Johnston: Leafs’ Nonis anxious to make moves

Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager Davis Nonis. (CP/Chris Young)

BOSTON — Dave Nonis senses opportunity.

With the NHL’s salary cap set to drop for the first time in its eight-year history, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager believes there will be seismic effects on the industry in the coming weeks — and he wants to make sure he’s ready to take advantage during the aftershocks.

In fact, Nonis readily admits that he hasn’t “moved along very far” with pending free agents such as Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur because he doesn’t want to tie too much money up.

“We have to be mindful of how much we’re committing,” Nonis said Wednesday after a meeting of NHL GMs at the Stanley Cup final. “We want to make sure that we have the ability to take advantage of opportunities that come our way.

“If you don’t have cap space you’re locked into players that might be eating up too much of that cap space and you’re going to put yourself in a difficult situation.”

For years, we’ve heard managers talk about the importance of keeping cap space so that they can take advantage of teams in a bind. Now it might finally happen.

Even with the two compliance buyouts available to each team, some will be forced to shed salary using other means to get under the $64.3-million cap. And it won’t come solely by traditional means, according to Nonis.

“I think there’ll be some pretty good (restricted free agents) that aren’t necessarily qualified,” he said. “And it’s not because the teams want to lose those players. In some cases it’s very difficult to retain them all.

“The cap coming down is going to play a significant role and there’s no way around that.”

The Leafs have a fair amount of flexibility.

Assuming Nonis elects to use a compliance buyout on Mike Komisarek — he said it was a “distinct possibility” he would burn at least one this summer — Toronto would have 12 players signed for about $42.5 million next year.

The team’s list of restricted free agents includes Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson and Joe Colborne. Bozak and MacArthur are unrestricted.

There is a lot of different ways Nonis could go with this roster, especially in what is expected to be an active trade market around the June 30 NHL draft. Reports have already linked the Leafs to Jonathan Bernier and Nonis didn’t deny Wednesday that he is considering adding another goalie.

However, he also added that James Reimer did a “very good job” last season and Ben Scrivens did a “good job” in relief of an injured Reimer early on.

“My position hasn’t changed,” said Nonis. “We’re going to look to upgrade at every position and that doesn’t mean that we’re unhappy with the people we have at centre, at wing or in net. I think it’s incumbent upon every team to look at what’s available and if there is an ability to improve you look to do it.”

The action should start soon after the Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup final ends. The buyout window opens 48 hours later and will almost certainly trigger other moves as well.

Nonis has also closely examined a free-agent class that will likely include centre Stephen Weiss and winger David Clarkson, among several others, but isn’t yet sure how active he’ll be when the market opens on July 5.

“That will depend on what happens (at the draft) in Jersey,” said Nonis. “Things could change dramatically. You never know. Right now we don’t have any deals in the works that would alter our team dramatically, but that could change. Last year we didn’t know about JVR’s (availability) until we got to the draft.

“We’ve talked about a number of players that are available in free agency that we think could help us. How our team looks after the draft will determine what our team does.”

The organization is already moving forward from its historic Game 7 collapse against the Bruins in the first round.

Nonis has watched every minute the Bruins have played this post-season and isn’t wondering what might have been. He takes pride in how closely the team came to a major upset.

“We probably kicked the bear a little bit,” said Nonis. “I think we have to look at the strengths that (Boston) team showed and try to emulate it a little bit. I think there’s a lot of good lessons for each of our players.”

At least those that will still be around when training camp opens in September.

To hear Nonis speak on Wednesday was to hear a man that sounded anxious to make some moves. Many of his peers are in a similar situation.

“I think everyone wants to,” said Nonis. “There seems to be a lot of teams that want to make changes. …

“It’s a little more talk than usual right now.”

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