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Matt Martin has a back story that a large segment of the Toronto Maple Leafs fan base will love.

He wasn't always on top AAA teams growing up in Windsor, Ont. He wasn't drafted into junior hockey.

He had a hardscrabble road and had to scrap – literally – his way onto the Sarnia Sting, where he eventually played on a line with Steven Stamkos.

Eight years later, the Leafs gave him $10-million on the first day of free agency.

Martin is a frequent fighter, but this isn't Toronto gifting another four-year deal to an enforcer, the way they did with Colton Orr in 2009. Martin can "actually play – a little," in the words of one astute NHL executive.

"He's good at what he does," added another.

What he does is use his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame as a battering ram on blades, getting in on the forecheck and making teams miserable. He is capable defensively but limited offensively, strictly a fourth-liner who has averaged only 11 minutes a game in his career.

He'll be expected to be a protector of the Leafs young talent, and at $2.5-million a season, he'll be overcompensated for it.

"It's certainly support to allow [our prospects] to feel freer to do the things they do best," Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said of Martin's ability to pummel anyone who looks at Auston Matthews sideways.

The Leafs have had a curious couple weeks. They traded for and signed goaltender Frederik Andersen to a $25-million deal, even though he has only played 125 NHL games. Anointing him a No. 1 is a gamble. They used an unorthodox strategy in taking several bigger and/or older kids in the entry draft last weekend in Buffalo.

Then, their two pursuits in Friday's free-agent period were reported to be Martin and one-dimensional shot-blocker Kris Russell.

They landed one of them, in Martin. The other remained out there, unsigned, late into the evening, with the prospect of a big mistake of a contract still looming for Toronto or some other team.

None of it fits the profile of a new-age front office – but then again, the Leafs are a hybrid. They have a lot of different voices advocating different things, presumably with president Brendan Shanahan serving as the final referee. It stands to reason that it was the older-school types, as in Lamoriello, who wanted this fledgling team to be bigger, grittier and have more character. It's plausible that adding Andersen was owing to head coach Mike Babcock's desire for the team to win more games in the near term.

What will be fascinating is which voices win out as Toronto moves into Stage 2 of its rebuild, beginning the complicated process of filling in more talent around the kids.

Do they stick with a pure-skill model, with an assist from the analytics department, the way that assistant GM Kyle Dubas did in building his successful junior team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and the AHL-leading Toronto Marlies?

Do they look more like the post-championship Detroit Red Wings, who had plenty of veterans and grinders in key roles, in deference to Babcock, who was heavily in favour of adding Martin?

Or is this simply Lou's roster according to Lou's rules, the same rules that turned the New Jersey Devils into the mess they were by the time he left town?

How it all works no one really knows, other than those within the Air Canada Centre's executive suite. But we get a glimpse every time they make a move.

"The guys in our management group realize that there are other strong voices in the room," Shanahan explained last week. "If you just want to be one person who everyone agrees with, and never gets questions, then this is probably the wrong organization.

"I think when people say they just don't understand how it would work, they're really just saying that they couldn't do it themselves. What they're really saying is they couldn't fit into a structure like this."

Some will view the Martin signing as a bad omen, and perhaps it is. His cap hit and his contributions won't be a significant impediment to the Leafs getting better over the next four years, but if the recent additions are a sign that things are going pear-shaped in the front office and the decision-making process is flawed, that's a bigger problem.

The Leafs didn't really get any better or worse on Friday. They avoided the truly putrid deals that July 1 has become known for, and for that they should be commended.

But they also cracked a small window into what they believe will help them win, eventually, and what was inside wasn't overly inspiring.

What we saw looked a bit like what we've seen before.