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The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

From Pension Puppets

The Marlies scored one less goal than the Binghamton Senators in their last game before the All-Star break, the kind of lazy good-team problems the Maple Leafs are striving to acquire.

For the Marlies, it’s tough at the top, where the challenge for the rest of the regular season is to stay there.

I feel like I’ve said that before.

A tale of two teams

The Marlies are the top team in the AHL. I could enumerate the ways they are the best: the goals for, the goal differential, this percentage, that measure, this stat, that calculation, but they all come out the same. The Marlies are an elite team that’s had a lot of luck and have won the overwhelming majority of their games so far.

So far.

They have two and a half more months to play.

Frölunda, Andreas Johnson‘s team, is also atop their league and has an amazing goal differential; they shoot the puck like crazy and have four real lines that can all play at a high level. They are elite, lucky, and they’ve won the overwhelming majority of their games. And among that elite team, Johnson, at 21, and Artturi Lehkonen at 20 are the young stars that are working every day to get to the NHL.

The rest of the team may have once dreamed of it, some of them have tried and found their home in Sweden instead, and for them the league they play in is their league; the games are a point unto themselves; the championship is the reward at the end of the season, and leaving is not the mark of success.

Frölunda are showing the signs of a sluggish desire to just get on with it, get to the playoffs, get this year over, win the cup and turn the calendar to next year so they can do it again. They’ve dropped a couple of stinkers lately—big losses, a couple of shutouts where they just skated around bored for 60 minutes. They’ve won a couple like that too.

For Johnson, this is his last year there. He is proving himself, and wants to win, but he has his eyes on a higher goal.

They have a month and a half to go before the playoffs.

The Marlies have a lot more than two guys who are yearning to escape. They have nearly a roster full. They are more than just William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, two guys who hope they will see the NHL this year and every year after.

There is Mark Arcobello, patiently scoring more and more and winning awards.

There is Nikita Soshnikov working on the bottom six and trying to prove what he can do, taking every chance to get on a better line and making the most of it.

There’s Connor Brown, doing a very good job of reminding everyone who he is with points in every game since he’s been back.

There is T.J. Brennan, ripping up the record books and rewriting them anew on this his fourth AHL team. On none of those has he been as dominate over three seasons as he has on the Marlies. He’s tasted the coffee in the NHL, but he’s never stuck, and it’s easy to just decide that’s it, he hasn’t got it, but if the 26-year-old defenceman leading the league in scoring isn’t up to it, are you sure all those kids are a lock?

There’s also Zach Hyman, who didn’t stick with the team that drafted him, nor did Brendan Leipsic or Scott Harrington. There’s a handful of Toronto draft picks in Josh Leivo, Viktor Loov, and Rinat Valiev. And all of them want out. They don’t want to ever again ride five hours home from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And they’re collectively playing pretty bad hockey lately.

The Marlies roared along for the last few games, winning while being outshot and putting on a terrible power play and giving up a league-leading number of shorthanded goals. They have been winning by betting big, risking big, and outscoring their opponents with contemptuous ease.

Lately, the defence has been falling to ruins, the goalies have been working like single mothers with two jobs, and still they win.

Or they did.

An afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, on the afternoon after that ride home from Grand Rapids, they didn’t outscore their problems. Not quite.

They played the division basement-dweller Binghamton Senators, and they were each as bad as the other. They took 8 penalties each, scored five regulation goals each. They each had a short-handed goal, and the Senators won it on a goal on a breakaway in overtime after one of the Marlies blew a skate on the play in his own end and fell down. A fitting end to a game that cast no glory on anyone.

The Marlies outshot the Senators—they aren’t so far gone, they couldn’t do that—37-29, giving Garret Sparks a save percentage of .793.

They gave up so many odd man rushes, turnovers, easy giveaways, and I guess it was buy one get one free day at Ricoh?

