When you look at the one and two-year contracts that the Toronto Maple Leafs have been signing over the past couple of months, you can't help but believe that Leafs management is looking not for a competitive team, but for investment opportunities. Without a ton of top-end talent, the team isn't expected to be overly successful, but if a few key individuals have good years, they'll be easy to flip for longer term prospects or draft picks.
It's a fine strategy, even if it objectifies the players a little. In some cases, they don't care; if they're struggling to break (back) into the league, or get to spend time in a preferable ecosystem before jumping to a better team, they're more than happy to be a cog in the machine. Enter Brad Boyes, who appears to land on both sides of the coin.
Boyes has been a very serviceable middle-six forward for a number of years now. While he's far from his peak, where he picked up 65 points three times in four seasons, he's still a player that could put up close to 40 points in a third line role with the odd powerplay appearance. Last year, Boyes put up 1.67 points per sixty minutes of even strength play; good for seventh on the Panthers, and enough to put him second on the Maple Leafs. As well, he's incredibly good at creating scoring chances - one of only 45 players in the league to have a positive team-relative number in that regard for all of the last five seasons.
Boyes' new deal only pays him $700,000; very close to the league minimum, and easy to bury in its entirety if things don't work out and he heads to the American Hockey league. The only thing the Leafs lose is a contract spot, and seeing as they cleared four of those out last week in the Michael Grabner trade, that's not a huge factor.
The biggest concern at the moment for Toronto? The team is now left with a glut of forwards; fourteen of them, to be exact. This means the team will either have to trade a few players, take some waiver risks, or keep a few of the guys in the press box every night. This isn't the worst strategy in the world - Toronto can run a 23 man roster with the extra players and seventh defenceman without cap repercussions. If anything, it allows for more of Nathan Horton's deal to be placed on Long Term IR when the season starts, effectively giving the team more flexibility.
It'll be interesting to see how it all unfolds from management's perspective, but in the meantime, this gives the Leafs a free asset, a good hockey player, and a really good story. Boyes has been one of the "ones who got away" in modern Leafs folklore, and as a Mississauga native, you imagine that his first night wearing the jersey for real is going to be a special one. He might be in the latter half of his career, but it'll still be entertaining to see him here for now.
Plus, you know, it'll also be entertaining to eventually watch the asset they trade him for in February. Obviously.