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Amidst the Anger and Confusion: Stay Together For The Kids

Editor's Note: Fleet Fox uses his final day of 2009 to make the case for patience and stability in Leafland using our nemesis Buffalo as a case study.

This post is about why the Leafs should try to be a bit more like their Sabre neighbors, and hang on to all but a couple of our players. I know that this idea, upon its initial suggestion on this site was met with the obvious "if the team's broke, we fix it" response, but let’s indulge in a little crazy talk for a few minutes. Just a Fox’s food for thought. 

First, however, I’d like to make a few things clear. I am not condemning trades, free-agent signings, or any other kind of roster move that will help our team. Furthermore, I am not in denial about the mediocrity of our current team, or the vast majority of its players; I have no delusion that any team could ever evolve into a Cup contender by player development alone. This post cannot be used in the justification for keeping any individual player; each case needs to be evaluated on its own. Lastly, I should acknowledge that the information that I have gathered here in these tables proves absolutely nothing, and that it only provides a starting point for discussion. With these points in mind, I would like to make a case for keeping the vast majority of our Leaf team together.

You see, I was ruminating the other day about how often we (on this website and elsewhere) discuss the value of our players to other teams (or lack thereof) at the trade deadline, the off-season, or next season, and I got thinking about how this affects team morale, player cohesion, and the attractiveness of the workplace to outside talent. As much as being a National Hockey League player is a dream come true, it’s a lot like any other job in three important facets: 

  • As an employee, you aren’t necessarily friends with, and nor do you necessarily look up to, your highest paid or most talented co-worker. Your friends are your friends, and if they leave the workplace, it’s a bummer. (For example: Jason Blake surely misses the time spent spooning with Dominic Moore.)
  • If you have established a good work ethic with a given group of people, the longer you work together, the better you get at working with them. 
  • A stable workplace is an attractive one – especially for young families. I can’t tell you how many well-qualified, young-to-not-so-young parents I have met in teachers’ college looking for stable work.

What I mean is that as much as trades can disrupt a negative environment, they can most definitely disrupt a good one. One team that seems to understand this concept, and in my opinion, is a good model for rebuilding, is the Buffalo Sabres.

Don’t trade so many players, don’t sign so many free agents, and don’t trade so many picks. It’s hard not to do, especially in the pressure-cooker-Vatican-hot-seat, but it’s a simple strategy that Buffalo has ridden to the top of our division once again this season, for the second time since the lockout (See Table 1: they finished first in the East with 113 P in 2006-07, and tied for first overall with Detroit). Yes, this season is far from over, but they are having a good season regardless. I think several facts support this Sabre-centric point of view:

  1. See Table 2: The Sabres have signed the fewest FA’s and RFA’s of any team in the NHL since the lockout: 9! Only 9 players over four years! And that’s including the crazy lockout-comeback year. For the sake of comparison, the Islanders signed 8 FA’s in just the first year back. The Leafs have not gone too overboard since the lockout, signing only 14 players. The difference of course, is quality/quantity. We have signed, and since ditched, Pavel Kubina, Hal Gill, Scott Clemmenson, Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, Michael Peca, along with a host of other plugs that were deemed expendable. They’re not all bad deals, of course, but we have to look back to Ed Belfour as the last great player we signed as a free agent. Patch the odd hole with a FA? Sure. Find your next savior? Not so likely.
  2. Again, in Table 2: The Sabres have re-signed the most players of any team in the NHL since the lockout: 30! They only other team to come close to them in this regard is San Jose with 29, who, incidentally, are an OK team as well. The Leafs have re-signed about half that number of players since the lockout at 16. Apparently, RFA’s and FA’s aren’t cutting it for us around here – I suppose there are a lot of reasons for this.
  3. See Table 3: Buffalo has also, as far as I can tell, made the fewest roster moves of any team in the NHL the last decade (since the off-season of 2000): 38 by myself and Sean Zandberg’s count (courtesy of his website). It should be noted that this information doesn’t appear complete, as it is only an amateur count of roster moves (no offense, Sean, the site is still a cool resource) but it still gives a good indication of the number of significant trades, signings, waiver grabs, and retirements. The closest team to that mark is Detroit with 41, and I hear they’re also not bad. Yes, the Sabres have made some bonehead trades, but their team is getting by alright without Taylor Pyatt’s 10 points right now, and the second rounder they coughed up for Mr. Moore isn’t the end of the world. Toronto has made 69 moves, which is not nearly as bad as the Coyotes at 105, but the correlation between total number of moves and overall team success is tenuous. Success is possible through a lot of trades, albeit less likely. Detroit, New Jersey, Ottawa, San Jose, and Buffalo are the teams in the top third of the league over the last decade with below-average roster-move frequency. The league average amount of roster moves since 2000, excluding losses to free agency and restricted free agents is 63. 

