The title of this post really should be: too soon to tell. There is something incredibly silly about making judgements about a team when they have 10 forwards under contract, at least one of whom likely won't make the team out of training camp full time.
But just like how any hockey game where the other team scores first is declared "a slow start" in order to fuel the meme, so too is the order of actions in the summer given outsized importance. So why not just take it from the top and make a story out of it.
To start at the actual beginning, we have to sift through some incomplete information and make some guesses.
- Justin Holl and Michael Bunting were let go. The Leafs didn't "lose" them as everyone is framing it, they chose not to keep them due to price.
- David Kämpf came in with term and a fair salary now, that will be cheap in the future. Alex Kerfoot was too much for the Leafs.
- Luke Schenn priced himself out of a return.
- Ryan O'Reilly chose to play in Nashville. I don't have any trouble assuming the Leafs would have done the same deal for him.
- A return to talking to Kerfoot didn't get a price they wanted and he chose to go somewhere that would at least pay him the same as what he was getting.
- Brad Treliving overpaid in term for his "white whale" as one person on the free agency shows phrased it. He got Ryan Reaves to be "a character", "a personality" and "a presence". He likes the idea of him, in other words. No one, not Treliving, not Reaves himself is alleging he has any gameplay value.
- Noel Acciari went to the Penguins, and I don't know if the Leafs ever thought he was worth re-signing at $2 million or if they somehow rolled him up in their minds with Reaves and considered the "physical" money spent.
- John Klingberg – essentially the only "name" defenceman available other than the truly expensive and talented Dmitry Orlov, was signed for one year at an AAV higher than any forward other than the top four. That that number is only four million and change is the point here. Both about the choice and the real story of the day.
I said somewhere in a comment before yesterday began that it's hard to have an opinion about the white space on a half empty page. You aren't going to read this article now and focus on the margins, the blank lines, the odd bits here and there with no letters in them. Your eye doesn't even see it after the first few times you use a website.
I lied when I said I'd make a story out of everything that the Leafs had done. I'm actually going to ignore most of it but the very last thing. John Klingberg at $4.something for one year.
How do you feel about your blue line now that you have added Klingberg?
Treliving: It is always a work in progress. John is going to bring some offense to us.
Luke was a guy we certainly had a lot of interest in bringing back. He is that big, hard defender, but it got to a level where, as I said, it’s good for Luke.
We will look at it to see if there is a way to augment it. Defense is still an area I would like to continue to look at.
It was Mike Johnson on TSN yesterday who pointed out that David Kämpf is the fifth highest paid forward. Klingberg is the third higest paid defender, and his price says he's going to get a lot of minutes, and play some role on the power play, likely the second unit.
If this signing works out – remember when Matt Murray played really well for a a couple of months, and so did Samsonov, and that entire goalie concept suddenly was genius work? Nothing makes you look smart like a positive outcome, no matter how unlikely it was at the time you made your move. If Klingberg reverts at all to his pre-Dallas-disgruntlement form, he might be a genuine value addition. If he doesn't, if he is useless off the power play, it's Tyson Barrie 2.0. At least we have a coach who knows what to do with that!
Do you even need goals from the defence? It's a philosophical question the answer to which is likely yes or no depending on the structure of your team. But if I can make some assumptions about Treliving's character for a second, he doesn't seem like a guy who wants to be the maverick. Running a team with deeply limited offensive behaviour from the defenders, extremely low shot rates, and a focus on transition over defending is a little weird. He doesn't seem like a guy who wants to be the most anything. So the days of the Leafs being at the top of the list of teams who don't let the D shoot are likely over.
What really matters, what will count next year, is how Auston Matthews does on the score sheet. Next on the list is William Nylander and Mitch Marner followed by John Tavares, and for Tavares to do well ... you know I won't be shocked if John Klingberg fires some shots in from the point that Tavares tips in.
The next biggest thing is the cloud of uncertainty around the goalies. I have no guesses. The options with Samsonov are to sign him, trade his rights or take him to arbitration. The options with Murray are to keep him, trade him or use arbitration on Samsonov as a tool to open the other buyout window – yes all you fans of dead cap space, you can still get your least favourite player bought out.
And then comes the white space. There's enough rumours about who the Leafs are looking at to add to know what type of player they want. Will they get a skilled player of the type they want, or is Brad Treliving blinded the way Mike Babcock seemed to be where he would use a worse player to get the right type?
All the talk around hockey these days is about identity. Identity is type, it's branding, it's a reductive way to take a complex set of skills and give it a label, and it will inevitably fold together, well, John Klingberg and Morgan Rielly and Shane Gostisbehare and Erik Karlsson all into one concept.
The Leafs need more than one forward too, they need three to five of them of varying levels of quality and expectation of NHL games played. When this space is all filled in we'll be able to understand the team and how it's meant to get a lot of wins and play a lot more than 82 games.
TSN's show on Saturday featured two really loud, very genuine arguments across their entire crowd of on-air people. Both about the Leafs. One about player salary, the other about the point of adding Ryan Reaves. There was a deeply held belief in everyone, save the people on their set who recently played hockey, that having a Reaves type of man on the bench will prevent Steven Stamkos from going for Auston Matthews ever again. Someone literally said "he will skate by you". Mike Johnson, who has played against him, called Reaves a gentleman who would never target "a player like me". But they want it to matter. They want the cock of the walk strutting around to really mean something. If they haven't got the, er, feathers, to do the strutting themselves, they want to contract it out to someone in their gang. and I won't tell you that won't work to some degree on the Leafs themselves, because they're not more highly evolved analytical men.
But then Johsnon and another hockey player, Cheryl Pounder, got into it. Pounder played with some verve worthy of her name, by the way. She believes the Leafs problem is that there is not enough time and space for the top lines to score in the playoffs. Johnson believes they need depth scoring. So had this PPP argument – this was me vs Jared, if I could ever be drawn in – and I respect them both, so I've thought of little else. What if they're both right? And then I said, well, what if the Leafs target both areas, how is that bad?
If they add a forward who can genuinely make the time and space and no cost defensively, and if John Klingberg is a lot better than he was recently and if there's some extra players down the lineup who can score ... maybe Nick Robertson. Has Kailer Yamamoto been signed yet? Christian Fischer was a good idea, but he went elsewhere ... it's a lot of ifs. And right now it's mostly white space.
But if Treliving picks a player for type who fails on the skill tests or rather, doesn't place high enough, then what he might end up doing is subtraction by addition, making new problems while not solving any existing problems.
Maybe you think the Leafs need an energy guy, someone to get in scrums when the other team does bad things, and to push people around. Great, most of the Leafs have other things on their minds, and that stuff is old news to them, so add someone to put on that show. But don't forget there's still a hockey game to be played.