The Toronto Maple Leafs Decade Journey: 2013-2014

Unlike most years, July 5th marked the start of the new Calendar year in the NHL. This was yet another unnecessary one-time-only change thanks to the lockout.

This first day of free agency was set out to be a very busy one for GM Dave Nonis. After freeing up a whole lot of salary cap space, it was finally his chance to make a whole summer’s worth of changes. Nonis had already acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier and added center Dave Bolland to his roster but had his fair share of UFA’s and RFA’s to deal with.

Clarke MacArthur was one of those unrestricted free agents Nonis had to consider, but in the end, the winger decided to take his talents to the nation’s capital and join the Ottawa Senators.

The other big UFA that hit the market on July 5th was Tyler Bozak. There were rumours that Bozak would look elsewhere for more money and more term, as it was believed that the Leafs weren’t ready to commit to 7 or 8 years. On this first day of free agency though, Bozak decided to re-sign with the Maple Leafs on a 5-year, 21-million-dollar contract. It was a move criticized by some because Bozak wasn’t the elite, first-line center Toronto has still prayed for since the departure of Mats Sundin.

The reality though, is that he wasn’t being paid as a first-line center. 4.2 million AAV isn’t a crazy number, and Bozak does a lot of great things such as winning face-offs, plays on the PK, and has amazing chemistry on and off the ice with Phil Kessel, which was a massive factor.

Nonis also made a couple of depth player signings with T.J Brennan (1-year, 600k) and enforcer Frazer McLaren (2-year, 1.4-million-dollar contract).

The biggest news of the day though came from the Leafs dipping in the free-agent waters for a player named David Clarkson. Clarkson was the prized unrestricted free agent this summer. He was the full package power forward that every team in the NHL would love to have. He was big, strong, could hit and fight, and had one 30-goal season under his belt along with 15 goals in 48 games during the previous lockout-shortened NHL season.

He was born and raised in Toronto, and even though it was rumoured that other teams were offering him more money, Clarkson ended up agreeing to a seven-year, 36.75-million-dollar contract with the Maple Leafs.

The news immediately this took over the city. Clarkson was going to be the top winger every team dreamed of having. He could score, hit, fight, everything you wanted in a leader. He had an instant comparable from the start in Wendel Clark, a Leafs legend who was Clarkson’s favourite player growing up. Before even playing a game for the Leafs, Clarkson seemed like he was destined to be a fan favourite.

So, while all the media in Toronto was ravishing at Clarkson and what he was going to bring to this team come October, Nonis still had work to do. On July 10th Nonis re-signed Joe Colborne to a one-year, 600k contract. The main return in the Kaberle trade had yet to develop the way the Maple Leafs had hoped, and this contract seemed like a last chance effort to prove he could become a full-time NHL player.

Later in the month, Nonis made some signings to help fill out the defence group. He re-signed Carl Gunnarsson to a three year, 9.45-million-dollar contract. He also re-signed Mark Fraser to a one year, 1.275-million-dollar contract. Nonis also went to the free agent market to take a chance on defenceman Paul Ranger with a one year, one-million-dollar contract.

The month of August was a quiet one for the Leafs, as it often is for most of the NHL. It wasn’t short however on rumours, and the Maple Leafs still had some unfinished business to take care of. Nazem Kadri was one of the players that was still an RFA heading into September, along with Cody Franson. Kadri and the Maple Leafs were able to find common ground just in time for the pre-season, as they agreed to a two year, 5.8-million-dollar contract.

Before we get into the pre-season and then eventually the regular season, it is important to note that starting this season, the NHL playoff format was going to look a little different. Instead of the traditional 1-8 format in each conference, it was going to focus a lot more on divisions. The Maple Leafs were going to be in the Atlantic Division with all the teams they were with before, with the additions of the Red Wings, Panthers, and Lightning. All the info about the new playoff format introduced in the 2013-2014 season can be found at the link down below. The important thing for Leafs fans to know is that to qualify for the playoffs, a team must finish top three in their conference, or be one of the two best teams not in their divisions top three for the entire conference (wildcards). In each division, the 2nd place team would play the 3rd place team, and the 2nd place wild card team would play whichever of the two 1st place division finishers had the most points.

