Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Clune, Holl, Dermott & Hired Guns

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News’ & Rumors, I’ll share the news that a longtime organizational player has re-signed with the team. That’s Rich Clune. Clune might be a lesser known member of the Maple Leafs’ organization, but here’s betting that he’s a prized member of the community.

As well, I’ll comment on the possibility that Travis Dermott’s recent signing might augur a different decision than I first expected about who the organization might protect in the July 21 Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Learning from Canadiens’ Playoff Success

Item One: Toronto Marlies Re-sign Forward Rich Clune

The Toronto Marlies announced today that they had signed forward and team captain Rich Clune to another one-year AHL contract. Clune first joined the organization prior to the 2015-2016 season and has suited up in 197 games for the Marlies over the last six seasons, racking up 21 goals and 26 assists (for 47 points).

The 34-year-old Clune was named captain on March 1 after serving as an alternate captain in each of his previous seasons. During his six seasons with the Marlies, the Toronto native has played in 20 playoff games for the Marlies and in those games he’s scored only five points (2 goals and 3 assists). Still, he helped the Marlies win the Calder Cup during the 2018 season.

Clune was chosen by the Dallas Stars during the third round (71st overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft; however, he’s never been what one would call an NHL star. Over the past seasons with the Marlies, Clune has become a more-or-less permanent fixture on the team. But, he also has NHL experience and has played 139 games with the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators, and the Maple Leafs.

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Clune has made a hockey career within the Marlies’ organization, and his value reaches far beyond what he contributes on the ice. He’s a de facto coach and player developer who has served as a mentor for several young Maple Leafs’ prospects as they’ve moved through the AHL system.

Although Clune might seem to hold a “Who’s he?” position with some Maple Leafs’ fans, I have to believe that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has a plan for Clune after his playing days with the Marlies have finished. If nothing else, fans have to know that Dubas is loyal almost to a fault. He and Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe have gone back a long way, and this seems true with Clune as well.

Sheldon Keefe; John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe talks to captain John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

The fact that there’s a roster spot for Clune suggests how much the organization values what the aging hockey pilgrim brings to the organization. He might have played only 64 games over the past three seasons, but Dubas has built a long relationship with Clune and obviously believes he adds value to the team in a mentorship role. That fits the Maple Leafs’ ethos of building an organization around the characteristics of team-building, leadership, and strong character.

There’s more than a chance that, when Clune retires as an AHL player, he’ll move into a position within the organization in either the player development or player personnel department. Welcome back to the Marlies Rich Clune.

Item Two: Will the Maple Leafs Protect Travis Dermott or Justin Holl?

Two things have interested me since Travis Dermott’s recent signing. One was his comment that he’s happy to play at home. That almost-exact comment was made by Wayne Simmonds after his re-signing with the Maple Leafs last week. One reason he offered for a salary cut was that Toronto was home for his wife and two-year old daughter. As I’ve been thinking about whether Zach Hyman will re-sign with the Maple Leafs, the value of playing “at home” has been on my mind. How much is that worth to a player?

Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

The second thing that’s interested me is whether the Maple Leafs’ organization sees Dermott as having more of an upside than Justin Holl. I’m guessing that’s the case; and, in that light, I’m revising my thinking that Holl will be protected rather than Dermott. Holl is older at 29-years and isn’t a Toronto native (he was born in Tonka Bay, Minnesota, and played NCAA hockey for the University of Minnesota). Holl also has a higher salary-cap hit at $2 million than Dermott’s $1.5 million; and, for the Maple Leafs that’s two-thirds of Jason Spezza salary-wise.

There’s no doubt that Holl is probably the better defenseman right at this moment, but Dermott is also five years younger and might have a higher upside. As well, there’s an argument to be made that Holl struggles when he’s separated from Jake Muzzin. Muzzin seems able to help another other defensemen play better.

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Obviously, I’m not sure whether the organization will protect Dermott or Holl, but I’m now thinking it might be Dermott. We’ll see soon.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Obviously, as most Maple Leafs’ writers note, so many things hinge on where Hyman might land. If he stays in Toronto, perhaps the team stays nearly the same. If not, things likely change.

As long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith noted to me in a conversation, one problem the team has had over the past few seasons is continuity. So many changes has created a revolving door of support players, which has made it difficult to build team camaraderie, ethos, and character. Ultimately it becomes a situation where there are core players and “hired guns.”

Toronto Maple Leafs Jason Spezza
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Maple Leafs’ fans read rumors everyday about the team seeking this player or trading one player for another player. One upside of the Maple Leafs’ 2020-21 season from my perspective was the character in the “room.” Thus far this offseason, the organization has already re-signed two players who’ve gained some credit for that character – Spezza and Simmonds. 

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Could this be a season where the Maple Leafs don’t make many changes? For my money, the team was within a goal or a good bounce of potentially facing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner couldn’t make that happen; but, having watched the Finals, have they learned how to improve things for next time?

If so, perhaps it would be better to make a few tweaks and give this team one more chance to build on its skills and internal chemistry. They weren’t that bad.

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