The Toronto Maple Leafs have not made a big splash in free agency, and don’t expect them to as long as Brendan Shanahan is in charge. The Leafs president was quoted as saying that building a team through free agency is “a bad habit”. So, after hearing that from the Hall of Famer, it isn’t surprising that the signings he and GM Dave Nonis have made are not Sportscenter-worthy stories.
While the free agents signed by the Leafs are small deals for bottom-six forwards, the front office feels that these players are essential for taking the team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and complement the offensively explosive top-six forwards already signed.
Here is a look at the free agent signings thus far:
Leo Komarov (C): 4 years, $11.8 million
Stephane Robidas (D): 3 years, $9 million
Matt Frattin (RW): 2 years, $1.6 million
Mike Santorelli (C): 1 year, $1.5 million
Petri Kontiola (C): 1 year, $1.1 million
It is obvious that Shanahan and Nonis were looking to add depth down the middle, and although none of these guys are household names, the Leafs should get what they paid for with these signings.
Komarov spent last season with Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). A sixth round pick by the Maple Leafs in 2006, the Finnish national played for the Leafs in the lockout shortened 2013 season. The Leafs were very interested in signing Komarov, so much that Nonis flew to Finland to pitch playing in Toronto again. Nonis must have channeled his inner Don Draper because his persuasion paid off in the form of a Finnish pivot. Komarov will likely play on the third line.
Robidas had a very unlucky 2013-14 season. The 37-year-old rearguard broke his leg twice and was deemed a risky sign. But Nonis took a leap of faith in Robidas, trusting that his leg is healed and will return to form. He brings a valued veteran presence to a young blueline, and when healthy, Robidas possesses great skating ability and an electric shot from the point. He should spend time on the power play to setup snipers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
Frattin was acquired in a trade with Columbus for Jerry D’Amigo and a conditional 7th round pick in 2015. He played parts of three seasons for Toronto, playing 82 games, putting up 15 goals and 13 assists. Frattin, along with Komarov, is another piece of the 2013 playoff team that Nonis has brought back. It’s obvious that team had chemistry and Nonis looks to be attempting to revive that chemistry.
Santorelli was another risky sign by Nonis. He’s had two tremendous seasons in his career, the problem is that there was three seasons in between them. The 28-year-old Northern Michigan University product scored 20 goals in 2010-11 for the Florida Panthers and was on pace to replicate that this season for Vancouver until a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. The Leafs are hoping his history of shoulder issues is behind him and that he will continue where he left off in the 2013-14 season next season.
Petri Kontiola is another Finnish national that Nonis signed. A teammate of Komarov on Finland’s Olympic team that finished (no pun intended) with a bronze medal, Kontiola, a former draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004, has only played 12 games in the NHL and that was back in the 2007-08 season. The Leafs are hoping Kontiola’s and Komarov’s chemistry in the Olympics will carry over to the NHL. The last three seasons in the KHL, Kontiola has been consistent in his scoring, averaging 14 goals a season.
The Maple Leafs needed to address the vacancy at the center spot and also needed to gain another veteran defenseman. They did just that this offseason with these signings. They accomplished what they set out to do this offseason without breaking the bank. Even though they failed to resign Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond, and still do not have a backup to Jonathon Bernier, they have a solid group going in to training camp.
There is still $12 million in cap space that is going toward resigning restricted free agent defensemen Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson, the latter of whom is going to arbitration.
If Nonis does sign anymore players before training camp, they will likely be the type of players already signed and to similar contracts.
Final Grade: B+
Related: Holes to be filled in free agency