Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dave Nonis Kills Leafs Cap Space

dave nonis leafs clarkson cap space
It took me less than six months to turn on Dave Nonis.

I initially called Nonis a "good hire" in January—despite believing Brian Burke deserved at least one more year at the helm—based on his conservative approach in Vancouver. Nonis didn't sign any albatross contracts in Vancouver, letting a declining (yet still popular) player like Ed Jovonovski walk and balking at Anson Carter's inflated demands even after he finished a (Sedin-created) 30-goal season. He stole Roberto Luongo from Florida and refused to gut the farm system (Alex Edler and Ryan Kesler) for Brad Richards, ultimately costing him his job.

But that conservative approach has been replaced by pure insanity in Toronto.

The Leafs re-signed Tyler Bozak to a five-year deal worth $4.2 million a season one day after Nonis bought out his best centre.

It's easy to say Bozak scored 12 more points than Grabovski last season and is now making $1.3 million less than Grabovski was, ergo Nonis made a shrewd deal. But that analysis ignores the context in which the two centres played—the difference in linemates, power play time, defensive responsibilities—and wrongly concludes that Bozak is better at the parts of hockey not associated with being Phil Kessel's BFF.

Bozak is a parasite, a player almost entirely dependent on his best buddy Kessel to look even half-way decent. He's a player who actually depresses Kessel's production. Good players make the players around them better; but bad players who make the best players around them worse get five-year contracts in Toronto.

You can spin numbers a lot of ways, and when it comes to Bozak people have spun them every way imaginable, but the conclusion is always the same: Bozak sucks.

Even though other teams gave out bigger deals to other flawed centres, the Leafs didn't get any better by signing Bozak. In fact, they are almost certainly worse than they were a week ago.

The bigger news of the day was the seven-year deal Toronto gave to David Clarkson. Seven years. If you're counting at home that amounts to the longest contract ever given out in Leafs history. Curtis Joseph didn't get seven years and neither did Mats Sundin. But David Clarkson is getting it.

Clarkson will certainly bring some positives to the Leafs, at least for the first couple of years. Puck Daddy himself, Greg Wyshynski, a Devils fan, gave a brief scouting report on Clarkson:

"Clarkson can be a dominant force in the offensive zone on the forecheck, a prototypical power forward who scores from the dots down and isn’t easy to take off the puck.

His intangibles can’t be quantified, either: He drops the gloves, delivers big hits, is great in the locker room and has a blue-collar aesthetic that’s an asset to any roster. (Let’s pretend I’m the first to coin the phrase “WENDEL CLARKSON,” although I know I’m not.)

The downside to Clarkson? Undisciplined play at times, an offensive repertoire of about three moves and inconsistency: In 2013, he had one goal in 17 games; in 2012, he had one goal in 10 games; and in 2011, he had one goal in 19 games.

Again: $5.25 million per season for a player that was shuttled between the second and third lines for New Jersey in the last two years. For seven seasons."

The cap hit isn't great, but you can begrudgingly live with it, especially if the cap ceiling rises as quickly as expected. The problem, as Wyshynski points out, is the term. And boy is there a lot of it.

"I'm pretty certain if I tried to go five or six years we wouldn't be standing here right now," Nonis told the media. "I'm not worried about six or seven right now, I'm worried about one. And year one I know we're going to have a very good player."

And why would he be worried about years six and seven? At some point in the future the Leafs will have to pay the piper—ask the Lightning how the Ryan Malone contract is going right now—but in all likelihood Nonis won't be around to clean up the mess. Some other poor sap is going to have to deal with an aging, probably unproductive Clarkson, unless the Markham native is one of the few players who doesn't rapidly decline once hitting 30.

Not finished massacring the Leafs' cap space, Nonis then proceeded to give Jonathan Bernier a two-year deal worth $2.9 million a season, nearly double James Reimer's cap hit for a player with a worse save percentage in substantially fewer games. Bernier's numbers across the NHL and AHL aren't even than much better than Ben Scrivens', although Bernier is a No. 1 in waiting, according to the force-fed narrative.

Now Bernier certainly can be a good goalie and I truly hope he develops into a star No. 1 netminder, but Ben Bishop, a goalie with a similar save career percentage, signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay for $2.3 million a season. I'm not sure where the extra $600,000 for Bernier comes from. And although the cost isn't large, the little deals add up, slowly bleeding the ample cap space Nonis had heading into the off-season. Nonis has thrown away close to $3 million in cap space on two face punchers, retained money from the Bernier trade, and the excess money from the above-market Bernier deal.

Combined with the major deals given to Clarkson and Bozak, Nonis has less than $11 million to re-sign Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, a third line winger (maybe Joe Colborne), a spare forward, and a spare defenceman. Considering the recent deals for young defencemen (Roman Josi, Travis Hamonic, and Slava Voynov), plus what Kadri can expect after a breakout season, it's going to be tight. There won't be anything left over for reinforcements, so barring a trade (which costs assets, like, say, James van Riemsdyk) this is the team heading into next season.

Maybe my pessimism is for naught. Maybe Bernier transforms into a brick wall, Clarkson is the second-coming of Gary Roberts, and Bozak trades a bag of magic beans to become a 70-point centre.

Or maybe Nonis spent a summer gutting his team of its cheap depth, overspending on a terribly weak free agent class, and leaving the team's biggest areas of need—the defence—unaddressed.


Anonymous said...

What do you think Burkie would have done differently, if anything?

Matt Horner said...

I think Burke would have gone just as hard for Clarkson. Honestly, not sure what he'd do with Bozak.

Burke showed a good history of dealing with RFAs (got Reimer for a cheap deal over 3 years, played hard ball with Schenn - although he ultimately signed him to a big deal), so I think he would have done a better job with Bernier, and the remaining three (Kadri, Franson, Gunnarsson).

It seems like Nonis has prioritized free agents over his own more important RFAs and it might end up in one being traded for cap reasons (hopefully not, though).

bull said...

You think bozak sucks and Clarkson was a heat deal? Looks like you were very very wrong. Bozak is not a parasite and Clarkson is terrible. So your not much of a sports writer.

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