Hockey, Sports, The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke

The Campaign to Fire Dave Nonis: Gunnarsson and the Leafs financial flexibility

I am happy to see Gunnarsson re-signed for a reasonable amount of money: 3 years @ $3.15 mil. As I have said elsewhere, I think he has been the most consistent Leafs D for a couple of years now. The salary is a substantial raise, but what else could we have expected? Gunnarsson and his agent were surely aware of his importance to the team going forward so they wanted a raise. I think this raise is far more reasonable than, say, the Bozak raise.

But unfortunately it brings a sad reality to light as Nonis’ moves this summer have put the Leafs in a problematic situation with regard to some of their key RFAs. Signing Clarkson and re-signing Bozak to terrible deals, and even signing Bernier to what is likely a fair deal – in addition to this legitimate raise to Gunnarsson – has made it quite hard to make deals with Fraser, Franson, Kadri and Komarov.

Nonis has wisely let UFAs Kostka and O’Byrne walk – the people who think Kostka is a legitimate NHL D are smoking something, and that includes Carlyle – but the other four players are arguably at least somewhat important to the team going forward, none more than Kadri obviously.

But the Leafs have about $6.5 mil left to spend on three more roster spots and how much of that is going to Kadri? In a reasonable world, Kadri might expect a decent raise on his very affordable salary, but this is pro sports in the 21st century so after his year last year he likely wants a raise of 100-200% or even more.

And a raise like that – if the Leafs manage to avoid arbitration around it – could easily make Franson – the next priority RFA in my mind – destined for arbitration. And I am not sure they can afford both Kadri and Franson if this happens.

It’s clear to me that Fraser is already out and I am okay like that. Though he had a good year last season he is due to regress and players like him are everywhere. (I am not sure they have properly replaced him, as they think they have, but that remains to be seen.)

But the issue is that the spending spree means that Komarov and / or Franson are likely to be gone as well – with the absolute worst possible situation being that Kadri holds out for a trade – and though Komarov is just a fan favourite and replaceable, I think Franson has a legitimate future as a 2nd powerplay quarterback at the very least.

Why let that go for a guy who is in his 30s and already past his prime or a centre who has never proven he should play the minutes the Leafs have thrown at him year after year?

Nonis, for me, had a couple of priorities this summer:

  1. Extend Kadri and Reimer
  2. Figure out what to do about Kessel and Phaneuf (UFAs next summer)
  3. Find a legitimate #1 centre and / or improve the D

Count none of them as accomplished yet (at least publicly, with regard to #2).

Yes, it remains possible that Nonis moves somebody – Liles most likely but moving Lupul would be smarter – to make room to properly extend Kadri and Franson, but until this happens don’t we have to be very suspicious of the decision-making that allowed the Leafs to think they could afford Clarkson and Bozak at those numbers?

I certainly am.

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