Pre-season then came around and Cody Franson was the only RFA left on the team without a contract. There was however another player attending camp without a contract, and that player was Mason Raymond, who accepted an invite to training camp on a professional tryout. Raymond had spent his entire career up to this point with the Vancouver Canucks, and in 46 games the previous season he recorded 10 goals and 12 assists. The Maple Leafs were hoping he could come into camp and use his speed and skill to earn him a spot on the roster.

That’s exactly what Raymond did, as he had a very strong training camp with the team. His speed allowed him to play almost anywhere up and down the lineup and showed he still could be a valuable asset to this team. Because of this, Raymond earned himself a one year, 1-million-dollar contract with the Maple Leafs for the upcoming season.

Then, just a couple days before the season was to get underway, Cody Franson and the Leafs were finally able to agree on a new contract. The two sides realized a multi-year extension was not going to work, so instead, they settled on a one-year deal worth two-million-dollars. They were to wait until next summer and then see where the two parties stood on a possible multi-year extension.

However, the contracts were not the story of the pre-season. Honestly, it wasn’t even close. The main story was a bizarre sequence of events that happened on September 22, during a home pre-season game against the Buffalo Sabres. Now the Sabres and Maple Leafs have a storied rivalry, but no one anticipated tempers to get so far out of hand during a pre-season game, yet that’s exactly what happened.

In the third period, there was a fight between Jamie Devane (Maple Leafs) and Corey Tropp (Sabres). At the face-off directly following the fight, Phil Kessel and John Scott lined up to the side of the faceoffs together. After John Scott appeared to say something to Kessel, Phil started to skate away and when Scott went after him Kessel started swinging his stick towards the legs of Scott.

That was when all hell started to break loose. All five members on each team, including the goaltenders, were near center ice involved in the scrum in some way.

On the Maple Leafs side, you could see players such as Carter Ashton and Tyler Bozak jump right in to defend Kessel. Jonathan Bernier sure did a good job of becoming a fan favourite by challenging Ryan Miller to a fight and seemed to get the better of the two in the scrum. It was a rare sight in today’s NHL, a full line brawl. But there was one detail that might have been missed seeing it for the first time. Leafs forward David Clarkson was one of the guys who went after Scott, clearly unhappy with how he went after Kessel.

The problem though, was that Clarkson wasn’t on the ice when the incident started. If you watch the video again and keep an eye on the Maple Leafs bench, Clarkson jumped onto the ice to join the scrap, which the NHL takes as a serious violation of their rules.

There were fines given out and Kessel was suspended for the remainder of the pre-season, but Clarkson got the biggest penalty. The NHL rule book states that if a player leaves the bench to join a fight on the ice, it’s an automatic 10 game suspension (regular-season games). That’s exactly what he was given, as the Maple Leafs were now set to be without their star off-season signing until the 11th game of the season. Clarkson decided not to challenge the decision by the NHL, taking responsibility for his actions and accepting the suspension.

The Leafs had to make some final roster decisions before their opening night on Oct 1. Some of the noteworthy ones were putting defenceman John-Michael Liles on waivers, therefore signalling that Morgan Rielly would at least be given nine games to see if he could stick with the team all season long. With Clarkson suspended and McLaren out with an injury, a spot was also opened for Carter Ashton to make the team out of camp. The decision that head coach Randy Carlyle said was likely the toughest was deciding who was going to start in net on opening night, as both Reimer and Bernier were battling hard for it.

On the morning of October 1, the attention was supposed to be all about the team’s opening game that night against their rivals, the Montreal Canadians. That’s wasn’t exactly the case, as the team had a major announcement to make evolving their superstar forward. As on the morning of opening night, Dave Nonis announced that the Maple Leafs had signed Phil Kessel to an 8-year contract extension worth a total of 64 million dollars.

