Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dubas Gets A Right Handed Defenseman

The Toronto Maple Leafs have made an upgrade on the right side of their defensive unit. 

Earlier today, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced via twitter that they had brokered a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. The Maple Leafs have traded Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 third round pick to the Avalanche for Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth round pick.

With the addition of Barrie, the Toronto Maple Leafs have successfully upgraded the right side of their blue-line.

But, there is even more news. Per Dan Rosen of NHL.com (see above), the Colorado Avalanche retained 50% of Barrie’s AAV in the deal. With that being said, Barrie will only eat 2.75 million in cap space for the Maple Leafs.

The Hunt For A Right Handed Defenseman

Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been waiting a while for this day. Over the past two seasons, we’ve heard names such as Brett Pesce, Colin Miller, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, Justin Faulk and others be thrown out as potential options on the right hand side. Finally, the rumours are put to bed. The Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche and now Barrie is their top right handed defensive option. He’ll likely replace Ron Hainsey on the top line and play alongside Morgan Rielly. While Barrie is far better than Hainsey, it’s still worth showing a comparison between the two defensemen.

In the below visual from CJ Turtoro, you’ll see an in-depth comparison of the two defensemen.

visual from CJ Turtoro, data from Corey Sznajder

Barrie is a lot better than Hainsey. There is no doubt about it. As you can see from the visual, Barrie is far more efficient at shot contributions, possession entries and possession exits than Hainsey. The only category that Barrie is worse than Hainsey in is entry defense. But, just because Barrie is worse at entry defense then Hainsey doesn’t mean that the trade for Barrie makes no sense. It’s the opposite. Barrie is more consistent across the board and is far better suited to play top line minutes in the NHL than Hainsey. 

Kerfoot

In addition to Barrie, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Alexander Kerfoot in the trade. Kerfoot provides the Maple Leafs with solid centre depth and will compete with Jason Spezza for the the third line centre spot. 

Kerfoot has a tremendous amount of upside and has been rather efficient in his time with the Avalanche. But, the challenge for Kerfoot has been his line-mates. Aside from the top line in Colorado, forward depth has been a concern, especially on the wings. Kerfoot didn’t have consistently strong wingers in Colorado and that will change in Toronto. He could end up playing with Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Ilya Mikheyev and/or Trevor Moore. 

The only immediate issue with Kerfoot is that he’s a restricted free agent. He’ll need to be paid quite quickly and if he demands too much, the Maple Leafs could be forced to trade his rights as they still need to lock up Mitch Marner.

Losing Kadri & Rosen

Unfortunately, Maple Leafs fans are losing a fan favourite. Nazem Kadri has been with the organization for a long time. If you remember, former general manager Brian Burke and former Ottawa Senators Bryan Murray had a minor confrontation at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft prior to Burke selecting Kadri. Burke went up to Murray, asked him who he planned on taking and then he informed Murray that he was going to be taking Kadri off the board. It was evident from the exchange that Murray had his eyes on Kadri and had to go to plan B.

Sadly, Leafs Twitter has been up in arms about Kadri’s role in Toronto. Since the two altercations against the Boston Bruins this past playoff series and in the year prior, Kadri has been put on the hot seat in Toronto. His character in the playoffs has been alarming and it’s clear that Dubas wasn’t prepared to give him another chance.

In addition to Kadri being dealt, the Maple Leafs also part ways with depth defenseman Calle Rosen. Rosen, since coming to Toronto has spent the bulk of his time with the Toronto Marlies, but was looking prime to play on the third defensive pairing next season. Instead, he’ll fight for a third pairing spot in Colorado.

Recap

All-in-all, the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally improved their right side on the blue-line. Barrie is quite the upgrade over Hainsey. Plus, they add a centre with a ton of offensive upside in Kerfoot. With that being said, it’s extremely hard to hate this trade.

stats from hockey-reference.com and Corey Sznajder

visual from CJ Turtoro

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kenny Agostino

The Toronto Maple Leafs added 27-year-old winger, Kenny Agostino today. The 6’0, 198lbs left shot forward joins the Leafs on a 2-year, one way deal worth $700K AAV.

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Kenny Agostino spent last season split between the Montreal Canadians and New Jersey Devils. Agostino mustered up 24pts (6-18-24) in 63 games in the NHL and a further 10pts in 12 games with the Devils AHL team. Agostino has managed 35pts in his 85 NHL games over his career spread across  5 seasons. Agostino has also proven a very productive AHL scorer with 246pts in 273 games for a 0.9 point per game pace. Agostino fills an organisational need with the Leafs as a left winger who can provide value in a depth role. This is a near league minimum contract for a player who has proven he can produce in the kind of roles the Leafs would need him in.

This signing will provide the Toronto Maple Leafs depth with some further competition on the left side. Furthermore, being on a near league minimum deal, Agostino has proven he can be very valuable at the AHL level if the Leafs pick a Marlie from last season above him. This is a small, low risk piece of business by Dubas that appears very smart and safe. A further breakdown on Agostino will come in the following days.

