While Daniel Winnik isn’t the biggest name free agent available, the Toronto Maple Leafs stuck to their plan this off-season and brought the 30-year-old winger back into the fold.
Winnik spent 58 games in Toronto this past season before becoming a trade deadline acquisition of the Pittsburgh Penguins. During his tenure in blue and white, the Toronto native notched seven goals and 25 points and added another two goals and nine points in 21 games with Pittsbugh. In the deal that sent Winnik to the Penguins, the Maple Leafs added Zach Sill, a fourth-round selection in 2015 and a second-round pick in 2016.
His 34 points in 2014-15 were the most Winnik has registered in a single season and the .43 points-per-game is the best mark of his professional career. His deal with the Maple Leafs is for two years at a cap hit of $2.25 million per season. However, this upcoming season Winnik will be paid $3 million in actual salary.
From both crowds, those with interest in advanced statistics and those with none, the Winnik signing was one that quickly became a favorite. He was never going to become a 20-goal scorer for the Maple Leafs, but he was a tremendously versatile asset for Toronto and, post-deadline, Pittsburgh. Winnik’s defensive ability allowed him to play big penalty kill minutes – in Toronto he averaged more than three minutes per game on the kill – and skate a regular third- or fourth-line shift.
Getting Winnik back in Toronto is part of a bigger picture for the Maple Leafs, though, and looking at their signings one gets a clearer picture of what exactly Toronto is attempting to do.
All told, Toronto’s front office inked wingers Winnik, P-A Parenteau, Mark Arcobello and Richard Panik, as well as blueliner Matt Hunwick. While it’s far from a murderer’s row, each of the five players has significant ability to contribute to a puck possession game that the Maple Leafs no doubt want to improve this season. They’re moves made not to make a splash, but to make an impact on what has been one of Toronto’s weakest spots, which is getting possession and maintaining it.
With Phil Kessel traded to Pittsburgh earlier in the day, the Maple Leafs embarked on a new era and a change in philosophy. Bringing Winnik back into the fold will be a big piece of what Toronto builds going forward.