TORONTO — After taking a sip of water at the start of his news conference, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis made sure to thank the players who were around last season and left on the first day of free agency.
"I just wanted to thank them for what they attempted to do over the last 12 months and wish them all the best going forward," Nonis said.
Attempted might be the most important word after the Leafs went from being almost surely playoff bound to collapsing with an eight-game losing streak. Gone from that group are centres Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond, who signed elsewhere Tuesday.
In come defenceman Stephane Robidas, signed to a US$9-million, three-year deal, and forward Leo Komarov, signed to an $11.8-million, four-year deal, along with forward Matt Frattin, re-acquired in a trade that sent winger Jerry D’Amigo to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It’s Nonis’s hope that those players change the Leafs’ mix back to more of what it was like in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, when they made the playoffs.
"The compete level that we had two years ago, I think was at or near the top of the league," Nonis said. "We got more out of our players, the coaches did, the players themselves did in terms of pushing each other, than we did last year — no question about it. Some of the players that we’re talking about either were here and will help us get that back or have a history of doing that. That was a focus for us."
Robidas at 37 brings 885 games of experience to Toronto, along with a right-handed shot. He broke his leg while playing in the playoffs for the Anaheim Ducks but started skating last week and expects to be ready for Day 1 of training camp.
Komarov returns from the 2013 Leafs after a year with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL. He had four goals and five assists in 42 games that season, but the 27-year-old Finn is expected to have a much bigger role this time around.
"Leo offers a lot more than I think even we got out of him two years ago," said Nonis, who met with Komarov in Finland and "laid that out so that he knew that he wasn’t just a fourth-line guy that was playing six minutes a night, that we feel that he can do more."
Komarov’s return could help fill the void left by the departure of Bolland, who signed for five years and $27.5 million with the Florida Panthers. Bolland said on a conference call with local media that the Leafs were close to bringing him back.
"We were getting there," the 28-year-old Toronto native said. "We were just a little bit apart."
Nonis did not begrudge Bolland for taking the more lucrative deal with the Panthers.
"We feel our offer was very fair, very strong, it reflected his value to us," he said. "He chose to go somewhere else, that’s his right. He’ll be a good player for them … The only way to prevent that from happening was to spend more than we felt was appropriate, and I don’t think that’s something we wanted to get into."
Raymond also got more money than the Leafs were willing to pay: three years and $9.5 million from the Calgary Flames. Being closer to home was part of the Cochrane, Alta., native’s decision to go there.
Even before signing in Calgary, Raymond expected changes around the Leafs under new president Brendan Shanahan and after the team’s late-season collapse.
"I think we all would’ve loved to finish a lot better," Raymond said in a phone interview. "When you have new management or different changes within the organization, that (roster moves are) susceptible to happen."
What Bolland and Raymond have in common is they weren’t around for the Leafs’ somewhat-expected 2013 season that Nonis seems to want to replicate. Komarov and Frattin, who was sent to Los Angeles a year ago in the deal that brought goaltender Jonathan Bernier to the Leafs, were.
"We talked a little about the chemistry that we had two years ago and the work ethic and i think players playing outside their comfort zone," Nonis said. "Those are two players that played a big part in it."
Notes — Nonis said if a trade for restricted-free-agent goaltender James Reimer was there and made sense, the Leafs would make it. Otherwise, he reiterated, Reimer could be back next season. … The process of hiring assistant coaches is still ongoing with no resolution as of Tuesday.
July 1, 2014