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What should Dave Nonis be thinking—and doing—during this Olympic break?

Leaf fans are probably enjoying the break in the NHL schedule as much as the players, so I won’t go on at length about the Leaf situation today.  Many hockey fans are caught up in the Olympic spirit and specifically Olympic hockey fever and that’s as it should be. (I have my own Canadian Olympic hockey memories, but I’ll set that aside for today.)

I’ll just say that Toronto General Manager Dave Nonis, at least in my mind, is in a very interesting situation right now to say the least—and he has plenty of time to think about possibilities.  Why do I say this?  Well, his team, in my view, is not really good enough to win a Stanley Cup, but with a couple of adjustments and maybe another solid defenseman, I can’t help but wonder if they just might be ready to take a run at the Eastern Conference crown.

That said, what does Nonis do now?  I’m hardly suggesting he sell off all the bright young kids in the system—not at all.  But does he just continue to be patient and wait and wait some more, knowing he does not have the overall roster strength to win it all this spring?  Or does he, in fact, take a bit of a run at it? Does he pull the trigger on a deal or deals that perhaps won’t make the earth shake (neither did the Gleason trade, but that has sure helped thus far) but could have an impact of this roster?

If so, might those moves indeed be enough to get us past Pittsburgh and/or Boston in the playoffs?  If the answer could be yes, is it something he has to consider, as in, yes, being willing to move a potentially valuable young asset or two to coalesce this group and make it playoff battle-worthy—and capable of a lot more than just maybe winning a round.

In this “go for it” scenario, what players might have to go?  We have to be realistic:  if you want to get something you generally have to give up something of value. (Quick aside—we did acquire Phaneuf for very little, and we think we got Lupul and Gardiner for nothing, but we should acknowledge that Francois Beauchemin is not exactly just taking up space in Anaheim.  He was a plus 19 in a short 2012-’13 season, and is plus 26 this season while averaging 23 minutes a night on a very, very good Bruce Boudreau squad.)

So if you are Nonis, what are you thinking as the Olympic games go on thousands of miles away from the ACC and the NHL is on everyone’s mental backburner?  Are you willing to let this season play out, take no risks, and see if Carlyle can somehow win—or at least go as far as possible with the roster as is?

Or, do you figure, “this is one of those seasons where anyone can win this Conference, and once we get that far, who knows?”.  If that’s your line of thought, do you make those one or two daring, maybe even high-risk moves to get this team on a level playing field (or at least closer) with the best teams in hockey?

Sometimes, the opportunity to win a championship does not return as easily or as quickly as organizations, players—or fans—might think.  The Leafs may well be positioning themselves to be contention for years to come, but are we really sure of that?  Things change awfully quickly in sports.

So think on this—and let me what you would decide if you were in Nonis’ shoes…




24 comments:

  1. Hi Michael

    The good thing about our line up as it gets healthy coming out of the olympic break, is that Nonis can go both ways with the lineup. We can be sellers and trade away a current player or two off our lineup and stock up the cupboard for futures. Just as well, Nonis is in a position where he can add a veteran player or two as a depth move. The obvious reason for this is because we have some capable NHLers who should be healthy after the Olympic break. Bolland, Holland, Smith and McLaren, in addition there are rumours that Kamarov may join the Leafs after His season in Europe is over.

    Also we have Ashton, Leivo, D'amigo who have faired well this season when they have been in the lineup so even if there are injuries after the trade deadline, we have enough depth in the bottom six who can fill in. Bodie, I think has been a pleasant surprise and has earned a roster spot even if it is on the forth line.

    With regards to the unsigned players first, the best approach on Bolland may be a wait and see. We don't want to make the same mistake we made with Liles and sign him long term while he hasn't yet played any hockey returning from a significant injury. It would be better to see how he plays when he returns whether he can carry on playing the way he was before the injury. His injury is one that may be serious enough that it takes him a whole year to recover from completely and play at the level he would like to. I hope i am entirely wrong. But wait and see if A) he is worth keeping for just the rest of the year and let him walk at the end of the year if he doesn't resign. B) Keep him around long term and extend him or C) Trade him and get what you can for him. I do think Peter Holland has showed that he can be effective playing the third line while being cheaper and younger.

