For a long time, agents in the NHL and other sports were demonized, often to the advantage of ownership. As many fans have started to realize a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, such viewpoints have become more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that agents can express their message — and their clients’ perspectives — more freely over social media.
NHL agent poll provides optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout
Puck Pedia polled 25 top NHL agents in late January to early February, so COVID-19 issues aren’t really touched upon. As they mentioned, it’s possible that the pandemic might push certain opinions a bit, but for the most part, I’d agree that these results are still worth mulling over.
Maybe the most important one is that 80 percent of NHL agents polled believe that there won’t be a 2022 lockout.
Reports indicate that the NHL and NHLPA underwent some CBA extension/new CBA talks amid the pause. So, to some extent, this shouldn’t be surprising.
Still, I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say that any positive lockout-avoidance talk remains good news. It probably always will be after 2004-05 was scuttled, and 2012-13 was shortened.
Other issues the poll covers
When it came to viewpoints on specific GMs, one former and one current Toronto Maple Leafs GM represented polar opposites.
Thirty three percent of NHL agents in the poll chose Lou Lamoriello as the most difficult GM to work with. Meanwhile, when asked about a GM you’d want to work with to get a great deal for a client, Kyle Dubas received 29 percent of votes. The closest GM behind Lamoriello was Bob Murray at 14 percent, while Dubas topped the other list by an even more dramatic margin (no other GM exceeded six percent).
As Puck Pedia notes, recency bias likely inflates Dubas. Recency bias surfaces in plenty of polls like these, including for players. (Though you won’t see players changing their minds about, say, Carey Price or Drew Doughty too quickly, either.)
But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Maple Leafs fans will grit their teeth at this. After all, you can spin that in a pretty negative way.
On the negative side, it was surprising to see Erik Karlsson garner more votes than, say, Sergei Bobrovsky. From a recency bias perspective, maybe absence made hearts grow fonder about David Clarkson? (I’m guessing absence made at least an NHL agent or 20 straight-up forget about Clarkson.)
As interesting as it is to hear about the highs and lows of Kerfoot’s season, this also gives us a chance to revisit the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason as a whole. Some teams made enough momentous trades to earn their own categories, such as Kerfoot’s Maple Leafs.
Misadventures for Maple Leafs in 2019 offseason NHL trades
When judging a trade, it’s crucial to consider context. Even when you grade on a curve, the trades didn’t always pan out for Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.
Moving back to Kerfoot, context matters a bit here, too.
Following another ugly postseason suspension, many believed the Maple Leafs needed to trade Nazem Kadri. They also were feeling the cap crunch, so getting a discounted Tyson Barrie provided a nice replacement for outgoing Jake Gardiner.
While the gap between Kadri and Kerfoot might be a bit exaggerated …
… the bottom line is that the trade didn’t meet expectations for the Maple Leafs.
The oddest part, really, revolved around how adamant Dubas was about Cody Ceci being better than people believed. Instead, Ceci was kind of a disaster.
If the Maple Leafs divest themselves of Ceci after 2019-20, then it was still worth it. Zaitsev’s contract was bad, and much longer. But it was a funky situation that rounded out an all-over-the-place offseason. Maybe there were shades of appeasing an eventually outgoing Mike Babcock?
To some extent, Toronto’s flexibility was limited. They didn’t fare as well as some of the other savvy teams, though.
OK, that’s not totally fair. If we’re being sober, the wheels came off of the wagon thanks to some mix of atrocious goaltending and questionable coaching.
Even so, the Devils made aggressive moves to improve, and splashy trades set the stage for disappointments and dysfunction. The headliner that went horribly, horribly wrong was, of course, the P.K. Subban trade.
While it still feels like the Predators could have gotten more for Subban, they did clean up space to sign Matt Duchene, and in a more abstract sense keep Roman Josi. Even those with tempered expectations didn’t expect this season from Subban. Consider that Subban ranked dead last on the Devils according to Evolving Hockey’s GAR metric:
While there’s hope that Subban may rebound, the extended collapse of his game played a big role in the front office upheaval in New Jersey.
Nikita Gusev‘s situation wasn’t nearly as dramatic, and while Gusev performed reasonably well, he didn’t light the hockey world on fire. The Golden Knights probably aren’t losing much sleep over his departure … at least yet.
The Devils recouped some of their draft capital by trading the likes ofTaylor Hall during the deadline, but coughing up four significant draft picks for Subban + Gusev didn’t work out so well.