Sources: Elite-prospects.com, Hockey-Reference.com and NHL.com

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: New Player Development Focus?

Kyle Dubas has often been viewed as an “outside the box” GM. This has changed how the Toronto Maple Leafs have adjusted their draft strategies. 

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In an interview following the 2019 NHL draft, John Lilley, the director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs divulged some information that’s pretty interesting, in regard to the Leafs draft focus. Lilley stated that the focus heading into the draft was on identifying two key traits in players, skill and intelligence. This is a shift far from what was the focus of the Leafs for many years. Right up to the 2016 and 2017 NHL drafts the Leafs prioritized size and physical acumen over intelligence. There seemed to be a focus on drafting the biggest and strongest athlete and developing the decision making later. This was most evident in players like Nicholas Mattinen, Keaton Middleton and even Yegor Korshkov. Whilst many of the picks certainly weren’t fantastic skaters there was a priority on strength, size and physical prowess.

The New Philosophy

Following the 2018 NHL Draft, the Leafs made a few picks that gave a glimpse of a new focus. Even the selection of Rasmus Sandin, whilst a player with the physical tools of Joe Veleno was available was a surprise to many. Joe Veleno boasted incredible speed and was considered by many a top 10 talent. However, the Leafs traded down and still selected Rasmus Sandin at number 29. Thus far, it looks a brilliant pick. Furthermore, to this we saw players like Sean Durzi, Mac Hollowell and Filip Kral selected in the later rounds. These, like Sandin, were prospects who were undersized and lacked a stand out attribute, yet were very intelligent hockey players according to most scouting reports.

Kyle Dubas and John Lilley both mentioned the focus on a player’s skill and intelligence as being the prime target for the scouts leading into this draft. The NHL has long leaned on drafting the best athlete or the best physical specimen and relying on their coaches to mould an NHL brain around the body. Dubas and Lilley look to be challenging this idea and instead focus on finding young players with an NHL head and letting their team develop the body. Considering the Leafs have people like Barb Underhill, Hayley Wickenheiser and Darryl Belfry it would be a waste not to use them.

Dubas’ Comments

Perhaps the most intriguing comment following the draft was what Dubas had to say about the focus following the draft. He specifically mentioned certain names, including Rich Rotenburg and Trevor St Agathe. These are names that many Leaf fans are likely unfamiliar with. However, if you watch the 2017-18 Calder Cup final win you will see Trevor St Agathe out on the ice lifting the cup with Dubas. Trevor has had a long career in the strength and conditioning field and spent time in the NBA and NHL in his field. Dubas climbing through the ranks has gifted him with the opportunity to truly see how player development works from its core. That has given him the insight into the value individuals such as Trevor, Rich, Barb and Darryl can bring to a young players developmental curve. Targeting the strength, nutrition and physical health side with Rich and Trevor, the skating with Barb and the skills work with Darryl offers a very complete player development system.

I personally am a huge fan of people like Mike Boyle and Matt Nichol, who are the premier S&C coaches when it comes to hockey. In a podcast a few years back Matt Nichol, who formerly worked with the Leafs as the first fulltime S&C coach in NHL history, brought up a number of concerns surrounding the game. He spoke on how he felt that NHL teams and those in power around them lacked consideration and understanding for the role of sports science. He spoke about studies he completed whilst working with the team and how even with evidence some coaches seemed resistant to make changes to training styles or focuses that were proven less optimal by science.

These latest comments by Dubas show a clear recognition of those in the sports science field he has on his team. His time with the Marlies and the Greyhounds has afforded him the opportunity to see first hand of the effect that his player development staff can have on his prospects. This should give great confidence to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that their GM is forward thinking and ready to place trust in his team to develop intelligent players into more complete athletes.

 

Sources: Hockey-reference.com, Eliteprospects.com

Featured Image Credit: Nikos Michal

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Reviewing Their Draft Weekend

The 2019 National Hockey League Entry Draft started out quiet for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they had no 1st round pick to use on Day 1 due to the Jake Muzzin trade last season. 

 

Day 2 on the other hand started off with the Maple Leafs trading away Patrick Marleau and his entire $6.25 Million cap hit to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

The Trade:

The belief is that Carolina will indeed be buying out Marleau’s contract, which would allow Marleau to then sign a cheap deal with the San Jose Sharks as an Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1st. 

When a player over the age of 35 is bought out, the team which buys him out doesn’t receive any cap relief.  This was the issue that Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas had to work with while trying to find a trade partner for Marleau.  In order for this deal to happen, Toronto had to sweeten the deal by adding a 2020 conditional 1st round draft pick and a 2020 7th round draft pick.

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The condition for the 1st round pick is that if it becomes a top 10 pick then Toronto will keep it and Carolina will get Toronto’s 1st round pick in 2021 instead, regardless if it’s top 10 or not.  This trade also involved Carolina’s 2020 6th round pick coming to Toronto.  The biggest benefit to Toronto in this trade was freeing up $6.25M in cap space without having to take back any salary or give up any active roster players or prospects.