I think a good case can be made that the Sabres owe much of their success to patience, as do many of the other top performing teams in the league. Now, there is an obvious chicken-before-the-egg argument in all this, that is, "a team that is already good doesn’t need to make as many roster moves as a mediocre one". Yes, this is true, and this is why I wouldn’t hold up New Jersey, Detroit, Ottawa (yes, Ottawa – they have averaged the 3rd most points in the NHL since 2000 – 101.6 on average, behind only NJD and Detroit – just look at Table 1), or even San Jose as examples of how to rebuild our team. These teams have not rebuilt so violently since the lockout.

 The Sabres, on the other hand, have had to rebound since being metaphorically kicked in the nuts multiple times by the fact that they couldn’t afford to re-sign the big names that were coming into free agency. (Oh, and their city is a dunghole, but I don’t know how much of a factor that really is.) First, there was Hasek, but then there was Dumont, Spacek, Brière, Drury, and Campbell. The Sabres suffered for three seasons after losing Hasek, accumulating 82, 72, and 85 points in ’02, ’03, and ’04 respectively, before bouncing back with a 110 P season.

Frankly, the fact that the Sabres haven’t signed any of those players may very well have worked in their favor in the longer term. Look at how Drury, Brière, and Campbell are doing now! Still though, the idea of hemorrhaging talented FA’s doesn’t sit well with me.

 Here is the important distinction between the Buffalo strategy and the one I have for the Leafs: we have the money to actually keep some of these high-talent players! The key, obviously, is to know when to flex the financial muscle. We need to be judicious in every decision to re-sign a potential UFA to a contract in excess of $4M unless you we are certain that this is a player that has had more than a season or two of consistent production/performance. If Matty S. wants a couple mil to hang around, fine. Same with Poni. "Career years" in a contract year is a recipe for disaster (see: Vanek, Thomas). With a bit more money, hopefully we can keep a good group together longer.

Talent will accrue naturally with a decent draft strategy, and we’ve already established multiple times on this website that drafting isn’t the Leafs biggest problem. Furthermore, with a team that is stable and secure from the GM-down, you are sure to attract the eye of more than a few veterans, looking for cheaper, longer-term deals. First though, we may have to keep our current team together. Eek.

Now, here are the stats, if you don't believe me:

 

Table 1: This is simply the total points accumulated by each team from the 2000-01 season, through the 2008-09 season. I chose these years because they give an even representation of pre and post-lockout numbers, as well as a sense of a team's success beyond the length of most player contracts. I have tabulated their total points for these eight seasons on the right, as well as averaged their point totals on a per-season basis. Note how at the bottom, I have calculated the average points-per-season in each year. All information from Hockey DB. 

 

09

08

07

06

04

03

02

01

Tot.

Avg.

Anaheim

91

102

110

98

76

95

69

66

707

88.4

Atlanta

76

76

97

90

78

74

54

60

605

75.6

Boston

116

94

76

74

104

87

101

88

740

92.5

Buffalo

91

90

113

110

85

72

82

98

741

92.6

Calgary

98

94

96

103

94

75

79

73

712

89

Carolina

97

92

88

112

76

61

91

88

705

88.1

Chicago

104

88

71

65

59

79

96

71

633

79.1

Colorado

69

95

95

95

100

105

99

118

776

97

Columbus

92

80

73

74

62

69

57

71

578

72.3

Dallas

83

97

107

112

97

111

90

106

803

100.4

Detroit

112

115

113

124

109

110

116

111

910

113.8

Ed-town

85

88

71

95

89

92

92

93

705

88.1

Florida

93

85

86

85

75

70

60

66

620

77.5

L.A.

79

71

68

89

81

78

95

92

653

81.6

Minn.

89

98

104

84

83

95

73

68

694

86.8

Montréal

93

104

90

93

93

77

87

70

707

88.4

Nashville

88

91

110

106

91

74

69

80

709

88.6

N.J.D.

106

99

107

101

100

108

95

111

827

103.4

N.Y.I.

61

79

92

78

91

83

96

52

632

79

N.Y.R.

95

97

94

100

69

78

80

72

685

85.6

Ottawa

83

94

105

113

102

113

94

109

813

101.6

Philly

99

95

56

101

101

107

97

100

756

94.5

Phoenix

79

83

67

81

68

78

95

90

641

80.1

Pittsburgh

99

102

105

58

58

65

69

96

652

81.5

S.J.S.

117

108

107

99

104

73

99

95

802

100.3

St. Louis

92

79

81

57

91

99

98

103

700

87.5

Tampa

66

71

93

92

106

93

69

59

649

81.1

Toronto

81

83

91

90

103

98

100

90

736

92

Van-city

100

88

105

92

101

104

94

90

774

96.8

Wash

108

94

70

70

59

92

85

96

674

84.3

Average:

91.4

91.1

91.4

91.4

89.1

87.2

86

86.1

711.3

88.9

 

Table 2: Here, I have tabulated the total number of signings of RFA's and UFA's by each team, as well as the players that they have lost to free agency. I have chosen only to use post-lockout information for this, since contracts signed pre-lockout were different things altogether. Also, my eyes began to hurt from all the counting. For each season, there are three columns: S: When a player from another team is signed as an RFA or as a UFA (this does not include trades for unsigned players), RS: This is the number of players in each season that have been re-signed to their old team after they have hit either restricted or unrestricted free agency, and L: these columns represent the number of players lost each year to free agency. I have tallied these four-year totals for you on the right, and added the averages on the bottom. All figures from the NHL website.