This isn’t a one off aberration. They’ve been drifting in this direction for weeks, and some of that is injuries pulling the better guys out of the lineup, and some of it is just the difficulty you have when the team is so good they score more goals than even the good teams most of the time.

Bob McGill the Marlies colour commentator was wondering how you tell these guys to tighten it up, when they usually win even when they play so loose? A good question. Ask Alain Vigneault. Maybe he knows. Not that the Marlies are the hollow-cored New York Rangers. They usually do outshoot their opposition not just out-goal them.

Getting the Marlies back on track may be a harder task than Frölunda has with their team of slightly bored overachievers, however.

It’s not a terrible problem to have, being so good you’re struggling to execute your system well night after night, but it is a problem. And it’s a hell of a skill to bring to a team that’s never had this dilemma before if you learn the trick of it.

A cautionary tale

This is what Nate MacKinnon said about Jonathan Drouin recently:

“Our junior team, we lost five games all year, we had the puck the whole game,” MacKinnon said. “We were playing offense for two years, we didn’t really play any ‘D.’ So that’s tough. I don’t know you can really expect lockdown ‘D’ when you first come into the league. You can always work on your ‘D’ but you can’t just become an offensive force.”

And he’s not wrong. But where do you start to learn that more complete game? Something you can use when you don’t have a team of above average players every night. Something you can use to get yourself into a position to succeed when your coach hasn’t got the means to put you there. Something that will carry you when your cap-strapped team downgrades your linemates or your rebuilding team hasn’t got the horses to win much.

It’s not junior hockey, he’s right about that too.

For MacKinnon it was the NHL. He very much did it the hard way. But the New Toronto Maple Leafs don’t do things that way, they tell us. Not unless they have to, like they will with Mitch Marner.

So it had better be the AHL, the league most guys are trying to leave. And it better be now before they start leaving one way and another.

Nice problems to have

Sheldon Keefe has some things to accomplish. He’s got to bring Nylander back into the lineup; he’s got Connor Brown chomping at the bit to play—and he was as guilty as any guy out there of sloppy defensive errors. He might have Josh Leivo—who had as many shots on goal on Saturday as he had shots of any kind in 4 games for the Leafs—and who made a lot of sloppy definsive errors.

Keefe’s also got Mark Arcobello and T.J. Brennan, who need to see a carrot on the end of the stick or they might stop carrying the goal-scoring burden for the team most nights. (Between the pair of them they have 19% of the Marlies goals. Add in Nylander and Leivo, and you get to 34%. The offence isn’t quite so spread out on this team as we tell ourselves.)

Keefe’s got to get them all to tighten up and play better than they need to. And he has to convince them it’s for their own good. Because it is.

So far, he’s been very good at doing that. Let’s see if he can keep doing it once the All-Star Break is over.

Source: The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

PPP Midseason Roundtable, Part 2: The Players

From Pension Puppets

Yesterday, we looked at what to expect of the team on the rest of the schedule. Today: we look at the players.

See Part 1 here.

Today: we look at individual performance of the Leafs at the halfway point of the 2014-15 season.

(5) What player has been the biggest surprise so far this season?

KATYA: Parenteau.

SCOTT: We all knew Parenteau was still talented, but after the year he had last year I don’t think any of us expected Babcock to take such a liking to him or him to score like he has.

FIDDY: Leo Komarov.

ELSELDO: Komarov has legitimately played like a top 6 forward when given the chance, and fully deserves to be the Leafs All-Star rep.

FIDDY: I know some of it is high percentages and playing on the top line with Nazem Kadri, but raise your hand if you expected a guy with 12 career goals before this year to be on a 30-goal pace this season.

ACHA: Phil Kessel. I’m sad he’s not having the amazing season all the Leafs fans hoped for him, and that he was unable to stick on Crosby’s wing.