Kessel was just entering the final season of his current deal, so this contract would keep him in the blue and white for another 9 seasons. He had been the Maple Leafs leading scorer every season since he arrived. He was the face of the franchise and was now set to be a major factor in the continued rise of this hockey team.

Now, there was still a game to be played that night, as the Leafs were set to open their 2013-2014 season on the road against the Montreal Canadians. James Reimer was given the opening night start, with Bernier set to start the very night in a game against Philadelphia. Morgan Rielly was on the roster but a healthy scratch on opening night.

The Maple Leafs won their first game by a score of 3-2. Reimer was solid in net and Mason Raymond scored his first as a Leaf and his goal ended up being the game-winning goal.

The very next night Bernier got his first chance to show the Leafs that he is capable of taking the reigns as the teams new #1, and he did not disappoint. Bernier made 31 of 32 saves, including a penalty shot for Flyers power forward Wayne Simmonds, for an impressive first win as a Maple Leaf. Add with that Dave Bolland scoring two goals, and Leafs nation had to be happy with their offseason additions so far.

A couple of nights later, Morgan Rielly made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators. His first game wasn’t ideal, as the youngster went a -3, but did generate four shots on goal. Rielly had always been known as an offensive defenceman, so it wasn’t a shock that his defensive game is going to take some time to get up to NHL standards.

Yet fans were still waiting for David Clarkson to be back to see the type of impact he could bring to this team. During his 10-game suspension to start the season, the Maple Leafs went 7-3, including a dramatic 6-5 overtime win against the Oilers on Hockey Night in Canada. Mason Raymond had 4 goals already, and Jonathan Bernier was already showing signs of being a quality starter. He registered his first shutout with the Leafs on October 10 against Nashville, making 27 saves in a 4-0 victory.

Finally, on October 25 in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Clarkson was set to suit up for his first regular-season game with the team he grew up cheering for. Although it didn’t exactly go as planned as Clarkson finished the game a -1 and only registered one hit on the night. The sense from fans wasn’t one of worry though. The entire league was around the 10-game mark, while Clarkson was only on game one. It was going to take some time for him to catch up to the rest of the crowd.

The game was also Rielly’s 9th NHL game, meaning the next game would burn off the 1st year of his entry-level deal. He played that very next night, as the Maple Leafs management team had seen enough out of Rielly for them to feel comfortable that he was ready to be a full-time NHL player.

Late October into November the Maple Leafs got into some lineup troubles. In a game against the Flames on October 30, Carter Ashton delivered a nasty boarding hit of a Flames player which resulted in a two-game suspension.

Injuries proved to be an issue, as Tyler Bozak (hamstring) and Dave Bolland (severed tendon in ankle) were both out with long term injuries. The team did sign NHL veteran Jerred Smithson to help out with troubles at center, but when Nazem Kadri was nicked with a three-game suspension for crashing into Wild goaltender Niklas Bäckström, the Leafs were completely depleted at center. Even with having JVR play down the middle to help out, it wasn’t going to be enough, they needed to find help.

They found it on the morning of October 16, as the Maple Leafs traded prospect Jesse Blacker, a 3rd round pick in 2014 and a 7th in 2014 to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Forwards Brad Staubitz and Peter Holland. Staubitz never played a game for the Maple Leafs but did play 48 games for the Toronto Marlies.

Holland was the key in this trade, a young 22-year-old center who was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He was still one of the top prospects in the Duck’s system but was having trouble staying up with the big-league team as the Ducks were one of the NHL’s elite at the time and had a deep roster. In 29 NHL career games with the Ducks, Holland has five goals and two assists.

Holland sure didn’t have to wait long to get his chance to make an impression with the Maple Leafs, as that very night he was playing center the team’s top line alongside Kessel and JVR (who was now back to the wing). That line got the game’s opening goal, and the Maple Leafs ended up winning the contest 4-2, bringing their record on the season to 12-7-1. It was a highly physical matchup with tons of fights, including Clarkson vs Ott.

