In this edition of An Outsider's Perspective, we chatted with James Mirtle. Mirtle currently covers the Toronto Maple Leafs for The Globe And Mail. Occasionally he can be caught blogging at mirtle.blogspot.com and can be found on twitter @Mirtle.
Let's start with Toronto. With the fourth overall pick, Toronto drafted the very talented Mitch Marner. They also had a very busy free agency period bringing in former Avs Matt Hunwick, PA Parenteau and Daniel Winnik as well as Marc Arcobello and Shawn Matthias. What type of impact do you see some of these players having?
JM: Everyone knows the Leafs are in for a tough year. That's really by design. You don't trade one of the highest scoring players in the NHL the last six years (Phil Kessel) for a pick and prospects and expect to get immediately better.
A lot of these players were brought in on one-year deals. A couple received two years. If we don't include Marner, there's no term there, and it's unlikely more than one of them is around when the Leafs hope to begin trending upward.
I won't be surprised if they flip most of these players for draft picks or prospects in February and March.
The big moves for Toronto this off-season came in successfully recruiting Mike Babcock, and just recently, bringing over Lou Lamoriello. Can you talk about how these pieces fit in the long-term plans for Toronto?
JM: Babcock obviously does. He got an eight-year deal for enormous term in order to be the coach here in Toronto for a long, long time. He's already been intimately involved in some of the decision making process, and from what I've heard, the staff is very impressed with his dedication etc.
Whatever success this version of the Leafs regime has is going to come with Babcock as coach.
Lamoriello's more complicated. I can see this going [one of] two ways: a) he meshes well with the Leafs staff, the rebuild goes according to plan and the roster steadily improves, and he eventually moves into a senior advisor type role. b) that doesn't happen and it doesn't end well for Lou.
Before free agency, the Avalanche acquired Carl Soderberg's rights from the Boston Bruins for a 6th round pick in a move that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of the Ryan O'Reilly trade. They then extended him for 5 years, $23.75 million . What are your thoughts on the trade, and the extension?
Much like Columbus, the Avs' big splash this off-season came in the form of a trade when they dealt Ryan O'Reilly at the draft along with Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and the 31st overall draft pick. What was your initial reaction to the trade?
JM: I'm grouping these two things together for obvious reasons... if we're looking at this as simply O'Reilly for Soderberg, the Avs lose. O'Reilly's a better player, even at the higher price point. He's younger. He's better defensively. He brings a lot to the table, more than I think he was able to show in Colorado, at times. There's a reason a lot of teams wanted him, even at that huge salary.
But - and this is important - these are two deals where it's going to take years to see what the futures turn into.
In the near term, this situation won't make Colorado better. The way they win giving up on ROR is if Zadorov, Grigorenko etc. turn into difference makers down the road. In the NHL these days, it's often about finding your window -- the period when you feel your roster is at contender level -- and building to that window. The Avs' isn't next season.
During free agency, the Avs signed Francios Beauchemin for 3 years, $13.5 million and Blake Comeau, for 3 years, $7.2 million. What are your thoughts on the fit and the contracts of these players for the Avs?
JM: I liked Beauchemin in Toronto, even though the general consensus was he struggled here. He's been a good No. 2ish defenceman for a long time now. But he's 35. There were signs last year with the Ducks that was catching up with him, and fewer and fewer blueliners are excelling into their late 30s in the NHL. And, let's be honest, the Avs blueline needed more, especially if you believe (as I do) their possession issues are going to be a critical part of getting better.
Comeau has bounced around a little, but he's a fine fit as a top nine forward and that's a contract he should easily live up to.
Last but not least, looking forward, how do you think the Avs look compared to a year from now?
They were seventh last in regulation-OT wins last year, finishing ahead of mostly only teams that tanked at least a portion of the year. All those shootout wins obscured somewhat how much they struggled elsewhere. Varlamov's obviously a huge plus, but I'm not big on the system they play or their personnel on D, and the West didn't get any easier with Calgary and Edmonton improving.
I think the Avs are in tough playing in the toughest division in the league.
A huge thanks to Mirtle for helping us out with this series! Feel free to shoot him an email, or tweet at him and thank him for helping!