JP NIKOTA: Brad Boyes has probably been the most under-appreciated of the Leafs so far this season, but I’ve been quite impressed with what he’s contributed for the money the team is paying him. Komarov is probably a bigger surprise however, in that I don’t think even his most ardent supporters would have guessed he’d pot 20 goals this year, which he almost certainly will. He’s been a great fit alongside Kadri too, and I’m not sure anyone expected that.

SCOTT: I’ve liked Shawn Matthias’ game as well, but I wouldn’t say it’s surprising.

(6) What player has been the biggest disappointment so far this season?

KATYA: Bernier.

JP NIKOTA: Grabner has been something of a letdown, but no one tops Bernier’s unfortunate season. Bernier can probably bounce back to an extent next season, and the Leafs had better hope so, because no one is trading for him now.

SCOTT: No question. He’s been given every chance to succeed, and hasn’t.

ACHA: I always took him off the hook because I figured there was no good system playing in front of him, but when he was unable to turn around even with Babcock’s defensive system, I realized it was due to his own lapses in concentration.

SCOTT: Others who have struggled haven’t been given that kind of opportunity consistently.

ELSELDO: Hopefully this is a blip, not a trend.

FIDDY: Hes starting to turn a corner now, but a sub-.900 SV% at this point in the season is, any way you slice it, pretty bad.

ACHA: Maybe being a new dad is making him tired (it’s genuinely exhausting to have a newborn), but he definitely needed the rehabilitation with the Marlies.

(7) What returning player on this season’s roster has made the most promising improvement under Babcock?

ELSELDO: Komarov, again. I liked him, but now I love him.

KATYA: James van Riemsdyk, you know, until he broke.

SCOTT: I think Jake Gardiner’s game has developed beautifully.

FIDDY: I think you were starting to see Gardiner turn it around a bit under Horachek last year; for him, its not so much Babcock as getting away from Carlyle. Carlyles brand of play not to make mistakes really stifled his talents.

SCOTT: He’s not taking as many risks as he did on Carlyle, but he’s playing more sound defensively and has really blossomed into a wonderful two-way defensemen.

ACHA: Kadri. I adore his increased rattiness. Babcock is excellent at special teams, so he needs someone to draw penalties to make those come into play, and Kadri has become the perfect Marchand-lite.

JP NIKOTA: It’s been a pretty fantastic year for Kadri in that he has succeeded in a new role as a shutdown player while continuing to produce a few points – and his shooting percentage is still coming around. He’s been great to watch.

FIDDY: Bozak or Phaneuf, simply for being used properly. Tyler Bozak is not a 1C. Dion Phaneuf is not Duncan Keith or Zdeno Chara. Babcock has realized this, is using them in more suitable roles.

(8) The Leafs have three goalies appear for them this year, and some tough choices ahead. James Reimer is a UFA, while Jonathan Bernier has a year remaining but, despite looking much better recently, has had consistency issues. Garret Sparks, impressive on both the Marlies and Leafs, also needs a new contract as he’s in his RFA year.

With that in mind, fill in the blanks: based on their performances this year and beyond, I want the 2016-17 Leafs goaltending tandem to be ____________, and I would achieve that by __________________.

ELSELDO: Bernier/Reimer, by staying put.

KATYA: only one of Bernier/Reimer, by trading the other one.

SCOTT: Bernier and Sparks, by trading James Reimer.

FIDDY: Reimer and Sparks, by extending Reimer and trading Bernier.

ACHA: Sparks and Madore, by trading Reimer and Bernier.

JP NIKOTA: Reimer/Bernier, by begging Reimer like crazy to stay.

FIDDY: Huh. Some difference of opinion here.

ELSELDO: I don’t think anyone would trade for Bernier, and Reimers play has been great. Bernier would be easier to move as a pending UFA so give them until the first half of next year to prove they’re your guy. Sparks is young, more time with the Marlies as #1 can’t hurt.

FIDDY: Some teams need goaltending enough to take on Bernier, like Calgary. Bernier and Reimer have been about the same statistically in their career, but I think you can sign Reimer for cheaper.

