TORONTO – When Kyle Dubas vowed “we can and we will” sign the Core Four, when the general manager then plunked down $40-million plus to do so, what some may have failed to do is read the fine print.
Keeping an elite-skill nucleus of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander intact also means “we can and we will” discard anyone filling time on the fringes.
The past two off-seasons have been a culling on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ middle-class forwards.
Patrick Marleau was a sentimental favourite but, alas, an overpay who needed to be shipped out to facilitate the Marner raise.
But taken at individual face value, the contracts of Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Trevor Moore, Frederik Gauthier and, now, Andreas Johnsson weren’t so bad. (A couple were downright bargains.)
However, taken in the context of a salary-cap world — particularly a flat-cap, pandemic-purging world — any Leaf forward not named Zach Hyman, whose cap hit is more than $1 million but less than $6.96 million, should consider himself expendable.
There is a reason new guy Wayne Simmonds made certain to negotiate a no-move clause, even when those seldom come with $1.5-million deals. And there is a reason Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5 million) has heard his name casually tossed into the rumour mill.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Toronto’s financial blueprint might feel callous to a feel-good story like Johnsson.
The affable Swede grew from a seventh-round draft gamble to a Calder Cup champion and AHL playoff MVP, to a top-six winger with an offensive NHL juggernaut.
But the blueprint is calculated.
So, Dubas traded “Mango” — whose nickname literally means “nice guy” in Swedish — to the New Jersey Devils in a move impossible to disguise as much more than a salary dump.
Out goes 25-year-old Johnsson, a feisty 20-goal man in his only fullish NHL campaign.
In comes 22-year-old, five-foot-11 NHL/AHL ’tweener Joey Anderson with a chip on his shoulder and strong skates under his feet. He may turn into a decent role player. He may get caught in third-line limbo, like a Nic Petan.
Anderson is a restricted free agent in need of a new contract with Toronto.
Shedding Johnsson’s $3.4-million AAV for the next three seasons clears room for a fresh influx of bargain bets up front — Simmonds, former Washington Capitals centre Travis Boyd ($700,000), KHL import Alexander Barabanov ($925,000) — as well as Saturday night’s fine value acquisition of Zach Bogosian ($1 million for one year).
We give the Bogosian signing two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Heck, dollar per minute, the recent Stanley Cup champion might provide even better value than Friday’s lock-up of T.J. Brodie.
A pure right shot with strong underlying numbers, a mean streak and a knack for killing penalties, Bogosian fits the bill of the “presence” and “different type of depth defenceman” Dubas acknowledged he wanted to add to his roster this week.
Haters, give the GM some credit.
Dubas is not lighting fire to the blueprint (i.e., catering to the “Trade Nylander!” sector of the fanbase), but he is adapting to survive, to improve, to get playoff-ready. Hopefully.
He is sacrificing goals for defence. He is giving up a few scoring chances in order to prevent some scoring chances. Because, hey, even the greatest possession team only holds the puck 58 per cent of the time.
And with the Bogosian signing, the GM is simultaneously guarding against inevitable injuries and challenging young defenders like Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren to earn their ice time.
Soon it will fall upon Dubas’s assembled players to also adapt. They must to succeed in the playoff trenches.
“I don’t find myself transfixed on one thing,” Dubas said, in those heated hours upon early elimination by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“The vision, for me, always has to be changing. I don’t think any business or any team that just has one vision or way of doing things and doesn’t change is going to be successful in the long run.
“I am not someone that is stubborn with that. The goal will be to get us into a different position next year, certainly, to the point where we are making progress and sustaining ourselves as a contending team year in and year out.”
In the wake of Saturday’s moves, restricted free agents Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev (the latter filed for arbitration) still need contracts. Dubas has approximately $1.3 million in cap space to work with.
The 2020-21 Maple Leafs roster is hardly in stone.
It is getting tougher to play against, though.
Pacers hire Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as new head coach – Sportsnet.ca
Indiana has been looking for a new head coach since firing Nate McMillan back on Aug. 26, only 14 days after strangely agreeing to a contract extension with him. McMillan’s dismissal came shortly after the Pacers were ousted from the playoffs in the first round for the fifth-straight season.
Evidently looking to shake things up and with a roster that contains its own plethora of questions, Indiana settled on Bjorkgren, who’s been a valuable member of Nick Nurse’s staff since joining the coaching ranks as an assistant in 2018.
