Dave Nonis has been the Leafs' GM for two years now. When Nonis was GM of the Vancouver Canucks, he pulled off an amazing deal that transformed the franchise. He somehow managed to rid Vancouver of an over-priced Todd Bertuzzi while bringing in Roberto Luongo. While Luongo couldn’t bring the Cup to Vancouver, he had a fantastic run and provided some truly great hockey. Nonis also managed to steal Alex Edler with the 91st pick. Besides those great moves, Nonis mostly made a slew of minor deals that had little effect on the team.
In Toronto, Nonis has had many more moves to dissect in a shorter amount of time. Taking over for his pal Brian Burke, Nonis had a ton of housecleaning to do. Burke loved him some veterans, and managed to bloat the team severely with players like Matthew Lombardi, Tim Connolly, and of course Mike Komisarek. Nonis did well to purge the roster and create tons of cap space, at the time, they had the second-most in the league. This was cause for great excitement for a fan base that was aching for change. Nonis unfortunately couldn’t contain that excitement and spent all of his money at once. By overvaluing Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson he has left the Leafs with no cap room yet again. Their payroll has the structure of a championship team, while they are in the middle of yet another disaster season. To make things more complicated, Brendan Shanahan was appointed Team President, and outsiders are left wondering who is truly in charge.
Brendan Shanahan has used his time so far to evaluate the organization from top to bottom. You have to think Nonis is being scrutinized heavily. Let’s scrutinize along with him.
12 Losing Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin for nothing
Two useful players that Nonis lost for nothing. MacArthur was allowed to walk as Nonis thought he was upgrading with the similarly named Clarkson. MacArthur had provided and still provides a similar if not arguably better game, at far less money. He ended up signing with Ottawa for the same $3.2 million per year that he had been making in Toronto. Ottawa liked him enough to reward him with a longer, richer contract.
Kulemin was dangled as trade bait, but Nonis couldn’t get a deal done for the former 30-goal scorer, and allowed him to leave for nothing. He wasn’t a make-or-break player, but still a genuine asset that should have been able to fetch a draft pick.
11 Buying out Mikhail Grabovski
Two of the biggest problems with the Leafs right now: they are in desperate need of a compliance buyout, and Tyler Bozak is miscast as a top-six center. Nonis created two problems with one stone when he criminally wasted a buyout on the useful Grabovski and used that money to tie Toronto to Bozak for five years at $4.2 million per season.
At the time, Toronto had a plethora of centers. Dave Bolland looked to be a lock for the third line, and Nonis had to choose between Bozak, Grabovski and Kadri. Had Nonis chose differently, the Leafs would have been in far better shape right now.
10 Overpaying Tyler Bozak
Kudos to Tyler Bozak. He snuck his way into the NHL as an undrafted player and wound up playing with one of the top snipers in the league, making top-line money. Unfortunately, what's good for Bozak, isn’t good for the Maple Leafs. Nonis is developing a reputation for terrible contracts, in a league that is all about bang for buck. Numerous advanced-stat junkies have stated that Bozak is extremely benefited by Kessel’s world-class skill, and that Kessel's production would be better off without him. It looks like Toronto is stuck with Bozy until 2017-18. Perhaps the rebuild will be done by then, if it ever starts.
9 Dion Phaneuf contract extension
Phaneuf does a lot of things well. He can hit, has a big shot, makes a decent first pass, and is strong enough to clear out the front of the net. If he is your number two defenceman, you’re happy. Unfortunately the extension Dave Nonis gave him keeps Dion at $7 million, making it almost impossible to bring in anyone better. Adding to the unrest, Dion is the captain. He has demonstrated on numerous occasions he doesn’t understand the Toronto market, which has been extremely patient for the amount of losing they must endure. This is one of three contracts Nonis is handcuffed to and it’ll take a miracle to change it.
8 David Clarkson
When a player earns the nickname “the contract”, that says all you need to know. Nonis went full Glen Sather on this one, outbidding the competition in a sweepstakes reminiscent of the Gomez, Drury and Briere summer of 2007. The best teams are always mentioned in the trade rumours, but like Kenny Rogers always says, “know when to walk away, know when to run.”
Clarkson overcame an absolutely miserable first year with the Leafs to eventually get some of his game back. He is a very likeable player who will sacrifice himself for the team, something the Leafs are in desperate need of. It looks like they’ll have his heart and soul services for the next few years as Nonis will be hard pressed to get out from under this contract
6 Nazem Kadri's RFA contract
This contract is a Nonis win needed. With Bozak, Clarkson, and Phaneuf looking ugly against the teams payroll, Kadri’s deal helps swing things the other way. Kadri is one of Toronto’s few talented draft picks still on the team and has the potential to become a useful second-line center, and perhaps even a number one. As he had only managed one effective season at the time, Nonis did well to sign him to $5.8 million for two years. Since the signing, Kadri has given the Leafs legitimate top-six numbers and is currently their most talented centerman. He’s even shown some flashes of defensive hockey, deployed against some of the bigger pivots in the league. Leaf fans have to be happy with this one.
5 Acquiring Mike Santorelli
The former Vancouver GM is two for two when picking up the Canucks castoffs. Santorelli was a fan favourite in Vancouver, providing decent production on the cheap. Their loss is Nonis’s gain as he scored a fantastic utility player for just $1.5 million. Santorelli was able to slot in on the wing or as a center, can score or check, and he proved to be a useful trade chip this year, when he was sent to Nashville along with Cody Franson in exchange for a 1st round pick, Brendan Leipsic, and Olli Jokinen. We'll see what Nonis is now able to do with those pieces, if he's around to see next season.
Excellent signing, Nonis just needs 20 more of these and Toronto will be looking great!
4 Signing (and dropping) Mason Raymond
We've got a two-in-one special here. A bank-robbery sized steal for Nonis. Raymond has always shown flashes of offensive skill with his speed and hands, but struggles with being more than a perimeter player at the NHL level. After the Canucks gave up on the quick winger, Toronto offered Raymond a tryout contract, and he responded with the second-best totals of his career. He was allowed to walk after his revival year, which has looked to be another smart move.
3 Trading for Jonathan Bernier
Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a second-rounder for the Leafs' current number-one goaltender is generally considered Nonis’s best move as Leafs GM. Bernier was quickly signed to a $6 million deal over two years, which should be a nice value if Bernier can provide consistent play. Goaltending is a fickle position, and Bernier has yet to prove over an entire season that he’s a legitimate number one. So far so good however, as Bernier has been leaned on heavily, taking the vast majority of starts, and providing mostly above-average and at times, stellar goaltending.
He can hardly be blamed for the Leafs record. Before Randy Carlyle was fired, nobody was playing defence and Bernier was usually left out to dry. Of course this creates some goaltending controversy as James Reimer, the darling from seasons past, has been relegated to the backup position. Not a bad problem to have. He can either be moved for an asset or kept around in case Bernier falters.
1 Trading David Clarkson
Nonis, just when we thought Leafs fans couldn't get any madder at you, you do something like this... And totally redeem yourself!
It's nothing short of a miracle that Nonis managed to unload Clarkson's contract on the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Nathan Horton, who has been snake bitten with a severe back injury and it is doubtful whether he'll ever play again. If he ever can play again and be an effective player, great. But if he can't, the Leafs still won't have to worry about his cap hit on their roster and address their rebuild.
Has Nonis saved his job with the move? Who knows. At least if he is fired, he's made the job a little easier for the next guy.