In a short amount of time, Brendan Shanahan and co. have turned the Toronto Maple Leafs organization around. The Departed is a series taking a look back at players in recent seasons who have since moved on from the Leafs. In the first installment, we go back to the summer of 2016 to check in with the 2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs, and the free agents who left the club after their last-place finish.
The Departed: Checking in with the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2015-16 Season
The Departed begins on July 1, 2016, with the Toronto Maple Leafs free agency class of 2016. After an intentionally bad season in which Toronto finished last and won the draft lottery, Brendan Shanahan and co. were looking to make minor moves in the 2016 off-season. Toronto was not looking to rush things, not wanting force success with major free agent acquisitions.
In fact, the Leafs only re-signed restricted free agents, as not a single unrestricted free agent was brought back (though Ben Smith was claimed off of waivers early in the 2016-17 season). Let’s take a look at the players who left the Leafs organization in free agency back in the summer of 2016.
The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Michael Grabner on the first day of training camp at the beginning of the 2015-16 season in a trade that saw five middling prospects head back to the New York Islanders.
As the Leafs finished last, lines were rarely fixed into place, quite unlike the set-in-stone lineup in Toronto in 2016-17. Grabner spent time with Nick Spaling on the third line and, later in the year, Nazem Kadri, on the top line. Although he was placed in a position to score, Grabner failed to find the scoresheet regularly. He scored just nine goals and 18 points in 80 games, though fans will remember missed breakaway after missed breakaway from the speedy Austrian.
Heading to the Big Apple
On July 1, 2016, Grabner signed a two-year, $3.3 million contract with the New York Rangers. The Rangers were looking to add a bottom-six forward who could play on their penalty kill, which Grabner proved he could do effectively with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16.
To New York’s pleasant surprise, Grabner burst out for an astounding 27 goals a year ago, though he scored just six in the final three months of the season. He finished second on the team in goals, adding 13 assists as well, for 40 total points. With a high shooting percentage, which fell to 16.7% by the end of the year, most knew Grabner would regress back to his regular production eventually. Even with his success, he was left unprotected by the Rangers in the expansion draft, though Vegas passed to take the younger Oscar Lindberg.
Michael Grabner remains with the New York Rangers in 2017-18 in the final year of the two-year deal signed in the 2016 off-season. At this point in the season, he has featured in their bottom six, often on the fourth line. Johanna Albertsson, Team Manager of the New York Rangers here at Last Word on Hockey, had this to say about Grabner:
Michael Grabner arrived in New York on a prayer. With only nine goals in his previous season, his purpose with the Rangers was a mystery. However, he exceeded every expectation, nearly topping the team with 27 goals last season at a measly $1.65 million cap hit. Unfortunately, his sense for stealing the puck, which gives him many breakaway chances, has proven unfruitful as of late, leaving him with three goals this 2017-18 season.
After tying his career high in goals with 20, and leading the Toronto Maple Leafs in the category, P.A. Parenteau returned to the New York Islanders on a surprisingly low one-year, $1.25-million contract on the second day of free agency in 2016.
After an impressive season in Toronto, the Islanders signing of Parenteau was looked on as one of the better value signings of the summer. He had previous success with John Tavares, where he recorded back-to-back 50+ point seasons. At just $1.25 million, the signing seemed like a no-brainer.
Instead, P.A. Parenteau was shockingly placed on waivers at the end of training camp. There was no way a 20 goal scorer was clearing waivers at his price tag, being claimed by the New Jersey Devils. In New Jersey, Parenteau appeared in 59 games, scoring 13 goals and 27 points.
At the trade deadline, Parenteau was traded to the Nashville Predators in an effort to add offensive depth before a deep playoff run. He played in just eight games in the regular season and five in the postseason, recording one assist total.
After going unsigned over the summer, the Detroit Red Wings brought the veteran winger into camp on a PTO. Parenteau was solid, but with little to no value as a fourth line player, was not offered a contract. At 34, Parenteau’s career is likely over, unless he is willing to play overseas.
When Leafs fans look back at the 2015-16 season, which resulted in Auston Matthews, P.A. Parenteau’s 20 goal season will be one of the few memorable events that actually occurred on the ice.
Stalock became expendable to the San Jose Sharks after a rocky start to the 2015-16 year. Aaron Dell took over from Stalock prior to the deadline acquisition of Reimer. Due to his demotion, Stalock headed into the summer of 2016 knowing he would have to accept a contract to become an AHL team’s starter.
The Minnesota Wild came calling, signing the St. Paul native to a one-year, $650,000 contract. In 2016-17, Stalock showed he was more than capable at the AHL level. He posted a .926 save percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average in 50 appearances. He was also called up to Minnesota for two games, winning one.
His performance a year ago resulted in a two-year extension. The Wild decided to move on from backup Darcy Kuemper after a poor season, opening the door for Stalock. Rather than signing one of the available backups on the open market, Minnesota chose to bring in former Boston Bruin and KHL standout Niklas Svedberg to compete with Stalock. The Wild would have a battle in camp between the two, with the winner to backup Devan Dubnyk.
To start the 2017-18 season, Alex Stalock has won the job. He won’t be asked to start often, with Dubnyk likely to play another 65-70 games. After a tumultuous 2015-16 campaign, Stalock is back in the NHL. In three appearances so far this season, Stalock has a 2.90 GAA and a .924 SV%.
The Rest of the Pack
The Leafs also let Sam Carrick (Chicago), T.J. Brennan (Philadelphia), Stuart Percy (Pittsburgh), Jared Cowen, and Brad Boyes walk in free agency. Additionally, they brought back Rich Clune and Colin Smith on AHL deals.
A depth AHLer, Sam Carrick signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks on day one of free agency back in 2016. He played 57 games with the Rockford IceHogs, in which he registered 27 points. At the trade deadline, he was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks, along with Spencer Abbott, in exchange for Kenton Helgesen and a 2019 seventh-round draft pick. In 15 games with the San Diego Gulls in 2016-17, Carrick impressed with 11 points. In the playoffs, he tallied seven points in 10 games. The Ducks brought him back on a two-year extension this past summer. The 25-year old has three points in seven games to start the season.
Brad Boyes, though not officially retired, has yet to play professionally since the 2015-16 season with the Leafs. As for Colin Smith, he was traded by the Marlies to the San Antonio Rampage at the 2017 trade deadline. This summer, Smith signed a one-year AHL contract with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, where he has yet to appear in a game. Rich Clune, though not under contract with the Leafs, remains in the organization with the Toronto Marlies. An alternate captain, Clune has one goal through five games.
T.J. Brennan is an outstanding offensive defenceman in the AHL who cannot defend to save his life. As such, he remains a valuable player for NHL teams, just not for the main club itself. Brennan signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia to bolster the Lehigh Valley Phantoms early into free agency in 2016. In his first year with the Phantoms, Brennan tallied 60 points in 76 games, leading the team in scoring. In the postseason, he scored four points in five games. An alternate captain this season, Brennan has three assists in four games out of the gate.
As for Stuart Percy, he spent the whole 2016-17 season in the AHL after signing a one-year contract with Pittsburgh. In 37 games, the former first-round pick had eight points. He went unsigned this summer, recently signing a tryout with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. In two games with the Americans, Percy has yet to record a point.
After sitting out the 2016-17 season, Jared Cowen was invited to Colorado Avalanche training camp on a PTO this year. He did not receive a contract and is still looking to make a return to the NHL, though lingering hip issues may prevent the Saskatoon native from ever coming back.
In next week’s edition of The Departed, we will take a look back at those who were dealt by the Maple Leafs during the 2015-16 season.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images