Leafs: It made no sense

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

TORONTO - With a free-agent list as thin as a Maple Leaf’s playoff beard and money flying out the window on Friday like the pre-salary cap era, David Nonis didn’t get past the window-shopping phase.

Toronto’s senior vice-president of hockey operations stood in line to make his pitch for Brad Richards, but steered clear when the market quickly became inflated, partly because of teams such as Florida needing to reach the new salary cap floor of $48.3 million US, pushed to the front of the line.

On one hand, it was a deflating day for fans who took general manager Brian Burke at his word that the Leafs would be in the thick of action on July 1.

Toronto turned out to be one of the few dormant NHL teams, with two of its own UFAs moving on — centre Tim Brent and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Burke wasn’t even around to talk about going hitless, having gone to Afghanistan with defenceman Luke Schenn a few days earlier for a surprise visit to the Canadian troops stationed there.

But Nonis reminded everyone that, beyond Richards, this was long forecasted to be a weak field of high-end centres and forwards, which Toronto craves.

So when Richards put the Leafs and several others on hold and nothing else grabbed Toronto’s attention, he held on to what he said was $15 million in spending money, at least for Friday.

“Signing players that can’t help you long term, or really aren’t an upgrade on what you have, didn’t make sense to us,” Nonis said at the Air Canada Centre.

“We have put a lot of effort into getting some youth into this organization and giving them a chance to play. To move a player out for a player who isn’t as good made very little sense to us.

In the case where it was an option (perhaps he meant centre Maxime Talbot), you were looking at contracts that, to us, didn’t make sense.

“This is the first day. We wanted to see what was out there, like everyone else, then you move on to other options. First of all there, are other players still available.”

Nonis, senior adviser Cliff Fletcher and asssistant GM Claude Loiselle were at the offices of Newport Sports in Mississuaga to make their pitch to Richards. They were outnumbered by a seven-man delegation of Los Angeles Kings and reports that the New York Rangers will have a chance to match the best bid of any team.

Nonis was tight-lipped about how he thought the Leafs’ presentation went, except to say he thinks Richards will likely sleep on all the offers.

“That’s up to Brad and (agent) Pat Morris, but I want to make it clear that we did (try). Then we moved on to the rest of the day.”

Nonis said there were 10 players the Leafs pursued and they reached the serious talking stage with five.

“There were players we could’ve signed today, quite easily, but the dollar figure went into areas we felt wasn’t appropriate.”

Nonis has seen some wild spending in his 20 years, and with the new $64-million cap and the higher floor, there was a throwback feel to Friday’s flurry of deals.

“Some of the deals were, yes, foolish, but teams make those decisions on their own and for a reason. Every market and every general manager is under different pressures.

“Some people may stand here and criticize, but I’m not one of them,” Nonis said. “The floor going up was a significant factor in a number of players getting signed today and a major factor in what those players got and the term that they got.”

Nonis sensed Day 2 would be a lot more productive for Toronto.

“We probably won’t move on those until the other shoe drops (meaning Richards) and we see where we are.”

Centre Tim Connolly is still around, if the price is right, though everyone now has higher asking prices.

“We’re still working with a number of other scenarios in terms of trades and finding other players who are available and I think that will go on for a few days from now,” Nonis added.

Brent, the Leafs’ Bill Masterton Trophy candidate last year, learned earlier in the week he would be moving on. He went to the Carolina Hurricanes for two years at $750,000 US, while Giguere will try again to get his injury-plagued career going in Colorado.

“Great for Tim, a guy who was expected to be a minor-leaguer and was told he was, then went out and found himself a one-way deal,” Nonis said. “Jiggy, to show what kind of class he has, before he agreed to the deal, called and told us he was going to move on.

“We talked about a scenario where we might bring him back, but he was free to look with our blessing. It’s good for both those players.”


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