Pondering other teams making one or more noteworthy trades
Vegas Golden Knights
No, the Golden Knights didn’t parallel the Maple Leafs in every way. They didn’t have the same enormous RFA headaches, and the uncertainty that surrounded those situations.
But they still needed to shed some salaries. While I can’t say I loved every move and thought process, things worked out reasonably well for Vegas in the grand scheme of things.
So this was a rare deal where you could make a strong argument for both sides. I think the Lightning were more shrewd, especially considering limited options (Dubas grumbles again), but the Canucks received big returns from their risky investment (now Shero’s grumbling).
That ended up being the best move during a summer where they unloaded some problems. That included the staggering Phil Kessel trade, and also convincing someone to take on Erik Gudbranson‘s contract. With Kessel mainly offering “meh” in Arizona, and Alex Galchenyuk being part of the Jason Zucker trade, the Penguins have to feel pretty good about their latest series of dramatic decisions.
The Oilers likely received a decent confidence boost from seeing James Neal start so much hotter than Milan Lucic that it became a punchline. With Lucic being a better possession player, that gap narrowed when Neal cooled off.
Really, the true winner might not be crowned until we see if the Oilers can wiggle free from the Neal contract and/or the Flames get rid of Lucic’s deal. Really, that might be the key takeaway even after all these assessments: we may not yet know the final “winners” of the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason for some time.
My issue isn’t and wasn’t with the Blues trading forJustin Faulk. Instead, handing him a pricey extension looked risky, and he hasn’t really soothed those concerns with middling play. Hmm.
Would it be fair to lean toward “TBD” on the Andre Burakovsky trade, at least when realizing things were going sour between Burakovsky and the Caps? That’s the way I lean.
Lehtonen, 26, topped all KHL defensemen with 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) this season. Not surprisingly, Lehtonen represented Jokerit as a KHL All-Star. The Maple Leafs website notes that the KHL tabbed Lehtonen as defenseman of the month for three months in a row.
“I think his style fits well for Toronto,” Vuorinen said. “Torey Krug is a good comparison. He runs the power play well and gets pucks to the net with a good wrist shot. He was the best player in Europe, IMO. He’s ready to play in the NHL.”
Why the Maple Leafs signing Lehtonen is intriguing
You could call this an intriguing signing for a number of reasons:
The Maple Leafs managed to sign Lehtonen despite what Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston deemed “a long list of suitors.” Fans may delight in the belief that Lehtonen seemingly chose the Maple Leafs over the Canadiens.
Johnston reports that the Maple Leafs convinced Lehtonen to sign without any performance bonuses involved.
On paper, Lehtonen creates quite the logjam of left-handed defensemen.
(It makes me wonder, at least a little bit, if Lehtonen really looked at Toronto as the easiest path to regular playing time.)
Could this be it for, say, Dermott? Might the Maple Leafs aim for a trade to balance things out a bit more on the right side?
Toronto seems willing to roll with defensemen playing on their off-side, if nothing else. While those scenarios don’t always feel optimized, sometimes it’s better to just put together as much talent as possible, and hope the other details work themselves out.
Getting possibly the best defenseman not playing in the NHL, and doing so with a cap-friendly deal? This seems like strong work by GM Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
Some significant “Who else will be a part of the core?” questions remain. Things could also change thanks to the cap uncertainty, not to mention the Seattle expansion draft. Still, a lot of the core is in place, and while it isn’t cheap, it’s quite impressive.
Long-term needs for Maple Leafs
Chalk it up to luck or coincidence, but the Maple Leafs don’t face too many big calls during an upcoming offseason thrown out of balance by COVID-19 fallout.
Further down the line, there are some key calls, though. Frederik Andersen, 30, needs a new contract after 2020-21, while Morgan Rielly, 26, awaits a big raise following 2021-22. The Maple Leafs need to find answers to those long-term (mid-term?) questions down the line.
Speaking of down the line, the Maple Leafs must hope that Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren develop into useful defensemen for them. Defense is a big problem for the Maple Leafs, and while (likely departing) Tyson Barrie disappointed, he also did so at a cheap clip of $2.75M. The Maple Leafs want to improve on defense, yet they don’t have a ton of cash to make such improvements, so it would be crucial to get the most out of two blueliners on entry-level contracts. Their respective developments seem pivotal.
Overall, the Maple Leafs need to squeeze every bit of value out of their robust analytics department.
That means finding useful, cheap players, like they did with Jason Spezza. They’ve burned significant draft capital in trades involving Muzzin and Patrick Marleau over the years, so they’ll need to unearth prospects through a mixture of luck and deft scouting.