 

The Draft: 

When the Maple Leafs did eventually get around to drafting they stuck with the same formula that they used in last year’s draft and that is skill, skating ability and hockey IQ before size, strength and toughness.  With the way the NHL is progressing, it’s not a bad formula to be using.  Some fans are noticeably upset with the lack of size with this year’s Maple Leafs selections, but some of these 5’10” or 5’11” boys could still grow into 6’0″-6’1″ men.   The Maple Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting John Lilley gave a brief evaluation on this year’s selections.

#53 – Nick Robertson

“Robertson is a highly skilled type of player that we are looking for moving forward. He’s a highly motivated young man. Very, very serious.”

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“We met with him on several occasions and did the background. He’s driven. That’s part of what we like about him, aside from the skill and hockey sense, this kid lives, breathes and eats hockey. That’s all he does.”

#84 – Mikko Kokkonen

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“Kokkonen Is very smart and a good defender. He can still improve his foot speed, but like a lot of these kids, they all have work to do.”

#115 – Mikhail Abramov

“Mikhail is skilled. Very skilled. He had a good Ivan Hlinka (tournament) this summer, a good year in Victoriaville. A good play maker who works hard. He had a good year on a young team.”

#124 – Nick Abruzzese

“Abruzzese is under-developed for a ’99. When you look at him, you’d think he is an ’01. He’s an older kid, but he still has room to grow and mature physically.” Lilley said. “He’s an intelligent human being and hockey player.”

#146 – Michael Koster

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“Michael had a great Ivan Hlinka in the summer. He went head-to-head with a lot of the top players against Canada and Europe.” Lilley said. “Koster is a very smart player who moves the puck well. Highly skilled. Just the type of player we were looking for. We were very excited to get him where he was.”

#204 – Kalle Loponen

“Ari Vuori, our European scout, really liked him in the late rounds.” Lilley said.  Loponen moves the puck well. He can skate. He is just another guy who is just going to get physically stronger. It’s probably his biggest hurdle right now.”

The Biggest Surprise

The biggest surprise for me in this draft was Toronto being able to get Nick Robertson at pick #53. Robertson was predicted to go in the 1st round somewhere between 17th – 20th overall. I hope that him slipping down into the 2nd round turns out to be a steal for the Maple Leafs. Looking forward to watching him develop over the next three to four years.

stats from eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Toronto Maple Leafs

Can Kyle Dubas Improve The Toronto Maple Leafs Drafting?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled to pick up talent after the first round of the draft. Kyle Dubas (and his scouts) will look to change that.

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In a Sportsnet interview at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, a reporter started his question to Leafs GM Kyle Dubas by saying, “You don’t have a pick in the first round…”, but Kyle quickly and coyly jumped in “Not yet!”.

The comedic moment does have some implications – the Toronto Maple Leafs have largely struggled in the past decade in picking up NHL level talent after the first round. With their first pick coming at #53 overall, after their first round selection was sent as a part of the Jake Muzzin trade, the Leafs will need to improve their drafting ability in rounds 2 through 7 in order to start restocking their prospect cupboard.

A Look At The Past

As mentioned, the Leafs have struggled throughout the past 10 years at picking up NHL quality players after the first round. They made no mistakes with Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. But, success has been limited after those three. The graph below depicts the Leafs selections by round and uses their Games Played as a metric of success.

visual created by Ryan Ghizzoni, data from hockey-reference.com

As you can see, besides the 1st round selections, Connor Brown is the only Leafs player above 200 games played. Travis Dermott, Josh Leivo and Andreas Johnsson were good selections and have made an impact for the big club, but the rest are mainly AHLers who fizzled out and provided little in value. None of this is to say that drafting in later rounds is easy – other analysts (Michael Schuckers, notably) have illustrated the steep drop-off in talent after the top round 1 selections. However, the Leafs have consistently under-performed in games played by draftees after round 1 when you compare them to the league average in drafting in every year since 2010. The below visual shows just how far off the Toronto Maple Leafs are.

visual created by Ryan Ghizzoni, data from hockey-reference.com

Specifically, the chart illustrates the average number of games played for selections after the 1st round of the draft. The grey line displays the league average for each year of the draft, with the Leafs in orange. The more recent things get, the harder it is to make concrete statements about success. Prospects can take several years to develop into NHLers. But, the Leafs will need to be better than they have to take another step on the road to cup contention.

*Trying* To See The Future

A staunch Leafs optimist would point out Mark Hunter‘s archaic drafting style of selecting big, tall defensemen only to see them stall out in juniors or the AHL, and point to Dubas’s progressive and analytical prowess as reasons for future success. A pessimist would point out the great difficulty involved in selecting players late in the draft, and question the impact one man can have on selections. The answer is usually somewhere in between – but I think guided by a GM that is willing to recognize changes in the skill makeup of the league should propel the Leafs to at least above average in draft ability, and hopefully even higher given their need for prospects and additional scoring depth moving forward.

Data from HockeyReference.com

Visuals from Ryan Ghizzoni

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler