What We Learned: Lavish Leafs make more dubious decisions

Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello has made some questionable decision this offseason. (Nathan Denette/CP)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

By virtue of having a fairly young roster and what was previously a rebuilding attitude, the league’s richest team entered the summer with a huge amount of cap space to spend.

They were apparently determined to spend a good chunk of it. It’s difficult to understand why.

Next season the Maple Leafs will pay several guys not to play for them: Bought-out Jared Cowen and Tim Gleason (a little more than $2 million), salary-retained Phil Kessel ($1.2 million), LTIR’d-but-effectively-retired Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul ($10.55 million that gets buried when the season starts), which they can do because they’re the Maple Leafs and they print money. Most of those obligations — all but Kessel and Horton, a combined $6.5 million — comes off the books for 2018-19 anyway.

Also expiring: the contracts for James van Riemsdyk (whom they would be wise to re-sign), Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Eric Fehr (who will play in the AHL anyway), Dominic Moore and Ben Smith. They will also need to re-sign Willy Nylander, Martin Marincin, Connor Carrick, and a few other RFAs.

And they still haven’t signed Connor Brown for this coming season but it is widely accepted that a trade will take place later in the offseason before they do so (maybe for Tyler Bozak, but also maybe not).

Point is the Leafs now appear to be over the cap by a pretty significant margin, but for all intents and purposes that’s not actually the case. Nonetheless, their offseason expenditures kind of boggle the mind. Just because you have money to spend doesn’t mean you absolutely, positively have to spend it.

The $6.25 million AAV for three years to Patrick Marleau is defensible only insofar as the money doesn’t matter and you have to assume they’re going to find some way to cynically LTIR him, as they have plenty of other guys in the past. They don’t call it Robidas Island for no reason, and if they’re basically spending $18.75 million for one or maybe two seasons of 37-year-old Patrick Marleau I’m not sure I get it, but it’s not my money and the Leafs will make that back no problem regardless of the term of the investment.

Marleau is, of course, not worth $6.25 million any more. His power play production is declining and while he had plenty of goals at even strength last season (20 of ’em), it was because the Sharks shuffled him down the lineup for much of the season. He only played a little more than 17 minutes a night and if the Leafs try to bump that up again, I don’t care how good his linemates are, he’s gonna be in tough. We just don’t have the evidence that he can handle top competition anymore, and attaching him to, say, Auston Matthews’ wing will be an impediment.

We have plenty of evidence, however, that the Leafs — or more specifically, the Leafs’ coaches — don’t really care about this sort of thing. After all, there’s no other way to explain why Zach Hyman played almost 90 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes with Matthews last season despite a clear inability to finish. You shouldn’t play nearly 1,000 minutes at full strength with a 40-goal scorer and come away with only 28 points in 82 games.

How’s this for a stat? Hyman had five points in his last 31 games of the season. Playing with Matthews and Nylander. Over the same stretch, Nylander and Matthews had 26 each. That’s one of those things that seems like it would be almost impossible to do. It seems like it would be impossible for literally any NHLer to play 31 games with those two (especially when they’re scoring at a nearly 70-point pace) and come away with that few points.

Marleau, who even in decline still hit 46 points last season, will be an upgrade, but how much of one? It’s tough to say for sure but Matthews is likely to see his goal production drop at least somewhat because shooting 14-plus percent two seasons in a row isn’t easy and he already bombed in more than three shots a game, which is a hard number to improve upon.

So basically the Leafs are likely planning to slot a definitively middle-six forward onto their top line to move a definitively bottom-six forward off it. Which is an upgrade, but it’s not one you’d prefer to pay $6.25 million for in anything resembling an ideal scenario. Especially because they more recently gave that bottom-six forward $2.25 million of his own — not a big deal in and of itself — but for four years, which seems like it didn’t have to happen.

The problem for the Leafs isn’t necessarily next season, of course. They’ll be better than they were and their core is locked up for a while here. But when you have to re-sign Nylander next summer. And Matthews, Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner the summer after that. What do you suppose those three cost combined? Plus whatever van Riemsdyk gets. Plus whatever a handful of other roster replacements cost.

The Leafs have just $45 million committed to 13 players after 2017-18. That’s 10 roster spots to fill and maybe like $38 million to spend, and a pretty good crop of prospects from which to draw. Not a bad position to be in. Assuming huge paydays for a few guys still gives you lots of money to play with.

These are upper-class problems, no doubt. When you have good players and plenty of success, you end up paying the price one way or the other. Maybe you hope the cap goes up a little more than it has in recent seasons. Or maybe you think the next two years, before Matthews starts pulling an AAV in the eight figures, is your time to really and truly go for it, then you worry about the rest later.