Oh yeah, speaking of David Clarkson, things hadn’t gotten off to a hot start for the team’s big off-season signing. That last game against the Sabres was his 10th game of the season, and he had yet to score a goal. The team was winning, which Clarkson kept saying was the most important factor, but when you sign the type of contract Clarkson did production is expected. His first goal would finally come the very next game against the Islanders, as he fired a snapshot into the top corner of the net past the Islanders goaltender.

Around late November the team completed a couple of entry-level deals for a few of their prospects. Forwards Connor Brown and Frederik Gauthier were both draft picks of the Maple Leafs still playing in the CHL, and both signed entry-level deals late in November.

On the morning of December 1, the Maple Leafs held a record of 14-10-3, good for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. This was alright as the goal was once again to make the playoffs, but the team surely wanted to be higher than in the second wildcard spot.

The month of December didn’t necessarily help them greatly in the standings either, as the Leafs went 6-6-2. It kept them right in that second wildcard spot but failed to move them up in the standing. Morgan Rielly did get his first NHL goal on December 16th against the Penguins with a beautiful snapshot past Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Leafs last game in December was on the 29th against the Hurricanes, and then it was a couple of days off to prepare for their showdown with the Red Wings on January 1, 2014, for the Winter Classic. The game was supposed to be played the previous season but was delayed a year due to the NHL lockout. Now while the players and coaches were getting ready for the big outdoor game at Michigan Stadium, Dave Nonis and Maple Leafs management were hard at work on other matters.

One of which was Dion Phaneuf. Just like Phil Kessel, Phaneuf was also in the midst of the last year of his contract. The Maple Leafs did not want to risk losing Phaneuf to free agency in the summer and wanted to extend him. On New Year’s Eve, the Leafs and Phaneuf agreed on a seven-year, seven-million-dollar contract extension. The Maple Leafs captain was staying as part of the core of this team for the foreseeable future.

Kessel and Phaneuf are the were of this franchise and Nonis were able to extend both of them for only a combined 15-million-dollars per season. The management team thought these two could be the backbone of a Stanley Cup-winning team, and now it was time for them to prove that the management team was right.

There was lots of excitement for the 2014 Winter Classic game. The Red Wings were back in the same division as the Maple Leafs, and this would be a great way to reignite the rivalry that was so prevalent decades ago. Yet still, Dave Nonis remained busy on the day of the game. Liles was a healthy scratch in the Winter Classic game. Around that time reports started coming out that the Maple Leafs had agreed to trade him to the Carolina Hurricanes along with prospect Dennis Robertson, in exchange for defenceman Tim Gleason. Liles had spent most of this season with the Marlies, as youngsters Gardiner and Rielly had been deserving of more minutes. Gleason, on the other hand, had 17 games so far this season and only one assist, but he wasn’t brought over to be an offensive presence. He is a big body who plays defence really well and will help on the penalty kill.

Now there was still a hockey game to be played, and it was a great game from start to finish. A close, hard-fought game brought overtime as the score was 2-2 after 60 minutes. Overtime had its chances, including a shot off the post by Cody Franson, but this game was going to be resolved in a shootout. In the shootout, it was Tyler Bozak playing hero with the game-winning shootout goal to go along with his 3rd-period goal to secure the victory for the Maple Leafs.

So now with Gleason in the fold, the Maple set their sights on the second half of the season. After their win in the Winter Classic, the Leafs sat in the first wildcard spot, five points up on 9th place. January proved to be a good month for the team as they went 9-5-1, which jumped the Maple Leafs into the 3rd place spot in the Atlantic Division and out of a wildcard spot. By this point of the season, it was starting to show that the Leafs saw Jonathan Bernier as their starting goalie, while Reimer would be one of the league’s best backups.