Considering monetary limitations, they might also need to get used to saying goodbye to players they like, but don’t need. Would it really be wise to bring back Kyle Clifford, for instance?
Long-term strengths for Maple Leafs
Again, the Maple Leafs boast a formidable foundation of young talent thanks to their big three forwards (plus Tavares).
Frankly, their front office now appears to be a long-term strength, in my eyes. Rather than the mixed messages of old-school (Mike Babcock and Lamoriello) battling with Dubas, there’s now a unified viewpoint. Dubas has his analytics team, and he has his coach in Sheldon Keefe.
A more rigid team might panic with, say, Frederik Andersen. Maybe Dubas will make the right moves there, even if it comes down to going with Campbell and someone else instead?
It’s that kind of thinking that could really help Toronto sustain itself even with pricey top-end players. There’s already some promise, also, in seeing solid scouting. While placing 21st on Scott Wheeler’s Prospect Rankings (sub required) isn’t world-beating stuff, it’s not bad considering how many picks the Buds shipped off in trying to rise to that next level.
Of course, for Dubas & Co. to be a long-term strength, they need to remain in place for some time, and that might hinge on the Maple Leafs making short-term gains. Considering the teams in front of them in the Atlantic, that won’t be easy.
There’s a lot to like for Toronto … but is there enough? We’ll find out — eventually.
With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The many surprises and disappointments involving Babcock, Maple Leafs
Look, this isn’t the first instance of the Maple Leafs turning into a hockey soap opera. The pressure cooker Toronto media environment practically demands the spilling of tea.
Even by those heightened standards … my goodness, the Mike Babcock era certainly ended with messy drama. Didn’t it?
Again, it was no secret that Babcock could be harsh, but learning about the times he went too far ranked among the season’s bigger disappointments. While the jury remains out on Sheldon Keefe, for many Maple Leafs players, a coaching change probably went beyond a pleasant surprise to a downright necessary change.
Biggest changes don’t really work out
Dubas often comes off as progressive, forward-thinking GM, but this past offseason reads like a swing-and-a-miss. Maybe several strikeouts, really.
Few players saw their stock drop like Tyson Barrie‘s did this season. That’s uncomfortable being that Barrie was the biggest takeaway of the Kadri trade.
It’s fair to wonder: did the Maple Leafs realize Jake Gardiner might have been easier to retain than expected? As tough as this season’s been for Gardiner, it makes you wonder if there were better ways to move on from Kadri, if that was truly required.
The big picture move of ridding Toronto of the Nikita Zaitsev contract was crucial … but it was confusing that they kept Cody Ceci around. And Ceci failed to make that any less of a head-scratching strategy.
Yes, it’s true that Patrick Marleau‘s ill-advised contract had Lou Lamoriello’s fingerprints all over it, not those of Dubas. But Dubas still had to pay a big price to unload the final year of Marleau’s deal.
Fair or not, that Mitch Marner contract will remain polarizing for quite some time.
On the bright side, the Maple Leafs can walk away from mistakes like Ceci and Barrie if they want to. That doesn’t change the fact that Dubas struck out on some pretty big 2019 summer swings, though.
Not so steady Freddy?
When you factor in workload and difficult assignments, Frederik Andersen moves up your goalie rankings. Well, at least, Andersen did so during previous Maple Leafs seasons.
While Andersen wasn’t a flat-out disaster in 2019-20, he struggled. Andersen sported a .909 save percentage this season, easily the worst of the usually reliable goalie’s career.
Now, it’s true that the Maple Leafs don’t always provide the most nurturing atmosphere for a goalie. That was true under Babcock, and while there were some positive developments, it’s a fair criticism under Keefe. It’s just that Andersen was able to bail Toronto out quite a bit over the years, but hasn’t been able to don the cape so much lately.
Maple Leafs navigate the disappointments and surprises — to a point
People expecting the Maple Leafs to take “the next step” have been disappointing in this season. Really, the team took a step backward, as the gap widened between the Bruins, Lightning, and the Maple Leafs.
When you take stock of all that went wrong, though? It certainly could have been worse.
This team navigated turbulence and found ways to win, ugly or not. Beyond a coaching change, the Maple Leafs also dealt with significant injury issues and other curveballs.
Sports provide examples of plenty of teams putting things together after bumpy seasons. The 2018-19 Blues loom as an example, even if some find them a bit too tempting to apply when it doesn’t quite fit.
Could this team put something together if 2019-20 resumes? Well, the Maple Leafs have certainly been full of surprises already, so who knows?