I think that’s probably a good strategy. Pay through the nose for whatever talent you can get your hands on for the short term, connive to get out of any overly onerous deals you may still have around when the tax man comes, and come out the other side with a top-heavy but strong roster that’s truly competitive in the Eastern Conference as the Penguins and Capitals age.

The near- and medium-term thought process behind devoting $8.5 million to Marleau and Hyman should be a little concerning — and unfortunately in lockstep with the brain functions behind Matt Martin’s dumb, bad contract. However, the Leafs’ finances are set up well enough that even a few perplexing contracts probably aren’t going to sink their long-term ability to compete.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Dennis Rasmussen is what’s now considered a notable signing even at this point in July. Hmm.

Arizona Coyotes: Rick Tocchet? Okay sure. I have no idea what to make of this team or its direction, so have fun out there.

Boston Bruins: Ah it turns out that Don Sweeney is really smart and good at his job. I was worried that someone in the Boston media would say that he wasn’t, but he is, so we’re all good.

Buffalo Sabres: Justin Bailey has been to five Sabres development camps. Four different coaches and three different GMs have been in charge during that time. And I gotta tell ya: This time it’s definitely different!

Calgary Flames: Flames fans are getting their hopes up about a 22-year-old college UFA signing who dominated a weak league. And that’s never worked out badly for anyone.

Carolina Hurricanes: It’s not about the defense or offense. It’s about getting a goalie who can make stops. Scott Darling will make more than Eddie Lack or Cam Ward. Probably a lot more. I think it’ll all be fine.

Chicago Blackhawks: Well, they better hope not.

Colorado Avalanche: Oh so there will be people coaching this team next season? Big change. Let’s see how it plays out.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This is actually very smart by Columbus. Few are talking about this.

Dallas Stars: Think we see Heiskanen in the NHL next season? I wouldn’t do it!

Detroit Red Wings: This Todd Nelson interview is great.

Edmonton Oilers: Yes, Leon Draisaitl had a lot of points last season. How many 5-on-5 goals do you think came with Connor McDavid on the ice? The correct answer is “all but three of them.” Hmm.

Florida Panthers: Locking up Mark Pysyk is one of the few unequivocally good things the Panthers did this summer. So that’s nice.

Los Angeles Kings: Here’s your Jonathan Quick replacement three years from now.

Minnesota Wild: Luke Kunin was a capital-P Player at Wisconsin. Can he jump right from college to the NHL? I dunno.

Montreal Canadiens: Are the Canadiens better now than they were last year? I don’t think so. So what’s the point of even trying to be?

Nashville Predators: I’m sure it’s extremely up to Dennis K. Morgan whether he’s still the anthem singer for Preds games.

New Jersey Devils: The question is: Does Cory Schneider need fixing or was last season just a one-off fluke made worse by the fact the team was horrendous? Tough to know the answer.

New York Islanders: Oh yeah, the Islanders are still in the market for Matt Duchene. I forgot about that. Fun.

New York Rangers: I mean maybe Boo Nieves is your guy on the fourth line but if he’s not, you can get fourth-liners anywhere.

Ottawa Senators: Thinking about the Erik Karlsson extension is fun because you start by asking how much bigger the AAV is than Connor McDavid’s. So the question is: Will Melnyk pay it?

Philadelphia Flyers: At this point the Flyers are basically like, “Can literally any U-23 defensemen make this roster? Please? We’re begging you. Someone do it.”

Pittsburgh Penguins: Kinda gotta give ’em a pass after two straight Stanley Cups and everything like that but there are a lot of difficult questions about this team for next season and not a lot of good answers.

San Jose Sharks: An “unlikely hero” showed up at Sharks development camp. Let me guess: Jeremy Corbyn.

St. Louis Blues: This is another team that needs young players to make an impact at the NHL level. Tough to know what we should make of the Blues for next season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts don’t have a take on removing a Confederate monument from downtown Tampa. Seems like a weird thing to not care about.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nice boy Timothy Liljegren might end up being one of the big steals of this draft. Teams really held that whole “getting mono” thing against him.

Vancouver Canucks: When was the last time the Canucks developed a top-end defenseman? Are we gonna count Chris Tanev or do we have to go back to Alex Edler?

Vegas Golden Knights: Teemu Pulkkinen has 13 goals and 22 points in 83 career games for three different teams. Is he even an NHLer?

Washington Capitals: Scroll down for an absolute scorcher of an Ovechkin take.

Winnipeg Jets: Haha the Jets might think they solved their goaltending problems. Adorable.

Gold Star Award

Someone sign Jagr please.

Minus of the Weekend

The expansion draft is what ruined free agency, not the borderline-horrible class of free agents.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “yzerman” wants to invalidate everything I just wrote.

Aaron Ekblad For Mitch Marner

I’m not saying I don’t love it.

Signoff

Lord Palmerston!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)