The only transaction to happen in January was the Leafs sending prospect Andrew Crescenzi to the Kings in exchange for prospect Brandon Kozun. Kozun was a small winger (only listed as 5”8) but was extremely fast and skilled. At only 23 years old, Kozun already had three 40-point AHL seasons under his belt, including last season where he registered 56 points in 74 games. Kozun would play the rest of the season with the Marlies, as he was someone who the Leafs possibly saw as a player who could come into training camp next year and compete for a spot.

On the 1st of February Nonis was back at it with a trade with the Oilers, as they sent Mark Fraser to Edmonton in exchange for prospects Cameron Abney and Teemu Hartikainen. Fraser was a solid defender for the Maple Leafs last season, but with players like Jake Gardiner getting more ice time, Ranger finding his game again and the emergence of youngster Morgan Rielly, the spot for Fraser wasn’t really there this year as he only suited up for 19 games with the Maple Leafs so far this season.

In February the NHL was mainly on pause as its best players headed to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. Kessel and JVR (USA) and Kulemin (Russia) were the three Maple Leafs players who went to Sochi to compete, while the rest of the team had some time to rest and gear up for the final playoff push and hopefully a lengthy playoff run. In the five games the team did play in February they went 3-1-1.

March also started strong for the Maple Leafs. The Leafs went 3-1 in their first four games before embarking on the California road trip, which was a dreaded trip for any team. The Kings, Sharks, and Ducks were all great teams, yet the Maple Leafs performed well. They beat the Anaheim Ducks and the L.A. Kings but did lose 6-2 to the San Jose Sharks. Regardless, any team should walk out of that California road trip thrilled about grabbing four out of six points. That brought the Maple Leafs record on the season to 36-24-8.

68 games into the season, the Maple Leafs had 80 points. They sat in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, and 3rd in the entire Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs were in a prime position to not only make the playoffs but have home-ice advantage! They were nine points ahead of 9th place and with only 14 games left to go in the regular season, this Maple Leafs team looked like it had taken that big step forward they were hoping for with the moves they made in the off-season.

Yet somehow, that famous 18-wheeler Brian Burke referred to years ago must have found its way back to Toronto.

It started with a 4-2 loss to the Capitals on March 16th, followed up by three straight losses to division rival Red Wings, Lightning and Canadiens. Those four straight losses dropped the Maple Leafs back into a wildcard spot, with the Red Wings, Capitals, and Blue Jackets hot on their tail. However, they were still in a playoff spot with still 10 games to go, they just had to get back on track.

Problem was, they flat out didn’t. The Leafs lost the next four games to bring their losing streak to eight games, all regulation losses. The players looked crushed on the ice with their play and their attitude. On the morning of April 1st, the Leafs were still at 80 points but now sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a playoff spot.

The Leafs finally broke their losing streak with back to back wins at home, including the second win being a huge 4-3 victory in overtime vs the Boston Bruins. A game in which James Reimer had to enter midway through the 3rd after Bernier suffered an injury and Nazem Kadri was the overtime hero to keep the Leafs playoff hopes alive.

Even with those two victories, the Maple Leafs knew they had to keep the winning going if they wanted to dig themselves out of the hole that they put themselves in. With only four games to go in the regular season, 4-0 might be needed. Worst case they go 3-1 and hope for the best, but it was a tough spot they were in.

They weren’t able to go 4-0 in the final 4 games. Actually, they couldn’t even win a game. 0-4 to end their season with a record of 38-36-8.  The 84 points had them finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference to end the season. That’s what going 2-12-0 in the final 14 games will do to a team. The Toronto Maple Leafs fell from 3rd to 12th in the Eastern Conference in one month.