 

2009

2008

2007

2006

Total

 

S

RS

L

S

RS

L

S

RS

L

S

RS

L

S

RS

L

Anaheim

3

5

2

6

4

6

5

5

4

4

8

2

18

22

14

Atlanta

8

6

3

6

5

5

5

6

6

5

4

4

24

21

18

Boston

7

4

4

3

2

4

1

3

1

7

3

8

18

12

17

Buffalo

4

4

3

3

4

1

1

4

4

1

18

6

9

30

14

Calgary

8

6

6

4

6

8

3

0

3

5

2

3

20

16

20

Carolina

6

8

4

1

9

3

1

1

2

6

7

5

14

25

14

Chicago

5

8

4

5

4

2

4

2

2

5

6

3

19

20

11

Colorado

4

4

8

4

7

4

6

3

3

5

5

2

19

19

17

Columbus

3

5

4

6

8

1

5

3

2

5

6

4

19

22

11

Dallas

3

2

4

2

2

4

3

3

4

3

4

5

11

11

17

Detroit

6

2

5

3

10

3

2

2

8

5

7

5

16

21

21

Edmonton

2

9

5

2

4

4

2

4

2

3

6

7

9

23

18

Florida

5

2

8

3

3

2

3

3

3

2

7

4

13

15

17

L.A.

2

4

3

0

7

4

6

2

4

6

4

4

14

17

15

Minnesota

8

2

6

5

8

5

3

7

2

5

6

8

21

23

21

Montréal

8

7

7

4

4

3

4

4

4

2

8

2

18

23

16

Nashville

3

6

4

3

4

2

7

3

4

4

8

9

17

21

19

N.J.D.

3

4

6

3

4

2

7

3

4

4

8

9

15

15

17

N.Y.I.

8

3

5

7

6

6

9

3

8

8

5

2

32

17

21

N.Y.R.

9

3

8

5

7

6

2

5

5

3

7

5

19

22

24

Ottawa

1

3

4

5

5

3

1

2

3

4

8

7

11

18

17

Philly

4

0

7

4

2

1

1

2

2

6

5

3

15

9

13

Phoenix

5

6

6

7

5

8

3

5

4

8

5

2

23

21

22

Pittsburgh

6

5

6

7

11

6

6

5

2

6

4

6

25

25

20

San Jose

1

5

7

3

9

5

3

3

2

6

12

4

13

29

18

St. Louis

5

5

3

5

3

4

2

3

3

7

3

7

19

14

17

Tampa

6

6

7

8

4

8

3

4

4

4

6

2

21

20

21

Toronto

4

3

4

4

6

3

2

0

3

4

7

3

14

16

13

Van-city

6

6

9

7

8

5

4

3

3

4

6

6

21

21

23

Wash.

2

5

3

3

6

3

4

5

3

2

9

5

11

25

14

Average

17.3

19.8

17.7

 

Table 3: This information is pulled from Sean Zandberg's (of Nucks' Misconduct) site http://nhltradeshistory.blogspot.com/. While this seems to be a compilation of the more significant deals, rather than an all-encompassing set of figures, I feel that these numbers give a good indication of the number of trades, FA pickups, waiver pickups and losses, and retirements each team as undergone since the off-season of 2000, until January of 2009. Again, this encompasses an equal amount of pre and post-lockout information, and is a good indication of the overall inclination of an organization to move players around. 

 

Total

Trades

FA Pickup

Waiver Pickup

Waiver Loss

Retire

Anaheim

73

56

14

0

1

0

Atlanta

76

50

19

1

1

3

Boston

80

50

19

1

2

8

Buffalo

38

32

2

0

0

2

Calgary

73

43

18

0

1

2

Carolina

61

43

12

0

1

2

Chicago

98

67

23

0

0

5

Colorado

63

39

16

0

0

5

Columbus

65

41

18

3

0

1

Dallas

73

40

20

1

0

9

Detroit

41

13

15

0

0

8

Edmonton

57

36

13

0

1

2

Florida

81

56

16

1

0

4

L. A.

87

55

27

1

1

2

Minnesota

45

32

13

0

1

0

Montréal

51

27

16

3

0

3

Nashville

78

53

20

0

0

2

N. J. D.

54

27

20

0

0

7

N. Y. I.

74

44

25

1

0

4

N. Y. R.

81

56

18

1

0

4

Ottawa

54

38

12

1

0

0

Philly

92

72

13

2

0

5

Phoenix

105

73

24

3

0

3

Pittsburgh

92

65

21

1

0

4

San Jose

56

37

11

0

0

6

St. Louis

75

50

16

0

1

8

Tampa

71

54

10

0

1

6

Toronto

69

36

18

1

0

12

Van City

76

53

18

0

1

2

Wash

61

46

8

2

0

6

Average

63.0

43.5

17.7

0.8

0.4

4.2

PensionPlanPuppets.com is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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