ACHA: I love the way Rob Madore plays in goal. He’s small, but athletic and smart, and has amazing hockey vision. There is no way on earth he’d make the Leafs lineup, but if he did, I think everyone would be happily surprised. I also want to see Sparks play more for the Leafs, and not in a backup capacity.

(9) You’ve uncovered a genie in a bottle that looks auspiciously like Lou Lamoriello. This genie has said he will grant you one wish in the form of an unconditional request: you are allowed to make one (and only one) change to the Leafs roster. Mike Babcock will be unconditionally bound to do whatever you ask him to do (for the purposes of this exercise, demoting someone and calling up a replacement will be considered one move; otherwise, one actual move only).

What do you do, and why?

SCOTT: Demote Froese and bring up Arcobello permanently. Even if Arcobello doesn’t have enough time left to up his trade value, he’s still a useful and gifted forward who deserves more of a look in the NHL.

FIDDY: Trade Polak.

JP NIKOTA: I would love to see Corrado play more through the end of the year, and if that has to come at the expense of Polak, that’d be great. If this can only happen after Polak is traded, that’s cool too. Wouldn’t want to entirely destroy Polak’s trade value.

SCOTT: Babcock’s usage of Roman Polak and over-use of Byron Froese has burned the team a few times.

FIDDY: It gives Frank Corrado and Scott Harrington a better opportunity at being the 6D.

KATYA: Put Joffrey Lupul on LW where he belongs and play him with a decent offensive centre who shoots at a high rate, so not Holland.


Coming up Wednesday: Part 3, The Future

Source: PPP Midseason Roundtable, Part 2: The Players

Toronto Marlies: weekend in St. John's

From Pension Puppets

The Marlies went off to St. John’s to face the strange IceCaps, the team that has a very good record against them: 3-1-2 going into this weekend’s games.


The way Montréal has been bouncing guys up and down to the IceCaps lately, it’s good the team is so conveniently close. They’ve done a lot more than just make the trade which got everyone’s dander up since the last time the Marlies played them.

First they got forward Max Friberg in a deal for their surplus goalie Dustin Tokarski. They sent Jacob de la Rose up to the Habs, and got Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighetto back. Stefan Fournier was traded to Arizona, and they sent one guy down to their ECHL team and released Eric Neilson from a PTO–Neilson was a big penalty minute, non-scoring guy.

The plus/minus on all of that adds up to -1 goalie, -1 forward, and then you add in John Scott and it’s all back to how it was. Neilson barely played, so Scott is very fit for that role. If he ever reports to the team. He did not for Saturday, so instead the IceCaps welcomed Nikita Sherbak, a top draft pick from 2014 who’s been out with an injury. I know who’d I rather have in my lineup.

Meanwhile, Rich Clune is with the Leafs on their road trip, so the Marlies recalled good Orlando Solar Bear’s forward Eric Faille. He had one game with the Marlies so far this year, where his goal led the comeback against the Utica Comets who were up 3-1. The Marlies took that one to OT and ultimately lost.

The rest of the Marlies changes happened before this set of games, but to refresh memories, Connor Brown is still out with and injury, Scott Harrington has been scratched lately and may be injured, Kasperi Kapanen is back, and checking the status of the Marco Yo-Yo: currently with the Marlies.

Toronto Marlies at St. John’s Ice Caps

Saturday, January 16

This game was about one thing: Goals, goals, goals.

Some were gorgeous.

Some were frustrating, like when IceCap’s Charles Hudon, who has a way with the Marlies, ripped the puck right off of Jeremy Morin’s stick while he was fiddling around trying to decide what to do with it, and roared off and tied the game.

Brandon Leipsic’s second goal of the night chased Eddie Pasquale, a goalie the Marlies have a way with, and Zach Fucale took over. Trouble is, the Marlies have a way with him too.

