Today, the Leafs announced that they have fired GM Dave Nonis, Coach Peter Horachek and all of the assistants except for Steve Staios, who’ll stay on as Manager of Player Development.
This is a happy time in Leafland. Who can complain about these firings? They were deserved and warranted and, frankly, in the case of Nonis, long past due.
Dave Nonis is one of the worst GM’s the Leafs have ever had. He was worse than John Ferguson and worse than Brian Burke, and that is pretty bad, because those guys were horrible.
As I said back in February, Dave Nonis was sure to be fired because it was “unclear if he was even qualified to manage a Dairy Queen.” Now, amazingly, some people are still coming to his defense, so let’s review some of his worst moves:
1. He took the Leafs into this season with a maxed out cap and a best-case-scenario of 8th place. There were two main reasons for the maxed out cap (#s 2 & 3 on this list) but his biggest failure: failing to have a #1 centre and a #1 defenseman on his roster. Sure, Kadri and Rielly are basically those things now, but they weren’t employed as that by the Leafs entering the year. Entering the season with a maxed out cap missing two of the most important players on any successful team was a disaster waiting to happen.
2. He maxed out his cap by singing David Clarkson to one of the worst UFA deals in NHL history. Not to mention instead of being proactive in his deals for Kessel and Phaneuf, he signed them to deals comparable to what they’d get on the open market. In a cap-world, paying market price for your own FAs is tantamount to sabotaging your own efforts to improve.
3. He botched the compliance buy-outs. A rich team like Toronto should have been salivating over the chance to have a couple of mulligans and Nonis blew it. He wasted one on Mike Komisarik, whose contract only had another year to run and he wasted the second one on Grabovski, who the Leafs most definitely should have kept.
4. He signed Bozak to a five year deal and letting Grabbo walk for nothing.
5. Trading J.M Liles to the ‘Canes for Tim Gleason. Gleason got bought-out (non-compliance, and the Leafs will be paying him money against the game forever) while J.M Liles had a wonderful year on the Hurricanes. Had he been on the Leafs he’d be, at worst, their third or fourth best defensemen. He put up a 55% CF on one of the NHL’s worst teams. Plus, his veteran presence would have been great for Gardiner and Rielly, who do not play the same way as any of the veteran D the Leafs actually chose to employ.
6. Carl Gunnarsson traded for Roman Polak. A brutal trade no matter how many times Polak returns to the game after taking a puck to the face.
7. Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin allowed to walk for nothing.
There’s more, but whatever. At this point I hope no one needs convincing that Nonis was the worst GM of all time. He’s fired and I am happy about that. Not personally, because that isn’t very nice, but on a hockey-team level, the Leafs are better off without him and that makes me feel good.
I will admit that I cooled a little on Horachek when he refused to break up his top line or play Rielly over Phaneuf once Dion came back from injury, but on the whole, I think he did the best he possibly could have under the circumstances.
No one, not Mike Babcock or Scotty Bowman, could have done more with the Leafs than he did. The circumstances were brutal. He began his tenure by going on a toughest-possible road trip and the Leafs went on a luck-fueled run where they went something like 12 games shooting around 3% which is virtually impossible to sustain long term,
His best players – JVR and Phil Kessel – up and quit on the season. They were outscored 5v5 by complete no-names throughout the league (and guys on the Leafs like Winnick and Santorelli) and couldn’t have possibly played worse.
He didn’t get good goaltending, and his team (already among the worst in the NHL on D) lost their best defenseman for most of the start of his run as Leafs coach. By the time Dion came back, the Leafs were done and proceeded to systematically dismantle their team.
I get that Horachek had to go, if for no other reason than to put fresh air into the room next season, but the Leafs really sacrificed him to the dogs here and anyone who assigns any blame whatsoever to him is not being realistic.
What Does the Future Hold?Well this is an interesting question. There are no shortage of candidates already available, and then there is Mike Babcock. Though he may be a long-shot, the Leafs are kind of in a holding pattern until the Red Wings are eliminated, since he clearly seems to be their first choice. And, if he is their first choice, can they even name a GM until then? The rumour that Babcock will only come here if he’s also the GM has been pretty prevalent, but even if it’s B.S you have to at least figure that the only situation in which they’d hire a coach before a GM is if they get Bacbock, and that means keeping Hunter and Dubas as Co-interim GMs for at least two more weeks, probably longer.
Let’s say there is no Babcock in the future of the Leafs, who is their next GM? Personally, I’d bet money that it’s Mark Hunter. I think he’s a good choice and I hope he gets the job because as a rebuilding team, why wouldn’t you want to put in charge the guy who everyone says knows junior hockey better than anyone on the planet?
The timing just fits, and I like the Hunter, Dubas, Shanahan combo.
As for the coach? I’ve already gone on record as saying that the Leafs should be realistic about the fact they won’t be competitive for about three years and use that time to try and develop their own version of Mike Babcock. With that in mind, I think the Leafs should turn to either Dallas Eakins or Ralph Krueger, both of whom fit the progressive image of the Leafs front-office and both of whom got a rough shake in their debuts as NHL coaches.
Whatever happens, the fact is, the Leafs are a better team than they were 12 hours ago because Dave Nonis was terrible and now he is gone.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.