Why did the Leafs hand yet another discarded veteran, Curtis Glencross, a tryout deal? It’s all part of a long-term vision.
Another day, another respectable veteran addition to Toronto’s island of misfit toys.
On Wednesday the Maple Leafs signed left winger Curtis Glencross, 32, to a professional tryout. That comes less than a month after right winger Devin Setoguchi joined the Blue and White on a PTO.
Glencross shouldn’t have much trouble making this team. He’s produced eight straight seasons of double-digit goal scoring. He’s a two-time 20-goal man. He’s an accurate shooter, 12 percent or better in seven of his eight full seasons. Glencross disappointed as Washington Capitals trade deadline acquisition from Calgary this past spring, but a guy who produces 35 points in a down year still has a place on any NHL roster.
Why Toronto, though? Why would a scorched-earth rebuild squad want a veteran top-nine forward? It’s all part of a master plan being confidently executed by the Leafs’ suped up new regime, including Brendan Shanahan, Mike Babcock, Lou Lamoriello, Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter.
Among the Leafs’ depth signings last summer were left winger Daniel Winnik and center Mike Santorelli. Dave Nonis, then the Leafs’ GM, didn’t win fans’ and pundits’ confidence with all his moves, but these were smart ones. They were one-year contracts for useful forwards with enough grit to attract buyers at the trade deadline looking for role players. The one-year terms telegraphed Toronto’s intentions. Regardless of whatever confidence they projected about the 2014-15 season at the time, we knew they weren’t making the playoffs, and so did they. Santorelli ended up dealt to Nashville with Cody Franson in a deal netting the Leafs a 2015 first-round pick and prospect Brendan Leipsic, plus Olli Jokinen. Winnik went to Pittsburgh for Zach Sill, a 2015 fourth-rounder and 2016 second-rounder.
Hunter, the Leafs’ director of player personnel, had a lot to work with at the draft, picking nine players. Now, let’s look at what Toronto’s done since then:
– Sign Matt Hunwick to a two-year deal
– Sign P-A Parenteau to a one-year deal
– Acquire Nick Spaling (one-year left on deal), Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and 2016 first- and third-round picks for Phil Kessel,Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and 2016 second-round pick
– Sign Mark Arcobello to a one-year deal
– Sign Daniel Winnik to a two-year deal
– Sign Shawn Matthias to a one-year deal
– Acquire Taylor Beck for Jamie Devane
– Sign Devin Setoguchi to PTO
– Sign Curtis Glencross to PTO
Note all the short-term contracts for veteran players there. And if the Leafs are cautious enough to only give Setoguchi and Glencross PTOs, those two are clearly playing for one-year deals, too. Blueliner Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer will also be unrestricted free agents next summer. There’s a method to this madness. All of these guys have enough veteran value to be flippable come March for picks, even if they are mid- to low-rounders.
If Glencross and Setoguchi make the Leafs, the depth chart becomes awfully packed with vets. The left side would include James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Winnik, Glencross, Taylor Beck and Josh Leivo. The middle: Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Matthias, Spaling, and Arcobello. The right side: Parenteau, Leo Komarov, Richard Panik, Peter Holland and Setoguchi. The blueline: Dion Phaneuf, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Polak, Stephane Robidas, Martin Marincin and Stuart Percy.
Where does William Nylander fit into the top 12? Can he pass any of those established veteran forwards? Same goes for Harrington and Percy among the top six defensemen. Looking at Toronto’s moves…is that not exactly the point here? Bury the prospects in the minors until March?
Look at Babcock’s history as Detroit Red Wings coach. Kids didn’t play for him. Prospect Dylan Larkin even expressed excitement at Babcock’s departure for that reason. Detroit drafted 21 players between 2012 and 2014, and none has played a single minute of NHL hockey yet. Only Tomas Jurco has fully stuck out of the 2011 draft class, and even 2010 standouts Riley Sheahan, Teemu Pulkkinen and Petr Mrazek are just cutting their teeth.
Babcock didn’t sign an eight-year deal to have less of a say than he did on Detroit. His imprint will blot the Leafs franchise. So don’t expect to see 2015 first-rounder Mitch Marner in the league any time soon. Nylander and Kapanen are thus long-shots to have any impact this season, too. And that’s very much OK. There’s a cool confidence to this new Leaf brain trust. It seems to have a clear idea in mind. It’s that “pain” Babcock spoke about so famously after signing.
Do not plan the parade yet. Plan the Jack Daniel’s. Plan anything to kill the misery this team will produce in 2015-16. It’s all by design: load up on useful but low-impact veterans, stink up the joint, flip a bunch of them at the trade deadline, amass more picks, play even worse with the picked-clean roster over the last month, finish in the draft lottery, acquire another elite prospect to accompany Marner and Nylander in the rebuild. We’re talking a very real chance at Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi or Jakob Chychrun here. Yes, a Babcock-coached team could be pluckier than expected, but he’s the one who prophecized pain. There’s only so much he can do with the roster he’s been dealt. For him, this season will likely be more about evaluating which core Leafs can be part of the future push to contend. Especially Kadri and Phaneuf.
And despair not, Leafs fans. A nightmarish season in the standings is a step toward the ultimate dream: a Stanley Cup. A true organization gutting has arguably never happened in franchise history. It’s uncharted territory, and it’s pretty darned fascinating.
Update: And there’s another one. Brad Boyes joins the Leafs on a PTO. Just one more name to push the kids down the depth chart to ensure they develop in the AHL.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin