Here where Leaf fans live, the countdown came and went with a relative whisper, as Nonis made only one move of what we might call substance—the acquisition of Ryan O’Byrne, the former Hab defenseman. (In return, the Leafs gave the Avalanche a 4th round draft pick, not something any of us will likely lose much sleep over…)
At 28, O’Byrne—a good Western Canadian boy, as Cherry might say— brings 300 NHL games to town on his resume, and about a dozen or so more in the playoffs. At 6 foot 5, and 235 pounds, he certainly provides some added size to or blueline. He has regularly logged about 19 minutes a night for the past two seasons, so he has been playing a fair bit for Colorado though I probably couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. (Those of you who follow the West more closely than I do will have to fill me in on his attributes and limitations.) He “sounds” like a 4/5 defensemen with a defense-first orientation, which is fine. NHL teams always need that kind of role player. What little I have seen of him, he can hit and play a physical game, but I wouldn't count on my scouting report.
My first reaction to Nonis’ activity is that he “did no harm”, which is what a good physician (and sometimes a good General Manager) is supposed to do. He did not do anything to disrupt the team’s chemistry such as it is, as best we on the outside can tell. He brought in another defenseman, which never hurts going into a playoff drive, though clearly O’Byrne’s impact should be relatively modest, one would think.
There was nothing daring or dangerous from Nonis, just the quiet acquisition of something that good teams forever need: blueline depth.
Now, unless I’ve been misreading the mood of those who visit and post here at VLM, most Leaf fans were OK with the status quo on this roster. Oh, we all wanted a big first-line center, more experience and playoff leadership and a stud defenseman, but did we really think that was all going to appear out of nowhere at the deadline? Few teams made impact moves, the biggest seemingly being trades for aging veterans like Iginal and Jagr (ahead of the deadline), and secondary if certainly useful players like Clowe and Derek Roy. (Tortorella won’t have Gaborik to kick around anymore… and I’m guessing the veteran winger couldn’t be happier to go somewhere that needs his goal scoring and a coach that won’t scream daily about his frequent bouts of lethargy…)
Nonis did not mess with the goaltending duo of Reimer and Scrivens, though he was interested enough in Kiprusoff to get permission to try and talk the long-time Finnish netminder into coming here. But at the end of the day, it was just that: talk.
So no, we don’t have a big center (hey, we’ve been saying that for years); we don’t have another stud defenseman; we lack the kind of veteran leadership that I would like to see. (Yes, I know, Lupul is here, but I’m talking about those savvy veterans that you add to the mix who have experienced playoff success and can tell the “kids” what it’s like at playoff time—having actually won something.) We also don’t have a “name” in goal, if that was a concern.
But my guess is most of you are OK with that—for now.
O’Byrne’s arrival will create yet another intriguing blueline scenario. Gardiner can’t go anywhere (the Marlies, I mean), so we have Gunnarsson, Phaneuf, Liles, Fraser, Franson and Kostka/Gardiner as our “regulars” on the back end. With O’Byrne, that’s eight “D”, not including Komisarek and Holzer with the Marlies—or any of the younger guys like Blacker, Rielly, etc..
My assessment is simple: Nonis stayed the course. He has said from the get-go he is not moving young players out, period. He wants to keep building with the kids. My guess is a year from now will be a different story. That’s when he will have to determine (if they’re still here at the time) whether Grabovski and Bozak, for example, are the kind of players we can win with in the third round of the playoffs. If not, they may go for other pieces we can plug in.
For now, Nonis probably likes his roster, though it is not championship-caliber. But it is a roster he can gently 'massage' and re-tool and be a bit patient, because there are some youngsters (maybe Colborne, based on the reports I’m getting) and others like Rielly who will be factors here some day. And when the time comes to consider adding that crucial impact veteran because the Leafs really are close to something, I’m thinking the Leaf GM will indeed pull the trigger—a year from now.
But this team wasn’t the team to do that for, and Wednesday wasn’t the time—yet.
How do you see it?