Quickly going over some of the individual player notes for the season, Kessel had another strong offensive season with 80 points, while JVR had 61 and Nazem Kadri hit 50 points for the first time in his career. Mason Raymond turned out to be a great deal for the Maple Leafs, as he put up 45 points in a season where he entered training camp on a PTO. Cody Franson lead all Maple Leafs defenceman in points with 33, but his PPG were way down from last season. Morgan Rielly impressed with two goals and 25 assists in 73 games and looked like he could be the future of the Maple Leafs defence as he develops moving forward. Paul Ranger had a strong season in his comeback to the NHL with 14 points and a steady defender every time he was on the ice, and Jake Gardiner put up 10 goals as a defenceman to go along with 21 assists.

Jonathan Bernier showed he was capable of being a starting goalie as he impressed in his first season with the team with a .923 save percentage with a 2.69 goals-against average. James Reimer posted a .911 save percentage with a 3.16 goals-against average.

For as many good individual performances this season there were just as many poor ones. Nikolay Kulemin put up only 20 points, the lowest totals of his NHL career so far. Captain Dion Phaneuf continued to struggle offensively with 31 points in 80 games and has yet to find the offensive touch that he showed while with the Flames. Yet, there was one player who disappointed more than others.

David Clarkson, fresh off of signing his seven-year, $36.750,000 contract registered only 11 points in 60 games! For a player making that much money, to score only five goals and six assists was an absolute disaster and quickly Maple Leafs fans started to worry that this might be one of the worst contracts in the NHL and could hurt the Maple Leafs moving forward if this wasn’t a fluke of a season.

Regardless if a player’s stats looked good or bad, everyone was at fault for the Maple Leafs collapse at the end of the season. From the players to the coaching staff, to the management team. Questions about the team’s core players started to come into question. And after just signing Kessel and Phaneuf to long term extensions to be the future of this team, fans and media were starting to ask the questions of if this team can win a Stanley Cup with those two players leading the way.

Those were valid questions, but the problems ran much deeper than just Kessel and Phaneuf. The Maple Leafs were winning games and looking great in the standing well into March, but you could see that this team was overachieving a bit. The Leafs were getting outshot badly on most nights, and their puck possession numbers weren’t good at all. They were likely getting bailed out on a lot of nights from great goaltending. To sum it up, they might have been getting a bit lucky, and right near the end of the season their luck ran out. The organization needed to cement their identity and decide the direction they wanted to go in. Maybe a new voice of leadership is exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs needed.

And that’s exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs got.

During the final weeks on the NHL season, as Leafs nation watched as their team fell further and further in the standings, MLSE was looking for a new voice to take charge of the Maple Leafs. Tim Leiweke, the president of MLSE, was looking to hire a new president and alternate governor for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Someone who can guide this team into becoming one of the NHL’s elite and one day bring a Stanley Cup back to Toronto. Rumours were swirling on who it would be for a while, but on April 14th MLSE introduced who was going to take the job.

MLSE announced that NHL legend and Toronto native Brendan Shanahan would become president and alternate governor of the Maple Leafs.

Shanahan was born and raised a Maple Leafs fan and went on to have a career that involved 656 goals, three Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal, and his name in the HHOF. He worked in various roles in the NHL since his retirement, most recently as the chief disciplinarian for the department of player safety. He was given the reigns to do what he feels is best for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is above everyone in the organization that wasn’t MLSE itself.

During his introductory press conference, Shanahan made it clear he wasn’t going to jump straight into making tons of drastic changes. That he needed to get to work on learning about the organization from top to bottom and then he would have a better sense of what he should do. For Leafs fan it’s a fine line to walk on their opinion on that. On one hand, they understood that they want Shanahan to know the organization first so when he does make changes, they are the best ones, but for some Leafs fans, they wanted to see more change right now. They just watched a team crash and burn in the final 14 games and couldn’t imagine this team looking similar come next season. Either way, it was nice to have a new voice leading the way for the organization, and it was going to be no easy task for Shanahan to achieve.

The challenge was massive, as Leiweke did not mince words when talking about the current state of the Maple Leafs. He spoke about how the team lacked identity, and the culture wasn’t where he liked it to be. The one clear thing, as Nonis sat beside Shanahan, was that the GM was going to be given a chance to help Shanahan fix the Maple Leafs. Yet many other questions remained, including the future of head coach Randy Carlyle.

