Free agency in the NHL opened on July 1st, and the Leafs have been active in signing new and old players since. Most prominently, they signed:
- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney, for two years at $850,000
- Fourth-line centre Dominic Moore, for one year at $1M
- Veteran defender Ron Hainsey, for two years at $3M
- Aging star left wing Patrick Marleau, for three years at $6.25M/
The Leafs also signed forward Colin Greening, defender Vincent LoVerde, forward Chris Mueller, goalie Garret Sparks, and defender Justin Holl to deals that will likely see them play for the Toronto Marlies.
Now that the dust has settled on these signings, we’ve taken stock of the biggest three deals, and offered our grades on them.
Fifty Mission Cap
Marleau: A-. Big risk, but a bold move, which the Leafs needed this summer. He's put up 19, 25, 27 goals in his three "declining" seasons since 2013-14 and hasn't missed a game all decade. He also presents a huge upgrade at LW on Matthews' line if used as such. There's obviously always some risk to giving a 38-year old money and term, but the Leafs weren't going to get anywhere playing it safe.
Moore: B. Everything about this is the textbook definition of a B. Low money, low term, low risk, for a guy who can play a half-decent fourth line shift. He's a step down from Brian Boyle, which sucks, but is an obvious upgrade from Eric Fehr, Frederik Gauthier, and Ben Smith. The Leafs fourth line will still be better than it was for 3/4 of last season, which will be helpful. Nothing flashy about this, but the Leafs needed a Plan B to Boyle, and this is about as good as you could get on the open market.
Hainsey: B-. (currently). There's still some contingencies here that will affect how I feel about this signing. First, will the Leafs add another defenseman this offseason? Second, where will Hainsey play? I'm concerned about how he's looked in tougher minutes, but think he'd be a beneficial presence on the third pair. While I know other moves and contingencies shouldn't affect my grading scale, in this case, a lot does hinge on it. If Hainsey is a strict Hunwick replacement- a third pair LD- and is playing with Connor Carrick because the Leafs added another top 4 RD, I feel confident in upping this signing to a B. If he is playing RD, but the Leafs add another blueliner to push his minutes down, I'd keep this at a B-. If the Leafs stand pat defensively and plan on playing him on the second pair, this would be a C+ or a C in my books.
Marleau: D+. I respect the idea, but all the evidence suggests that Marleau is a middle 6 winger at this point in his career, and one who is heading into his age 38, 39, and 40 seasons on this contract. Despite his reputation, his defensive play has fallen off with his age, and while he can skate, his one measurable above average NHL skill at this point is scoring goals. Which is a good trait, to be sure, but a better player than him would have been available for a cheaper contract (Jussi Jokinen, Marcus Johansson even factoring in the draft assets). I like the idea of going all in. But we're going all-in on a pair of 4s. I’m unconvinced Marleau is particularly great anymore. I think we paid for past performance that we didn’t even receive.
Moore: C. His calling card is that he's better than Ben Smith. Not something you really want to hang your hat on. He's low money and low term, which is nice. At the end of the day, the Leafs didn't really get much better with this deal. This is the bare minimum you expect from your 4C, and the Leafs paid the bare minimum price. So they get an average grade from me.
Hainsey: C+. He's slightly better than Hunwick and offers some positional versatility. Hopefully, he will be played lower down in the lineup than he was in Pittsburgh and Carolina, and his results will tick upwards. I don't trust him in the top 4, at all, and I hope there's another shoe that will drop soon that will make sure he stays on the bottom pair. In general, the market for defenseman is wacky. There were very few value deals.
Marleau: C. I consider him an extension on Komarov/JvR to enable the Leafs to wait longer to find a long-term replacement which they do not currently have. Please don't shout names of prospects at me, I will scoff.
He's going to add points in the interim, which makes the price tolerable. Three years is the problem. I 100% disagree, vehemently, with the idea the Leafs should have solved this problem by spending draft picks. No assets should be spent on non-core players, which is why I didn't like the Boyle trade in the first place. The Leafs do not have an excess of picks. Cap space is a renewable resource, spend it first. Always spend it first.
Moore: A. Considering the available solutions to the 4C problem, not spending Boyle money here was an ideal result.
Hainsey: C. He's not good enough for his role in the top four. This signing automatically becomes an A if they add a top four guy, play him third pair and don't re-sign Polak. He will suddenly be really good as a temp until the prospects are ready.
Greening/LoVerde/Mueller: A++. These are the cream of the AHL guys. Important depth and much better than last year's AHL only signings.
Acting the Fulemin
Marleau: B. I'm somewhere between 50, Arvind and Katya on this. The Leafs are in a position to make bold moves (check) and money/cap space are the resource I most prefer that they spend (check), but I don't think Marleau is going to be the best possible improvement for the money and I think the third year of this deal may be more of an issue than people expect. Nonetheless, I agree with Lou that we have a window opening, and Marleau is a good player. So I'm in favour of this deal--although I think a related deal is going to come down the pipe soon, which may make this better or worse.
Moore: A. This is an A on a quiz worth 1% of the final grade. But if you can shore up your 4C at bare-minimum cost, you do it. We always say you can find good depth cheap, but teams sometimes don't manage to do that. I think the Leafs managed it here. Good stuff.
Hainsey: C+. He's fine and his deal doesn't really hurt, but was this the best we could do? [glances at Cody Franson] I suspect the Leafs tried/are trying to make a bigger acquisition, and Toronto falling back on Hainsey may reflect a brutal market for buying defencemen. Still, I'm not sure he's going to outdo what Carrick or Marincin would have done in the same spot. Oh well.