After a few days of speculation and with almost a week to spare before the July 15th deadline the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed Rickard Wallinfrom Farjestads BK of the Swedish Elite League. This signing adds a 14th forward that would expect to play in the NHL which creates the competitive atmosphere that Brian Burke has indicated he prefers to see on his teams. That figure doesn't include players like Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Time Brent, or Ben Ondrus who should compete for roster spots among the Leafs' twelve forward spots. But who is this Rickard Wallin? And what kind of nickname can we come up with for a guy who's named after one of my favourite beers?
Elite Prospects has a short description of the kind of player that the Leafs' might have signed:
A good playmaker that reads the game well. Wallin has a very strong winner's instinct and has an edge to his game. He can set up plays on the powerplay but also, but also be the player in front of the opposing goaltender.
He just finished captaining Farjestads to a Swedish title while being backstopped by the Leafs' other latest signing Jonas Gustavsson. I guess Burke did end up getting a pair of Swedes out of his trip to the Nordic wonderland (seriously, if you are male it's your duty to visit it once in your lifetime).
What will be interesting is seeing where he fits into Burke's vision of pluggers in the bottom six and skilled players in the top 6. He recently commented on his search for forwards now that he's signed every available defenceman:
A couple of the things we're looking at are skilled forwards and bottom-six guys who have some special attributes. We're looking at guys who might do specific tasks.
Assistant GM Dave Nonis does not exactly give a lot away about where the brass sees him slotting in either:
He's a good two-way player who has played over here before. We've got a lot of things on our plate right now and he's a little way down.
The most common way to interpret that would be to think either that Wallin is down the list of priorities because he was a backup option or because he addresses an area where the Leafs are already strong: pluggers. However, a closer look at the player and the Leafs could suggest otherwise.
In the vein of acquisitions like Brad May and Jamal Mayers (whoops) part of Wallin's attractiveness has to be his history of achievement. He will be bringing a pretty good winner's instinct to the dressing room. His CV is decorated at all of the levels at which he has played:
- U18 EJC Gold Medal 97/98
- J20 SuperElit Champion 98/99
- AHL Calder Cup Champion 02/03
- Elitserien Rookie of the Year Nominee (1 of 4 players) 00/01
- Elitserien SM-silver Medal 00/01
- Elitserien Champion 01/02, 05/06, 08/09
- World Championship Bronze Medal 08/09
At 6'3" and 195 lbs Rickard The Red (?) also replaces some of the size that the Leafs' lost down the middle with the departure of Nik Antropov. To tell you the truth, looking at the depth chart, prior to this signing the Leafs' don't have a lot of jam centering the top two lines. Mikhail Grabovski might play like he is seven feet tall in that he never backs down but he's not even six and Matt Stajan is sock-kicking soft. Wallin also has a history of offensive production. I tried to use Gabriel Desjardins' NHL equivalencies (read that link before continuing) to chart what his production would expect to have been over the years:
Note: Any errors in this table are my own and not Desjardins'
These are the ten top-level professional seasons that Wallin has played in Europe. The 1999-2000 season was played in SEL-2 which does not have an NHL Equivalency (NHLE) under Desjardins' system. The last column is what his production would have been in the NHL based on an examination of previous players' production from the same league. As you can see, Wallin would produce what Matt Stajan has produced over his career aside from last year's outlier. Even then, if Wallin were given the same opportunities on the top line I believe that Wallin has the skill to match the local boy. He did not have a long stint in the NHL but the Expected Points derived from the above table held up.
Obviously it's a small sample size but allied with his stats from Europe, his reputation as a two-way centreman, and the Leafs' belief that he can help on the penalty kill he starts making a case for displacing Stajan in the top two slots. At the very least Wallin, along with Tyler Bozak, should provide a lot of competition for Matty and we can see if he'll step up to the challenge of proving that he is part of the long-term future of the Leafs. Based on his skill set I think that he'll have to set his sights on being the third line centre long-term. Since he is an unrestricted free agent after this year, and a current salary of $1.75M, the process will give Burke an idea of what to do with him as the season progresses.
If Stajan is viewed as a third-line checker long-term the next question will be whether he's willing to adapt his salary expectations despite his status as one of the few remaining players that were once viewed as the future of the Leafs. Steen and Colaiacovo were traded, I believe, in part because of the sense of entitlement that Ron Wilson felt permeated the dressing room among the younger players. Matt Stajan and Ian White were two players that reacted well to the new regime so I don't see that as being a reason to move him but with John Mitchell and Rickard Wallin now as well as UFA options next summer the need for Matt Stajan might not exist. But back to Rickard Wallin.
One of the Leafs many, many weaknesses last year was the penalty kill. To illustrate how bad it was the Leafs finished 30th in the league with a 69.4% kill rate at home and 79.3% rate on the road. Those numbers are bush league. Part of that problem was the horrible goaltending which has hopefully be alleviated by three surgeries on Toskala as well as the signing of Jonas Gustavsson. The defence has been bolstered by adding proven penalty killers Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek to golden boy Luke Schenn. Among the forward ranks, Brian Burke has added Tim Brent, Colin Stuart, Colton Orr, and now Rickard Wallin to the list of players that might be able to do the job. All in all they certainly cannot do any worse.
If Rickard Wallin can add to the competition and do a job at centre and on the penalty kill he'll have been a shrewd signing. If he is a bust, he comes over at a low-enough salary that he can head down to the Marlies. On top of that, it's only a one year commitment on the part of both parties. Wallin is at an age where he can still contribute for the forseeable future. This isn't Burke bringing in a stopgap solution. It's just one more thing for Leafs fans to look forward to this season. Who knows, maybe we'll be making fan videos like this one next summer