“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” said president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard in a press release. “This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous. We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward.”
A coach with NBA championship experience following Toronto’s 2019 run, Bjorkgren also served as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns from 2015-17 and spent a lengthy period of time in the then-D League, a space in which he was given his first pro-coaching job by Nurse with the Iowa Energy and in which he built a relationship with current Pacers forward T.J. Warren as head coach of the Bakersfield Jam.
“Nate and I have known each other for 30 years, and I will miss having him next to me on our bench, and I know the Raptors players and staff will miss working with him every day,” Nurse said in a statement. “With Nate, the Pacers are getting someone who is ready to lead an NBA team, who is always prepared and is super-positive, who knows what it takes to win a championship, at any level, and is willing to put in the work to get there.”
The Pacers now join the Brooklyn Nets as the only two teams with coaching vacancies to go with a first-time hire.
“I am honoured to take on the role as head coach of the Indiana Pacers,” said Bjorkgren. “This is something I have prepared for during my career. I want to thank Kevin, Chad (Buchanan), Kelly (Krauskopf), Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Herb and Steve Simon for this opportunity. I also want to thank Nick Nurse for giving me my first professional coaching job 14 years ago.
“I’m looking forward to working with this great team to achieve our goal as NBA champions.”
FTB: Kyle Dubas moves on to Travis Dermott – Pension Plan Puppets
Kyle Dubas cleared out his calendar today by signing Ilya Mikheyev to a new two-year contract last night. Mikheyev requested salary arbitration with the Maple Leafs to settle his contract, and the hearing was scheduled for today, but the two sides managed to come together and strike a deal last night before the arbiter got involved.
Mikheyev was in an unusual position with only one season of NHL experience, much of that a write-off from a major injury, but he is 26 years-old and has five prior years of professional playing history in the KHL before the Leafs signed him and brought him over to Canada in 2019. That KHL experience was ineligible for discussion in the arbitration, so the arbiter would have had a tough job to make a proper comparison to his peer players, but none of that matters now. He’s signe with the Leafs for another two years.
I do have to say, I am quite happy with Mikheyev back. What price can you possibly put on scoring against the Habs only 30 seconds into a game?
Dubas will now turn to the remaining two restricted free agents left that need new contracts; defenceman Travis Dermott, and winger prospect Joey Anderson who was acquired from the Devils as a oart of the return for Andreas Johnsson. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both contracts are announced today. Dubas doesn’t have much room under the salary cap left so these contracts are essentially fait accompli.
We have a new Fanpost for you to check out.
Leafs Postseason Rankings – theForester26
Do you like to argue about post-season rankings? Well theForester26 has some post-season rankings for you to argue about!
Gretzky Index Finale: The Best Possible All-Time Teams Through Different Age Ranges – The Copper & Blue
Do you like to argue about all-time great rosters? Well here’s some hypothetical all-time great rosters for you to argue about!
Blackhawks ‘new’ rebuilding plan is same one they’ve worked on for 3 seasons – Second City Hockey
As long as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are around, the Blackhawks are NOT in a rebuild and any suggestions to the contrary are incorrect.
Thompson to wear 11 in honour of Rypien – NHL.com
“At first, I was kind of nervous about it. It was kind of overwhelming at first because I know how much Rick Rypien meant to people. I had to think about it a little bit, said Nate Thompson.”
P.K. Subban on NHL social change, ‘The Last Dance,’ nearly being a Penguin and more – ESPN
The Devils defenseman checks in on the league’s social justice initiatives and much more.
Color of Hockey: O’Ree releases book, not slowing down at 85 – NHL
Willie O’Ree isn’t slowing down at 85. Days removed from his birthday, which was Oct. 15, the NHL’s first Black player recounted his special day, the well-wishes he received from players past and present, and reflected on his extraordinary career during the latest episode of Soul on Ice: The Podcast.
Connor Bedard on training in Sweden, call from Gretzky and exceptional status – TSN
“Connor Bedard’s phone rang and caller ID showed a number he didn’t recognize. “I think it’s one of those robot things that’s calling so I didn’t answer it. Then it called again and I answered and he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m Wayne Gretzky,’ and I was sure it was a prank call at first.”
Couple finds 60 bottles of 1920’s bootleg whiskey inside NY home
[SPECIES: why can’t this happen to me in my basement!]
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