Carlyle still had one year left on his current contract, yet on May 8th the Maple Leafs announced that they had signed Carlyle to a two-year contract extension. It was a contract that came as a shock to a lot of Leafs fans, as they expected Shanahan and Nonis to let Carlyle play out the final year of his deal and access the situation again next summer, but the management team felt that Carlyle was the right guy for the job and wanted to give him the contract security they felt he deserved.

Things were pretty quiet after that in Leafs nation for a little bit after the Carlyle signing as the rest of the NHL playoffs wrapped up. Despite minor signings of goaltender Antoine Bibeau and forward Brandon Kozun, Shanahan spend the time up to the draft accessing the organization and preparing their draft day strategies.

Up to the late-season collapse, most of the scouts in the Maple Leafs organization were not expecting to be drafting in the top 10, but that’s exactly where the Leafs found themselves. Because of that collapse, the Leafs held the 8th overall pick in the draft, which was Shanahan’s first with the organization.

The draft was held on June 27 and 28 in Philadelphia, and it didn’t take long for the Maple Leafs to show a bit of change in philosophy under Shanahan. When the pick came to the Maple Leafs at number eight, there were some intriguing names still left on the board. Now for a while, the Maple Leafs under Burke and Nonis, really put a premium on big strong powerful forwards. There was certainly one available in Nick Ritchie, a power forward for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. Instead, though the Leafs decided to draft based on pure skill and took Swedish forward William Nylander.

William Nylander was the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, who played over 900 NHL games and had over 600 NHL points in his career. William was an extremely quick and shifty forward who like most young skilled players, needed to work more on his defensive side of the game before being ready for the NHL. William showed all the signs of hopefully one day being a top-six forward for the Maple Leafs and was versatile in that he could play both the wing and center positions.

The rest of the Maple Leafs picks in the NHL draft went as followed:

68: Rinat Valiev
103: J.J. Piccinich
128: Dakota Joshua
158: Nolan Vesey
188: Pierre Engvall

Now the Leafs didn’t go the entire draft without making a trade, as they struck a deal with the St. Louis Blues on the second day of the draft. The Maple Leafs traded defenceman Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th overall pick in the 2014 draft to the Blues for defenceman Roman Polak.

Polak was exactly the type of defenceman that the Leafs lacked last season. A big strong stay at home defender who knew how to use his size and strength to his advantage. He wasn’t brought in to be someone who would put up points, he was someone that Carlyle could rely on for defensive zone face-offs and on the penalty kill. Nonis made it clear that he really liked the Leafs defence individually but didn’t like how they all fit together that season and bringing in Polak could maybe balance out how the defence as a unit operates. It also allows an opportunity for a player like Gardiner or Rielly to take a spot on the top pair alongside Phaneuf, a spot that Gunnarsson has held for a while now.

So with the draft over, the Leafs had a few days before free agency to get a sense of the market with the league’s discussion period where pending free agents were allowed to speak to teams about their interest, but no deals could be signed (this was also in place last season, but a lot of teams were confused about what and could be discussed).

The Leafs also decided on June 30 to put defenceman Tim Gleason on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out the remainder of his contract. Because the Leafs had already used their two compliance buyouts on Komisarek and Grabovski, this buyout was going to give the Maple Leafs a small penalty against the cap for the next few seasons. The Maple Leafs would still save money with the buyout for next season, and they didn’t see Gleason fitting into the team next season. The defenceman struggled with his time in Toronto and would now have the ability to look for a fresh start somewhere else.

One clear thing was that this off-season would be an interesting moment for the Maple Leafs. By all accounts, Shanahan was going to do a lot of watching to get a sense of this team, and because of this, Nonis might look to try to make some depth improvements to a team that he still believes in.

Next season was going to be a monumental one in showing Shanahan that this is a core that can one day bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto.

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