The wheels came off completely for the IceCaps in the second. They started taking penalties by the tonne, and the ref wasn’t interested in playing any even up games. The ref in question is Terry Koharski who the IceCaps play-by-play man Brian Rogers does not care for at all.

The Marlies are not a team that sits quietly on a lead, however. They ended up with a 5-on-3, and just as the IceCaps killed the first penalty and it switched to a 5-on-4, they had a serious short-handed attempt. Antoine Bibeau was up to it, but he wasn’t a brick wall, since he’d already been done for 2 goals.

Leipsic quieted everyone down with the only goal in the second period, it gave him the hat trick, the team a 5-2 lead, and the crowd, evenly split as always between Marlies and IceCap fans, had nothing left to cheer for on either side.

The IceCaps continued to press hard in the third as they had all game, and the final score was 6-3.

At the end of the third, Hudon took a boarding penalty plus an unsportsmanlike like misconduct, and he was frustrated at the game, the officiating, and likely just being on the team when he’d like a chance at the NHL. I think we can all relate to that. He’s 5’10” and around 200 pounds. And I couldn’t help thinking what would have happened if John Scott were out there. He’s the biggest guy in the AHL right now at 260 pounds, and is never on the ice to handle the puck.

Rogers was also frustrated, and he went off a rant about how the IceCaps couldn’t by a frigging thing out there, and that was virtually a Canadian Heritage Moment and a reason why AHL games are so much fun.

T.J. Brennan’s three assists put him ahead of William Nylander for the team scoring lead and within one point of the league lead. Maybe he’s more than just the best defenceman in the AHL?

See Maple Leafs Hot Stove for a more indepth recap.

Toronto Marlies as St. John’s Ice Caps

Sunday, January 17

The day dawned with the news that the meme had landed.

There were rumours he was on the roster or in the lineup, and it was a big buzz or anticipation, but in the end, the IceCaps iced a hockey team. No John Scott today.

More, importantly, Garret Sparks was back in net! It started out as a tight game, with no goals coming in the first period, and the Marlies just barely outshooting the IceCaps. (In the AHL, that always means shots on goal, as that’s all that’s tracked.)

In the second, the troubling trend from Saturday continued with the IceCaps outshooting the Marlies. They had better control of the puck today and the Marlies didn’t.

But the IceCaps have some real defensive failures from time to time, and early in the second they left Soshnikov totally alone in the slot, and you can’t do that. 1-0 Marlies.

The Marlies took a penalty shortly after and chased their tails for most of the PK and paid for it. Tie game.

Less than a minute later and an easy tic-tac-toe goal for Casey Bailey from Brett Findlay who made the play with Faille in the right spot to be the tac. 2-1 Marlies.

The IceCaps got another power play goal, the Marlies PK unable to do anything to prevent it. Tie game again.

The third period was where the heroes got separated from the goats. Problem is, sometimes they’re the same guy!

Lucas Lessio took a penalty for the IceCaps, which is bad, but then Markus Eisenschmid outplayed T.J. Brennan to get his first pro goal. And it was a shorty.

A bit later it was Morgan Ellis from out in the weeds, and it was 4-2 IceCaps and they seemed like they could roll home on that lead.

But the Marlies don’t quit. An excellent rush by Rinat Valiev who made the play possible, led to Arcobello and Morin combining to get it in the net by rushing in and winning the battle for the slot. 4-3 IceCaps.

The hero turned into the goat when Valiev, just trying to move the puck up in front of Sparks, got done by Lessio who snuck up and shoved it off of Valiev’s stick and right past a startled Sparks. 5-3 IceCaps.

The Marlies pulled the goalie really early, and there were two goals: one from T.J. Brennan from a shot from the blueline, and one a few seconds later where the IceCaps put the game away. 6-4 was the final score, and the Marlies got beat by the team that played better.

Too many penalties, too much defensive slack, too much lack of speed against a tough team that had found their cohesion, and the lazy Sunday game went against them.

