First the Toronto Maple Leafs swung a minor deal for Matt Frattin.
Less than an hour later, GM Dave Nonis had signed Leo Komarov to an eyebrow-raising four-year, $11.8-million deal.
In addition to signing vet defenceman Stephane Robidas, that was the sum total of the Leafs day on July 1, one that was aimed at regaining the “compete level” that Nonis and coach Randy Carlyle have been mourning for the last eight months.
With the Frattin and Komarov moves, in particular, it was fairly clear: The Leafs want to get the band back together again, returning two players that played a role in getting them to the playoffs for the only time in the last decade.
“The compete level that we had two [seasons] ago, I think was at or near the top of the league,” Nonis said on Tuesday evening, after a day where several of his fellow GMs went bananas on a weak free agent crop. “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 were here [for that run] will help us get that back. Or [in Robidas’s case] have a history of doing that. That was a focus for us.”
It became almost a season-long focus last year, as the Leafs couldn’t seem to pull out of a tailspin that ultimately claimed their season, this idea of getting back to what they had been in 2012-13.
Because the Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in nine years and because they gave the Boston Bruins a run for their money in the first round, sparking a party around the city often chided for “planning the parade,” that team has taken on sort of mythic status for some of those who work for, support or cover the team.
What is rarely mentioned is that that group became progressively worse as that lockout-shortened half season went along, getting outplayed and hemmed in its own zone more and more as the months wore on and the system issues sunk in.
The 2012-13 Leafs outshot their opponents 29.9 to 28.6 in January but were outshot by six per game in February, five per game in March and a ridiculous 10.5 per game in April prior to that fateful series with the Bruins.
They had several great games against Boston; they had a lot of lousy ones against everyone else.
It’s forgotten now, but they very nearly frittered away that playoff berth, too. If not for James Reimer’s .930 save percentage and Phil Kessel’s 18 points in 12 games, the Leafs’ April of 2013 would have been remembered for yet another ugly collapse instead of the month where they finally clinched a long-awaited playoff spot.
(And that doesn’t even get into that team’s extremely high shooting percentage, which was doomed to regress had the season been longer than 48 games.)
The Leafs brass doesn’t see that team that way. Instead, they’re doubling down on the idea that they can get back to what they seemed to be: a tight team that played harder than last year’s group – and not simply a fortunate team that bonded over that good fortune.
That said, the players they’ve added over the past few days aren’t the kind of cap disasters many other teams committed to on Tuesday.
Robidas may be 37, but he is a proven veteran who up until last season was playing top pairing minutes and, if healthy, will help this team.
“He’s a heart and soul kind of a player,” Nonis said. “He’s a player that at the end of every year you can look back and say he’s given you everything he had.”
Komarov, meanwhile, can kill penalties quite well, add a pest element and, along with Frattin – who quickly signed for two years at only a $800,000 cap hit after the trade from Columbus – brings more speed to a group of bottom six forwards that badly needed an overhaul.
Nonis wanted Komarov back so badly that he even flew to Europe to explain to him how integral he was to his vision of the team.
“We wanted to make sure that he knew … he was the no. 1 priority for us of that group [of similar players in free agency],” Nonis said. “I made the decision to spend some time with him as quickly as possible and laid that out so he knew that he wasn’t just a fourth line guy who [would be] playing six minutes a night.”
So all three players, along with fellow newcomer Roman Polak, will help, in one way or another, even if the term and the dollars are a little high. (And they always are on July 1.)
But as far as getting the band back together, the whole process feels a little like adding two maraca shakers and calling it a day when the rest of the orchestra is in need of a major overhaul.
It was in 2012-13, no matter how it’s remembered. It was even more so last season, after losing more integral pieces than Frattin and Komarov. And it remains that way now.
The good news in all this is the Leafs didn’t make any major mistakes on Tuesday (like signing Dave Bolland to a huge contract) and they still have another $7-million or so to add another couple bodies.
Nonis said he expects to target at least one more forward in free agency or trade with those dollars, and there’s a chance he finds another bargain like Mason Raymond a year ago.
The bad news?
This is an organization still obsessed in becoming what they were in that one half-season – even after last year and 82 games showed that that really isn’t the way to go.