    Kuleman, another ufa after this year has been the subject of trade talks since he too has not yet resigned. It may come down to money at the end for him too, if he is demanding two or three million, Nonis can make the numbers work, but anything more and he may be in his way out. Especially if Kamorov decides to play here again this year as he can play the checking third line for less coin as well.

    Raymond is looking like he may be on the bubble as well. Next year he will demand more than the one million he is currently making and there is not enough room for everyone to share the ice and fit under the cap. He is rather interesting because his contract has been of such a good value for us. He can score and has fit in well on this team. But I don't see him on this team long term making as much money as Kuleman or Bolland. Carlyle's style of play would suggest Raymond be expendable before Kuleman or Bolland.

    Then the other question for Nonis is what the other teams may be willing to give up for each respective player. Most recently players like Antropov Stempniak and Pony garnered around second round picks so I suspect Raymond and Kuleman may provide a similar return or maybe more.

    As for the blockbuster, I don't see it happening unless if it is like a Shenn for JVR type where we trade youth for youth. Nonis has mentioned he is not willing to sacrifice the future young players on this franchise in order to make a run at the playoffs this year. Evander Kane for Gardiner? Just throwing that in.

    However, I do think that Veteran leadership is extremely important in the overall success and the development of younger players, especially come playoff time. Veterens teaching the younger players the ropes. This is probably a reason why Edmonton has struggled as much as they have. But getting players like Ott, Moulson, Vanek, Legwand, Doan, may require too much to give up to acquire. Which leaves Nonis to address this issue perhaps in the off season. Let's hope that Clarkson, Phaneuf, Bolland if he is still around and the experience from last years seven game series be enough for the time being.

    I apologize for such a long post.

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    1. As you say in your last paragraph, Nonis may be hoping the Leafs have enough leadership in the room with the return of Bolland that they will be in a good place in the playoffs. I'm not sure that's the case, but if the plan is to not trade away any young assets, then they may well have to go with what they have. Thanks BlueANDwhite!

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  2. What should Nonis do?

    Mostly nothing, he has made lots of off season moves and the organization has an abundance of depth. It's time to see what this team can do in the playoffs and evaluate after. Maybe Raymond or Kulemin will have a good performance and want to stay if the team goes deep. Would you want to leave an upcoming team in one of the biggest hockey markets?

    Nonis should be thinking about the Leafs first round match up. He should make sure Carlyle plays the skilled and defensive players against the softer teams. We need the wins. We don't need Orr and McLaren. Bodie, Clarkson and Gleason provide enough toughness agaisnt the softer teams. That being said, if McLaren is dressed and Burrows harrasses Kessel, McLaren needs to rough up Burrows in the third period, otherwise there is no point to having McLaren

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    1. Deploying the roster will be key going forward, I agree, DP. Nonis has already made moves. He may do nothing at this point, but I wanted to see what people were thinking he might be considering...

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  3. Hi Michael.

    I don't really expect any big moves by Nonis. I love to speculate but I don't see anyone available at this point that would be better than what the Leafs have already. If Bolland returns close to what he was before his injury we may finally see the full roster for the first time this year. Unless there are players that Nonis has already decided he can't sign, I expect there won't be any decisions until after a few games at least.

    I'm not totally happy with the 2nd line. Lupul has not been himself this year for some reason. He's usually a bit more edgy and he really struggles in the defensive zone. Maybe I'm just noticing it more. This is the biggest reason I prefer the defensively responsible Kulemin on this line. D'Amigo would be interesting here and is good defensively.

    My biggest concern is still having a more effective 4th line. Very few teams have players interested in challenging Orr or McLaren. They play so few minutes they are seldom on the ice when anything happens and there's little they can do when players simply skate away from them. Having them has not stopped players taking every opportunity to mess with Kessel-constantly slashing his hands, cross-checking him, and I've not seen them make anyone (Scott, Kassian, Burrows) pay for it. I have a great respect for enforcers but the Leafs have better players to fill at least one of those roster spots. I think in moving one the Leafs may be a step closer to finding that 4th line we've all been hoping to see. C.N.

