TORONTO — These Toronto Maple Leafs were built in Brian Burke’s image of truculence and grit. Six months after taking over as general manager, Dave Nonis hasn’t drastically overhauled the roster.
But the moves he has made so far were enough to earn Nonis a five-year contract extension that gives him some long-term security.
"We all know that there’s no short-term fixes in professional sports," Nonis said in a radio interview on Sportsnet 590. "If you’re thinking short term you’re probably going to do long-term damage."
That’s the directive to Nonis and Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who was with the Los Angeles Kings when they won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Leiweke’s message has been about the future, and in extending Nonis he gave the 47-year-old the keys to the kingdom.
In announcing the extension, Leiweke said ownership and management "felt it critical" to extend Nonis’s deal now as a reward for the team’s progress.
"This extension will allow David the time to build his kind of team to produce steady results, year after year," he said in a statement. "Everyone is excited about his ability and grasp of the NHL landscape and today’s new contract agreement will offer the Leafs consistency and a long-term vision."
Since taking over for the fired Burke just before the start of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Nonis has made a handful of notable moves to keep the core intact and at least start to put his stamp on the Maple Leafs. During the season he extended Joffrey Lupul for five years and US$26.25 million, but maintained the status quo with the goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.
The Maple Leafs finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with 57 points, making their first playoff appearance since 2004. They lost to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals after coughing up a 4-1 lead in the final 11 minutes of Game 7.
While the Bruins were playing in the Stanley Cup final, Nonis acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Scrivens, forward Matt Frattin and a second-round pick in either 2014 or 2015. He then gave Bernier a two-year deal worth $5.8 million and talked up the strong tandem the 24-year-old and Reimer gave Toronto for next season.
Nonis reshaped the Leafs at centre by trading three picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for David Bolland, who scored the Cup-winning goal in Game 6. He used a compliance buyout on Mikhail Grabovski to wipe out the final four years and $21.5 million of that contract, and gave Tyler Bozak $21 million over the next five seasons.
Nonis also signed right-winger David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75-million contract, the max number of years anyone can give a free agent from another team.
"We want to put together a team that has a chance to compete and win regardless of the opponent," Nonis said in a radio interview on TSN 1050 in Toronto. "We feel like we’re getting closer to a team like that."
Nonis’s new deal goes through 2018, longer than anyone in the organization except for Clarkson.
Armed with an extension that he called "fair" in dollars and term, Nonis still has work to do. He said extensions with Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phaneuf are not "on the front burner" just yet.
And he’s not worried about new deals for restricted free agents Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and Mark Fraser, which aren’t close to getting done.
"That’s not a red flag. It’s July," Nonis said on Sportsnet 590. "I’m not surprised that they’re not signed, and we have a lot of time before we have to start worrying about it."