T.J. Brennan is now tied with the AHL points leaders with 38 points, pending the results of later games.

The Marlies next game is Wednesday against Syracuse. Will Jonathan Drouin appear?

Nylander won’t, but it’s getting closer:

Source: Toronto Marlies: weekend in St. John's

Is T.J. Brennan the best defenceman in the AHL?

From Pension Puppets

T.J. Brennan seeing some gloveless action with the Leafs in 2015. – Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlies beat the Moose 4-1, and AHL All-Star T.J. Brennan is now tied with William Nylander in points. Just how good is he?

Is T.J. Brennan the best defenceman in the AHL?

To have a defenceman in sniffing distance of the top of the points race in a league is very unusual. As of this morning there’s two guys at 36 points, and then there’s Brennan and Nylander at 34. He could end up leading more than just his own team.

I took a look at the top defencemen in the league in even-strength points per game to weed out power play specialists and to be fair to the guys who haven’t played as many games. I imposed a minimum of 12 games played to keep out the one-game wonders, and I also included goals and primary assists to see how each guy is getting his points.

A couple of things stand out: Brennan has a lot more goals than most guys, and he does have a high shooting percentage, but to get those goals, he has to be doing more than shooting from the point to get things started. Also, the guy in second place has played in the NHL this year and in the past, as have many others on the list.

If you put the forwards back in the mix, Brennan is 54th in the league right now. Which means he’s scoring at a rate better than most of the top six forwards.

So what if he is the best defenceman in the AHL? Without any shots against data, it’s really hard to say. He’s had a few goes at NHL time, none of it significant enough to mean anything, so it’s hard to guess how he’d fare with regular NHL minutes. But with so many bodies ahead of him on the depth chart, perhaps all he’s managed is to vault over Scott Harrington. And bring Andrew Campbell with him.

Much love to the people behind

Marlies: 4 Moose: 1

Saturday January 9, 2016

The Marlies, coming off their win the previous night over the Moose started the game as they meant to go on. They outshot the Moose 13-7 in the first, and Ray Emery, getting another start for the Marlies was solid in net.  Antoine Bibeau and a reportedly healthy Garret Sparks have been sent back down from the Leafs, so he might have to wait for another chance.

The teams kept on at that pace in the second period, trading goals and finishing tied. Toronto’s goal was scored by T.J. Brennan with an assist by Jeremy Morin, playing again on the top line, giving him a second point in his second game with the team.

In the third, it was as if the Marlies had solved the puzzle of good rookie Moose goaltender Eric Comrie, and the goals piled up like they often do when the Marlies have their full roster, which they definitely didn’t.

All-Star Josh Leivo got a power play goal as the game-winner from Brennan and Brett Findlay, Morin got his first as a Marlie, also on the power play, from Findlay and Nikita Soshnikov, and Soshnikov capped off a very good night with a goal from James Martin.

Leivo—star of the night to my eye, barely edging out Brennan—led the team with 7 shots on goal, while Casey Bailey, held off the score sheet had 6.

Emery had some work to do in the later stages, made some good saves, and may have had his best outing this year. Shots on goal were 45-22 when it was all done, so it wasn’t exactly hard work.

Brennan’s goal and an assist moved him into a tie for third place in AHL points with William Nylander. They each hove 14 goals and 20 assists, but Brennan managed it in 37 games to Nylander’s 27.

With Nylander expected to be out for some time as he recovers from what is believed to be a concussion, Brennan will have some time to take over the team lead. He’ll have some competition from Mark Arcobello, who was sent back to the farm on Monday.

Source: Is T.J. Brennan the best defenceman in the AHL?

Can the Maple Leafs afford a superstar’s supersized contract?

The show is over. The favoured son came, made headlines, played 21 minutes, went pointless, said little and went on to the next stop on the Tampa Bay Lightning road trip.

But the Steven Stamkos-to-Toronto talk is far from over.

