Leafs Predictable on UFA Tuesday

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (July 1) – Well, if nothing else, Dave Nonis has brought in some different people for Randy Carlyle to scream at and call “brain-dead.” Actually, just two different people: Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas. It’s likely Carlyle has already eviscerated Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin – both of whom return.

Given what the Maple Leafs are – and what we can reasonably expect them to be for the foreseeable future – Nonis likely did all he could today. The club is not anywhere close to an attraction for elite or Tier 2 free agents; heck, even middling players like Josh Gorges want no part of the Blue and White. The reason for that is two-fold: a) Leafs have been a Stanley Cup contender three times in nearly half-a-century, and b) this is the wackiest place on Earth when it comes to hockey. Undoubtedly, ‘A’ will supersede ‘B’ once the Maple Leafs ascend the ladder. Whether that happens before or after the next Ice Age destroys life as we know it is anyone’s guess. Overnight miracles will not abound.

The Brendan Shanahan era is off to a less-than rousing start. We were told the head honcho was “actively persuading” UFA chattels to join the Leafs. Given today’s result, ol’ Shanny may have difficulty squeezing juice from an orange (I’m kidding). More than likely, Brendan is learning on the fly about the dazzling life of a Toronto hockey executive. That Gorges and one or two others said “nope” isn’t his fault – Shanahan inherited the train-wreck of March and April. Picking through and cleaning up the carnage is going to take more than one attempt.

Individually, the moves Nonis made today were somewhat predictable. In Robidas, the GM signed a player in the twilight of his career with an alarming propensity to break his leg. Lost in that was a commendable showing this season on behalf of Dallas and Anaheim. Maple Leafs had no chance of hooking the other 37-year-old defenseman on the market (Dan Boyle signed with the Rangers) but this hockey grandpa is much respected throughout the league and will play the role of a stop-gap while youngsters Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner (perhaps Petter Granberg and Matt Finn, too) learn the ropes. It is good strategy for a non-contending team. Robidas and Polak have been around and will enable the Leafs to avoid over-playing the kids. Unless, that is, the kids earn copious ice time (Nonis should only pray), at which point the oldsters drop down and become subordinate. Either scenario should work.

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NEW LEAF STEPHANE ROBIDAS WITH DALLAS IN 2013-14.

Though the trade with Columbus that re-unites Frattin and Carlyle is understandable – having lost Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond, the Leafs needed another stick – I’m don’t like the idea of giving up Jerry D’Amigo. Clearly, we’re talking about the nether regions of the 23-man roster, but I thought D’Amigo was quite useful in a supporting role. For sure, he was among a very choice few that played to his ability when hopping over the boards and I think he’ll help the Blue Jackets more than Frattin will the Maple Leafs. But, time will tell that story.

“Locomotive Leo” was a slam-dunk for the Blue and White. When I last spoke to his agent, Mark Gandler, I was told told that Komarov returning to the Maple Leafs hinged on a more encompassing role than in the lockout-shortened season of 2013. One might assume that “promise” was made – to the extent it can be in July. Should Komarov prevail as a third-line (and occasional second-line) forward, his $11.6-million contract over the next four seasons will be a bargain. If he cannot rise in the pecking order, it will prove an over-payment. Either way, Komarov will bring energy to the Maple Leafs and pester the opposition. In a best-case scenario for the club, it will improve around Komarov and enable his brand of commotion to become more advantageous.

Every year on this evening, it is best to pause and understand that almost never can a team build a Stanley Cup champion in mid-summer. Particularly a non-playoff team from the year before. If it happens, it requires absurd compensation – the Minnesota Wild may yet raise the silver mug after doling out nearly $200 million for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Coincidentally, the team in the unrestricted free agency era that probably came closest to “buying” a Cup was the Leafs of 1998-99.

Having missed the playoffs two years running, the club signed UFA Curtis Joseph. New coach Pat Quinn turned loose his skaters and the Leafs made it to the Cup semifinal before losing to Buffalo. An injury-riddled team did it again in front of Joseph three years later, only to be knocked off by Carolina. Since then, the Leafs have made the playoffs only once in an 82-game season (2003-04).

In no way does the annual July swap-meet usurp the requirement to build traditionally with sound drafting and player development. I’m thinking the Maple Leafs have learned that lesson – and not easily.

PULLING A DON CHERRY: “Didn’t I tell ya so?!” I’m channeling my inner-Grapes by re-posting a paragraph here from my June 18 blog on Dan Boyle: “Though well past his prime, Boyle is still a good hockey player with skating, passing and puck-handling skill. He is also a respected voice among teammates and a guy that knows about winning. His character would help fill an enormous void here in Toronto. Problem is, Boyle will be 38 next month and is far-more of a closing piece than a defensive mainstay. He would fit perfectly, for example, with the Eastern Conference-champion New York Rangers, who have one of the best young defensemen in the world (Ryan McDonagh) but need another shooter to help their flagging powerplay – ranked 11th of 16 teams in the playoffs at 12.6% efficiency. A better example of how poorly New York fared with the man advantage is a comparison to the other three Cup semifinalists. Los Angeles led the way at 23.5%. Chicago was 21.0% and Montreal 19.7%. Boyle may have substantially helped the Rangers.”

Told ya so!!

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