“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs we picked… general manager Dave Nonis.
In a single season he managed to accomplish what his predecessor, Brian Burke, never could: He led the Maple Leafs the playoffs. Of course he did that with a team largely built by Burke and while Nonis still deserves some recognition, last summer was his first opportunity to mold this team in major ways.
So what did he decide to do? For starters, he decided to re-sign of Tyler Bozak to a five-year, $21 million extension and ink of David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million deal.
Those two contracts are big risks as they are lucrative deals to players that have historically been solid, but not consistently great. Clarkson in particular is a big roll of the dice as that contract will take the physical 29-year-old well past his prime.
Taken as part of the larger picture and those deals represent a summer theme of seemingly dismissing potential cap implications. When they acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings, Nonis offered to retain a cap hit of around half a million. Paul Ranger, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2009-10, was offered a one-way, $1 million deal. More recently, with 13 other forwards inked to one-way contracts and already close to the cap ceiling, the Maple Leafs handed Mason Raymond a similar contract.
When he was still a restricted free agent, Nazem Kadri expressed frustration over the Maple Leafs’ cap situation and while he did eventually agree to a bridge contract anyways, Toronto has put itself in a bad position when it comes to dealing with restricted free agent defenseman Cody Franson.
Ultimately, Nonis will be judged on how this team does as a whole rather than how much each player is making. In that regard, the Maple Leafs have some potential. If Joffrey Lupul can stay healthy, if the young goaltending tandem of Bernier and James Reimer works out, and if some of their maturing defensemen continue to take steps forwards, then Toronto could make the playoffs again this season and even make it past the first round.
That would be critical, as Nonis didn’t sign captain Dion Phaneuf or forward Phil Kessel to contract extensions over the summer, so both are still eligible to become unrestricted free agents after this season. Losing Kessel in particular would be a huge setback for the Maple Leafs as they paid dearly to get him and now rely on him heavily to lead their offense.
If they believe that the Maple Leafs under Nonis are heading in the right direction, retaining their services would be far easier. Conversely, if Toronto gets off to a rough start, then the Maple Leafs will be bombarded with trade rumors.
Either way, this season has the potential to define the Maple Leafs for years to come, and consequently shape Nonis’ tenure as well.
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.