The off-season for the Maple Leafs has been widely talked about in the papers and on radio, and in some cases has been disingenuously framed for the purpose of enflaming an already frustrated Leafs Nation after not advancing in the first round of the playoffs. There are a few themes that have been covered that have provided incorrect or incomplete context which has negatively impacted how some fans look at where the franchise stands today. We will look at a couple of these themes and begin to provide clarity so we can properly track what GM Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs have done so far for assement and grading purposes.
So let’s start with the Petr Mrazek trade which immediately garned critism of GM Kyle Dubas, the common thread in the critism was “Dubas traded another first round pick to rid himself of a bad signing”. To properly guage if an error was made, we must look at the value of the pick that was given up for the one that was acquired in the trade. The Maple Leafs traded the #25th pick of the first round and Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks for draft pick #38 in the second round (a drop of 13 spots).
Let’s only focus on the trading of the 25th pick as that was where the largest critism was focused on because everyone was in aggreement that Mrazek and his $3.8 cap hit needed to go. The Maple Leafs traded down from the #25 pick to the #38th pick, which at first glance would appear to be a drop off in quality of the pick acquired, however based on some scouting models over last few years the difference between these picks is the equivalent to a late 7th round pick. So the Maple Leafs traded roughly a 7th round round pick to dump Mrazek’s $3.8 cap hit with two more years in Chicago. That is a minimal cost to pay for the cap flexibility the team needed to make the moves that followed like the acquisitions of goalies Matt Murray in a trade with the Ottawa Senators and the Free Agency signing of Free Agent goalie Ilya Samsonov.
The Maple Leafs still got their man in Fraser Minten at the 38th pick, the Maple Leafs after resigning Auston Matthews (which I am confident will happen), Mitch Marner and if still in the team’s longer term plans William Nylander, will require some internal solutions like Fraser and others to fill out the depth on the team by the 2024/2025 season, for a player like Fraser, they will have the benefit of further development and for the team they are projecting to have viable prospects to slot in when the cap flexibility is required the most over the next couple of seasons more specifically. Minten if he continues to develop like he has, can be one of the sneaky picks of the 2022 draft.
Next let’s look at the wholesale change in goal for next season, out are Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, in are Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. This change is very nuanced and more context is required for us to properly compare a Murray/Samsonov tandem to what the tandem of Campbell/Mrazek provided last year.
Let’s look at the Maple Leafs defensive numbers firstly, as there continues to be this continued narrative that the Maple Leafs are a poor defensive team, out of the 20 playoff teams over the last two seasons, the Maple Leafs have surrendered the 3rd fewest shots against, have surrendered the 5th fewest goals against.
Even with team defense improving and being ranked in the top five for two of the key defensive analytics, Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek last season produced some of the league’s worst goaltending from December to May, with Campbell carrying his poor play into the playoffs in a series that would have been in the Maple Leafs favour had he produced better than his under .900 save percentage and a 3.15 GAA in the opening round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. To add another layer to this goalie “controversy” if we can call it that, the team finished with 115pts, and were backed by only one month of at/over a .900 save percentage.
Now some player to player comparisons, last year on a team that had some of the best defensive numbers in the league, Jack Campbell ranked 35th in Goals Saved Above Expected (this is calculated by the league’s average save percentage with the number of shots a goalie has had, this accounts for the quality of shots a goaltender faces and levels the playing field for goalies on good or bad defensive teams), Matt Murray on the other hand ranked 23rd overall while backstopping a rebuilding Ottawa Senators team. Campbell’s save percentage from last year was buoyed by an out of this world November where he finished with an .947% save percentage.
Another layer to this conversation that can’t be overlooked are the contracts and commitments the players involved carry, Jack Campbell and his newly minted 5-year, $25 million contract (at 30 years old), has only had one full 82 game season under his belt, and with the inconsistency we saw last season and some injuries which also popped up was too much of a risk for the Maple Leafs in a cap world. Matt Murray on the other hand, is a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie, who for some personal reasons and injuries hasn’t had the best couple of years in Ottawa but has two years remaining on his contract at $4,687,500 and Ilya Samsonov (former first round pick of the Washington Capitals) on a show me one-year contract at $1.8 million.
Getting back to Murray, he is two years younger than Campbell, is coming home relatively speaking seeing he was born in Thunder Bay and will have two goalie coaches in Jon Elkin (Murray & Elkin have a history together from Murray’s days in the OHL) and Curtis Sanford, that have the reputation of sorts of being the goalie fixers. In Matt Murray, The Maple Leafs don’t need him to be a top three goalie per say, but if he can produce even at his career average or slight above and Samsonov can offer the same, the Maple Leafs aren’t in as bad shape some are saying or even predicting them to be from the goaltending position. That bolds well for a team that still has one of the leagues most potent forward units and top five defensive numbers in the league. Dare I say, get this team at or slightly above .900 save percentage, and this Maple Leafs can/should go on a run in next Spring’s playoffs.
With all this said, I am not ready to rank this offseason a win or a loss for GM Kyle Dubas as there is still some work left to do prior to the opening of Training Camp, none more important than the freeing up of cap space by trading away two or three of their mid-range contracts (Alexander Kerfoot, Justin Holl and maybe if possible Jake Muzzin), the re-signing of Rasmus Sandin and to acquire some grit and a little more of a scoring punch in the bottom six.
But if I had to give an early grade, I would have to say it is a B+. I was impressed by the way the draft went, I like the bet on Murray/Samsonov tandem and the Free Agents signings of Calle Jarnkrok and Nicolas Aube-Kubel could be a couple of this off-season’s biggest steals when we look back on them next spring.