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  4. It may be that Lupul's best hockey this season won't be in evidence until after the Olympic break. If there are nagging injuries, this may give him time to refresh.

    The fourth line has been an issue all season, yet the Leafs have managed to move their way up in the standings. I agree that come the playoffs, it would be nice to see a combination of speed, physicality, energy and grit within that unit. Thanks C.N.

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  5. If I was Dave Nonis, I would notice that a home town guy is apparently available and wonder what it would take to bring in RW Chris Stewart... Of course, we'd have to part with somewhere near 4.2 M in salary to make the trade work. It seems that Stewart has long been on the radar and I wonder if we could part with a defenseman like Gunnarson in order to make the deal work, especially with Granberg, McWilliam and TJ Brennan on the farm. Would Gleason move up to the top pair, in order to give Dion more latitude on offense?

    If Gunnar did go (and I've read rumours over the years that the Blues may be interested), we'd have to top-up the deal with another player. Would that mean a tough guy finally goes or would it be worth sending Mason Raymond to obtain a player like Stewart? The latter is the only kind of reason that I'd part with Mason by the deadline, but if Kulemin played more center and/or his offside, then there's more room for Stewart in the mix (both salary-wise and by potential line combinations).

    How are negotiations with Franson, Kulemin, Raymond, Reimer and Bolland actually going? Do they become trade fodder or are we in a position to keep any/all of them? I can see arguments both ways in every case (dependent upon salary demands, timing for completing a satisfactory deal and injury recovery for the latter. With Kulemin providing another option at center now, perhaps Bolland can 'ease into' the 4th line, with McClement playing some wing, if necessary. Maybe, Bolland stays on line 3 taking faceoffs and Kulemin plays the role deeper in either end zone with Bolland taking the wing role after a faceoff. Having more face-off men on the ice is always a good thing in either case.

    I think both Nonis and Bolland will want a little time to see how well he recovers, so nothing is a done deal (especially having read that Komarov has 'not received any offers from the Leafs yet'). Perhaps the parenthetical comment is an indicator that all the UFA/RFAs need to be sorted out before other options are explored. Unless forced by an early or too high salary demand, I don't see Bolland leaving any time soon and Kulemin may have just 'carved out' some space for a higher paycheck with his effectiveness at center... Lots to consider and I look forward to how it all plays out, for sure.

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    1. It's certainly a challenge trying to think along with the General Manager, InTimeFor62. So many variables here including, as you quite properly note, where the organization may be in contract tracks with pending UFAs and RFAs!

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  6. Hello Michael,
    My first time commenting on your great blog. I love how everyone leaves lengthy, articulate and thought provoking responses.

    The question you ask is even more of a dilemma when you consider that Nonis has few games let to get a look at this roster and determine his next course of action. In fact, with the trade freeze over the Olympic Break, he likely has had to make the decision already.

    My answer: play it out. Stick with the same motto of always being open to improving your team without mortgaging your future (Gleason, Bolland, Bernier acquisitions). I may be a wishful thinker, but as long as the Leafs focus on getting in the playoffs, I think, as all teams do, they have a chance at making a run with good goaltending, better leadership and a heartbreaking 7-game series under their belts.

    Great post.

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    1. Good to hear from you, leafsdiaries.com. I hear you when it comes to playing it out. That may well be what Nonis is thinking, too!

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    2. Question:

      Often, a team's obstacle to taking that next step is personnel - specifically having players who are "miscast" in specific roles. Who do you believe is the most miscast Leaf? a) Phaneuf as a #1 defenceman b) Bozak as a #1 center c) Gunnarsson as a #2 defenceman?

      For me, it's Gunnarsson and he's the only reason I would hesitate about telling Nonis to stay put before the deadline. He works really hard and does the best he can, but he should be a #3 defenceman, not a number 2 in my opinion.

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    3. Fair point on Gunner, Antoni. Solid, reliable player, but in a tough role some nights as a first-pair defender.

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  7. Hi Michael

    There is an Australian saying that best suits my mood: "It's Sydney or the bush." Which in our context could be roughly translated as "Go big or go home."