The talk radio/social media debate over making Stamkos a Maple Leaf, if he gets to free agency on July 1, has been a fascinating one the past week.

Mike Babcock aims to get Leafs to ‘rightful place’ in NHL (CP Video)

On one side are the “do it all costs” types, those who want Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to hand over a blank cheque to Stamkos’s agent, Don Meehan, and say, “Welcome aboard!”

The opposing arguments warn about a likely decline in production as Stamkos approaches 30 – he’ll be 26 in February – and the impact of a huge free-agent contract on the Leafs’ salary cap.

NHL revenue is not projecting well. It went up approximately 5 per cent last season year over year, but the Canadian dollar’s drop in value will have a much bigger impact after a full season played under the 80-cent mark. (The loonie closed at 72.55 cents U.S. on Wednesday, which is a decline of 23 per cent since July, 2014.)

Flat revenue will mean a smaller increase to the NHL’s 2016-17 cap, with the upper estimate set at $74.5-million (all figures U.S.) by the league at last week’s board of governors’ meetings.

That’s not great news for teams like the Leafs, who can afford to spend to the upper limit but also have a lot of bad contracts on their books past this season.

Does that leave room for Stamkos, who will command at least $10-million annually on a long-term deal?

Let us ponder the mess that Brendan Shanahan and company have to work with.

The Leafs have only nine NHL players under contract for next season. If you add in the combined $2.5-million in dead money for Tim Gleason’s buyout and the 15 per cent of Phil Kessel’s contract they retained in the trade with Pittsburgh, Toronto has committed almost $40-million to nine other players.

That group includes Dion Phaneuf and his $7-million-a-season deal, Joffrey Lupul ($5.25-million) and Jonathan Bernier ($4.15-million).


That leaves the Leafs with $36-million to spend on 13 or 14 more players – provided they place Nathan Horton and Stéphane Robidas on injured reserve for all of next year.

It’s a considerable amount of money, but a big chunk of it will go to the team’s young restricted free agents who need new contracts. Morgan Rielly, in particular, will not be cheap if he continues to play first-pairing minutes and produces at a 40-points-a-season pace.

Add those six or seven contracts in, and the Leafs are looking at $22-million in cap space with one-third of a roster to fill.

Several spots will go to young players. William Nylander and Mitch Marner appear ready to play for the Leafs next season, and they’ll do so on cheap entry-level deals that will help Toronto’s cap situation immensely.

But if the Leafs add someone like Stamkos for an annual hit of $11-million or more, they will seriously limit their ability to add salary elsewhere. Even with Stamkos, Nylander and Marner in the lineup, Shanahan will likely need two more decent forwards, a top-six defenceman and, potentially, a starter in goal.

All for about $8-million.

The Leafs’ cap situation isn’t dire. They have room for Stamkos (or another superstar salary). But that dead money (Gleason and Kessel), bad money (Phaneuf, Lupul and Bernier) and new money (Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Peter Holland) adds up.

And the result isn’t a great team.

In the best-case scenario, the Leafs can find a taker for some of their players with bad deals. Even moving one of those three players – or Tyler Bozak – creates far more breathing room to bring in Stamkos, which improves the rest of the lineup.

Getting more help from the Toronto Marlies would be a big bonus, and there are signs that players such as Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic or Scott Harrington may be ready to contribute.

But one of the real keys to winning the Stanley Cup under the NHL’s current salary system is getting a degree of efficiency in your lineup. The Chicago Blackhawks have won three Cups in the past six years in part because they had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith on bargain contracts, few terrible deals elsewhere and enough cap space left over to surround them with quality depth.

So even if the Leafs do get Stamkos, they’ve still got multiple anchors to throw overboard before they can get seriously competitive.

In this situation, unloading their junk is likely just as vital as landing the big fish.

And it’s more difficult, given the cap logjam around the league.

Source: James Mirtle Column
Can the Maple Leafs afford a superstar’s supersized contract?