.