    It seems to me that the majority of our journeymen players aren't significantly better or worse than the teams around us and one might expect that this cohort within the team has the potential to get even better as the injuries detailed above sort themselves out in the last third of the season. So tinkering around trading role players for role players seems like a waste of time to me.

    If I decided to change anything, it would be to go for a blockbuster. In the past the talk has been go for a 1C or a 1D but it would seem a bit churlish to mess with Bozak given the last 20 games or so and the effectiveness of the top line within them. So it'd be a 1D or nothing for me and none appear obviously available so there'd be some serious action needed to grease such wheels and we'd probably find ourselves in constant competition with Edmonton who could through an Eberle or a Yakupov plus juicy 2015 picks at the problem. Maybe Edler if Vancouver keep tanking? I'd pay a lot for OEL.

    Compliments of the New Year to you and yours.

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    1. Hi KiwiLeaf- the acquisition of a big-time defenseman is something a lot of us have no doubt contemplated. Nonis, as we know, has already made a subtle but significant move in dealing for Gleason. What would an elite defenseman cost...or even a really capable second-pairing guy? It won't be inexpensive, that much we know. Thanks KiwiLeaf.

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  8. Great read Michael! I was saying the same thing to my wife. The way that Kessel is performing right now, if they could strengthen this team, he could help them go a long way into a playoff run.

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    1. Thanks cyfawcett- this feels like one of those years where the East is up for grabs. The Leafs can stake their claim, but there is a lot of work still to be done...

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  9. Good stuff as always Michael. At first I thought , Nonis and thinking in the same sentence!! Then I realized it was a question not a statement.

    I really don't think they have enough deep quality on defense. Can't see a trade or two providing what they desperately need at the blue line to contend.

    My hope is that in a couple of years Jake and Morgan are near top flight guys and then, at that point, adding a couple of pieces may prime them for a deep playoff run or two. This is still a very young team. That's not an unreasonable expectation. Is it?

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  10. Hi Bmaximus- rosters seem to change quickly in sports these days, but no, I don't think it's unreasonable to think or believe that this team has its best days ahead of it. Bernier is in his prime, or getting there. The core on the blue line (including those you mention) is very young with more on the way. If anything, we lack a bit when it comes to playoff experience.

    That's why a playoff run would be so valuable for this team right now. They would very quickly gain that experience.

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  11. Hi Michael, what are your thoughts on persuing Joe Pavelski? I've heard the sharks were inrerested in a young puck moving defenceman like Jake Gardiner

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    1. Hi Warren- I'm always loathe to move young defensemen...and especially so in the case of a youngster like Gardiner. It's just so difficult to project what they might be. Will he become a Niedermayer or plateau early?

      Pavelski is the kind of player most any team would want. Solid veteran,can log minutes and with lots of playoff experience on his resume. I don't know about his contract situation but he would definitely be a welcome addition here but again, it depends on the cost.

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  12. Hmmmm interesting piece. To be honest though, I feel like only 3 teams have a real shot of winning the conference this year and everyone else is pretty far behind them (other than the NYR):

    Top tier:
    Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa Bay

    Middle tier:
    New York Rangers

    Lower tier:
    Everyone else fighting for a playoff spot (includes Toronto).

    The thing is, I find in the first round ANYTHING can happen so if we see 2 or all 3 of those top tier teams go anyone can win after that. It's tough to say. Yes, I do think the Leafs have a chance to win the Conference but I think it's a very very minuscule chance and depends on a lot of things going right for them. So we'll see. They play the games for a reason, eh? :)

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    1. Exactly, Sasko. For the record, my favourite hockey every year is the first round of the playoffs. Every team playing their guts out, and upsets are inevitable.

      I'm not sure I see Tampa as elite, but I see what you're saying. I'm maybe also not seeing the Isles the way you do, but that's the fun of being a fan! Tale care, Sasko!

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  13. So nice to see Antoni Nerestant ( Leaf Diaries) joining in the conversation. I've read some of his stories. Like you, Michael, he's a Leaf fan born into a Habs family. C.N.

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    1. I enjoy Antoni's work as well, C.N.- he's an excellent writer.

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