The Maple Leafs announced the club has relieved GM David Nonis & Interim Head Coach Peter Horachek of their duties today.— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) April 12, 2015
We can't talk about Dave Nonis without recognizing that he was Brian Burke's second in command. This is where the Brian Burke non-rebuild actually ends, and it's where we can really evaluate what this executive team did for the Maple Leafs.
The Burke Rebuild
We've spilled many words on Burke's tenure with the Leafs so there's only a few things things worth saying today. The first is that this is how I think his non-rebuild was destined to end from the minute he got to work: in a league where superstar first line centers don't move teams often the Leafs' front office painted themselves into a corner.
Pointing out that they only need a few pieces ignores that the pieces they don't have are the hardest to get. The Leafs' management team and their defenders are your idiot friend during McDonald's Monopoly insisting that since he has "Park Place" he's close to winning a million dollars if only he could find someone who has "Boardwalk".
The Leafs have some nice pieces (Kessel, Rielly, Gardiner, Kadri) some decent talent around them (JVR, Lupul, Phaneuf) and one singular prospect (William Nylander, about to be joined by one of Mitch Marner or Dylan Strome). That's not enough to compete in this NHL as demonstrated by the Leafs and the Leafs' ailing prospect pipeline means the Leafs can't simply wait to improve nor can they trade prospects to improve now.
Dave Nonis Inherits a Rebuild
Dave Nonis came into a bad situation when he was named GM, but he immediately screwed things up more and accelerated the Leafs' implosion. During his first summer the Leafs threw away the entire MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin line (their best) for nothing, moved draft picks for non-factor Dave Bolland, locked up coat tail rider Tyler Bozak for five years, and then signed the David Clarkson to a deal which is widely considered the worst ever in the NHL.
Peter Horachek's Role
Dave Nonis then doubled down by not replacing Randy Carlyle, which brings us to a discussion of Peter Horachek.
Peter Horachek dramatically improved the Leafs' puck possession stats (and it's 2015 so let's just skip weird excuses about not meshing with players or shot quality) despite the team being gutted at the trade deadline. This was entirely masked by a calamitous drop in the Leafs PDO that persisted for the remainder of the season.
Is it possible that the PDO was Horachek's fault? There's not a ton of evidence that PDO (especially in a 42 game sample) is predictive, whereas Corsi in those sizes is. If you'd like to do more reading here's our explanation of PDO and here's current Carolina Hurricanes analyst Eric Tulsky explaining Corsi.
The Nonis End Game
In the end, the optics mean you have to let Peter Horachek go, which has to be a bitter pill for him. A similar thing happened when he stepped in to replace Kevin Dineen in Florida: he improved the team's underlying numbers but the team still missed the playoffs and he was let go. I hope he finds an NHL head coaching job because I think he deserves it.
Dave Nonis shouldn't get another NHL GM job after this fiasco. One would think the daily circus he, Dave Poulin, and Claude Loiselle put on in the summer of 2013 would be enough to put an end to a career in a market with only 30 jobs available, but the NHL is an old boy's club and Nonis looks like he fits in pretty well at that table.
This is a fantastic day for Leafs fans. I was very skeptical when Brendan Shanahan left Nonis and Carlyle in place, but it seems like he made the right decisions today. Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter survive, Steve Spott gets the ax along with Nonis and Horachek.
There's a lot of work for this team to do, and this seems like the necessary first step.