Toronto Maple Leafs: Tough Decisions Looming For GM Dave Nonis
With his club currently enjoying it’s first five-game winning streak in seven years, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis can be forgiven if he has a smile on his face.
Toronto’s recent good fortunes catapulted the Maple Leafs into sixth place in the Eastern Conference Standings, albeit under the cloud of playing 51 games, while most of the East sits at 49 games played.
With the New York Rangers (7-2-1 in their past ten games), Columbus Blue Jackets (7-3-0 in their past ten games) and the Ottawa Senators (6-2-2 in their past ten games) all surging, Toronto must maintain their current pace or better, which saw them go 6-4-0 in their past ten games.
The Detroit Red Wings (4-5-1) and Washington Capitals (2-5-3) are running cold of late. Both teams sit five points behind the Maple Leafs, both teams have two games in hand, which means they can catch Toronto quickly if they get hot.
With Toronto finally finding it’s groove, it appears as if Nonis will remain a buyer heading into the trade deadline. That said, with little in the way of salary cap space, Nonis’ hands may be tied, negating any trades he may want to pull the trigger on.
According to Capgeek.com, Toronto is projected to have $370,833 in cap space at the March 4th trade deadline. Obviously, that means if Nonis does want to make a deal, he will have to acquire a player or players that are on-par in terms of cap hit, which greatly limits what he can do.
Depending on where Toronto sits in the standings on or near the March 4th deadline, Nonis will have some tough decisions to make on some key players. Forwards Dave Bolland, Jay McClement, Mason Raymond and Nikolai Kulemin are all unrestricted free agents next season, as are bit-players Tory Brodie and Trevor Smith.
Along with four key forwards, defensemen Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger will also be UFA’s this summer.
Nonis will also have to consider the futures of a number of restricted free agents including, defensemen Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner, forwards Peter Holland and Carter Ashton and netminder James Reimer.
While Ranger and Fraser may garner some interest from Nonis to re-sign in Toronto, the bigger interest will be in Kulemin, Raymond, Bolland and McClement.
Since joining the Maple Leafs, Jay McClement has been the cornerstone of Toronto’s penalty kill and a key forward in shut down roles. While Toronto’s PK has struggled this season (currently ranked 28th overall at 77.3%), McClement’s positive contribution on the PK in 2012-13 (ranked second overall at 87.9% that season) is not forgotten.
At $1.5 million per season, McClement has probably maxed out his earning potential. That said, plenty of teams will be looking for role players, which means McClement will have options this off-season, albeit at a similar rate.
(Possible suitors: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames)
Signed on the cheap (one-year/$1 million) this summer, Mason Raymond has emerged as a key contributor to the Maple Leafs offense this season, lighting the lamp a total of 13 times while adding 18 helpers for a total of 31 points through 51 games played. Mason’s speed and compete level have been a welcome addition to Toronto’s third line.
If Raymond continues to put up good numbers, he will require a significant raise on the $1 million he signed for this summer. Raymond projects to end the season with about 18-20 goals and 45-50 points. If he hits those numbers, do not be shocked if he asks for $2.5-$3.0 million on a 2-4 year deal.
(Possible suitors: Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets)
Limited to just 15 games due to injury, Dave Bolland gave the Maple Leafs a shot in the arm early in the season. Bolland’s six goals and ten points through 15 games played are nice, but the numbers only tell part of the story. Bolland’s physical play and considerable compete level have been missed since Vancouver Canuck’s forward Zack Kassian’s left skate blade severed a tendon in the back of Bolland’s left ankle.
While Bolland has been on the sidelines, few doubt his overall talent. Bolland’s $3.375 million contract is attractive and, while he may not get much of a raise next season, there will be a lineup for his services— especially when you consider how weak the UFA crop is this summer.
(Possible suitors: Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers)
And, then there is veteran forward Nikolai Kulemin. A staple on Toronto’s third line for the past two seasons, Kulemin has emerged as a key two-way forward who, despite his recent offensive struggles, still has a measure of upside.
For Kulemin, a change in scenery might do him a world of good.
Since putting together a career year in which he scored 30 goals and finished the 2010-11 season with 57 points, Kulemin has seen his numbers decline. Kulemin has also seen his role changed from top-six forward to third line soldier and had his playing time reduced.
A valuable two-way forward, Kulemin will get plenty of interest from teams looking to fill the void on their second and third lines and a change may be very enticing to Kulemin.
(Possible suitors: Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings)
There is no question Nonis would like to keep Bolland, Kulemin, Raymond and McClement in the lineup. That said, realistically, Nonis may only be able to sign 2 or 3 of them this summer.
Both Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser will be asked to re-sign on the cheap or will be allowed to move on. After a tremendous 2012-13 season, Fraser has regressed, but still has upside due to his significant size and physical prowess. A reclamation project, Ranger has emerged as a serviceable NHL defenseman, but he won’t be playing within many NHL teams’ top-two pairings.
(Possible suitors: Any NHL team needing a 6th or &th Defenseman on the cheap)
Restricted free agents, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and James Reimer will all get considerable interest from Nonis.
Gardiner is an emerging star, as is Franson. Gardiner has shown glimpses of brilliance this season and continues to improve defensively. Franson continues to show excellent offensive instincts and has a great point-shot.
Truth be told, I cannot see Nonis letting Gardiner or Franson go, but stranger things have happened.
If Reimer can remain satisfied with being the backup behind emerging number one netminder Jonathan Bernier, he should re-sign with Toronto. If not, expect Reimer to ask for a trade this summer.
With so many Lesser-known netminders emerging as solid options between the pipes for many NHL teams, the goalie market is expected to be soft this summer. That said, Reimer is young enough and experienced enough to entice many NHL clubs to take a chance on him. IF Reimer is traded, look for teams like the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres (pending the trade of Ryan Miller) to show some interest.
Both Holland and Ashton will have to earn their way back to Toronto, although both players look to be in the Maple Leafs’ future. If anyone was to sneak through the cracks I could see Ashton moving on, but that is a long shot at best.
Up front, pending UFA’s Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek will likely be too expensive for Nonis to sign.
Veterans Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Milchalek and Saku Koivu would not seem to fit into the Maple Leafs’ long term plans, so don’t expect Nonis to go hard after any of these players.
That leaves a small list of forwards that Nonis may be interested in this summer.
Nonis will likely kick the tires on Paul Statsny, Ryan Callahan and Matt Moulson. That said, all three of these players will be in high demand, if they even make it to the UFA market, which is unlikely.
On the backend veteran defensemen Dan Boyle, Kimmo Timonen and Andrei Markov would seem to be players Nonis would have little interest in. Brooks Orpik could get some consideration, as could Kyle Quincey— outside of those two, the landscape is pretty bare where pending UFA defensemen are concerned.
Truth be told, in McClement, Bolland, Raymond and Kulemin, Toronto boasts a very strong foursome of pending UFA’s— a foursome that will garner considerable interest from opposing clubs should Nonis not re-sign them.
Any way you slice it, it appears as if Nonis has his work cut out for him. Only time will tell which direction he chooses to go.