Make an offer.
Hold your breath.
Let the crest do the rest.
That’s the recipe Leafs GM Dave Nonis used to land the most coveted player in the free agent sweepstakes and repatriate a valued member of last year’s team.
Right winger David Clarkson came to Toronto because he wanted to be a Maple Leaf.
Tyler Bozak, in Nonis’ estimation, turned down more money elsewhere because he wanted to be a Maple Leaf.
Dave Bolland raved about the chance to be a Leaf a week after he was acquired from the team for whom he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Denizens of Leaf Nation, you were right about the potent attraction of playing in what Brian Burke habitually referred to as the centre of the hockey universe.
If there was any doubt about the viability of Toronto as a destination of choice for hockey players, it was shredded by Friday’s signing of Clarkson and repatriation of Bozak.
Clarkson recalled racing around his Mimico home wearing Wendel Clark’s number 17.
“Wearing that jersey when I was young and idolizing some of those guys meant something to me,” Clarkson said. “There were three or four teams I was kicking back and forth. At the end of the day, in my heart, this is where I wanted to be.”
Clarkson shrugged off the notion that playing for the Leafs carried a special burden, an opinion long carried by media members who forget how Philadelphia or New York can be the seventh circle of hell for underperforming hockey players.
“My job is on the ice,” Clarkson said. “I’m going to give you everything I have. “
There. That’s all you need do.
Clarkson isn’t a high end player because he scores. He may never approach the 30 goals he scored two seasons ago. But he hits, works every corner like it’s his last and competes ferociously. He scored 15 goals in 48 games last year.
Bozak, meanwhile, walked into a perfect storm. The list of unrestricted free agents was particularly thin at centre. You need no more evidence than Detroit’s signing of Stephen Weiss, the owner of a single goal over 17 games last year, for five years at $4.9 million per.
Stick with that comparable for a second. Bozak is three years younger than Weiss, one of the premier face-off men in the league and the number one centre on his team. Cap Geek reports he will make $4.2 million per season over five years.
Nonis conceded there was a hometown discount and that Bozak loved playing here.
“It comes down to does the player want to be with your team and in the city and do you want to extend yourself to the point where you are a little uncomfortable” he said. “He maybe left some money on the table. There was a benefit for both sides.”
Nonis knew that it would be impossible to attract Clarkson without exceeding a five-year term. Just as he did with Bozak, Nonis got close with the money and let the lure of the Leafs do the rest.
These things come with risk, naturally enough. Clarkson will be 36 when his contract expires. There’s no telling how his grinding, physical style will age.
Originally signed by the New Jersey Devils as a free agent, Clarkson adds to a talented corps of wingers that includes Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk and instantly toughens the Leafs second line. Clarkson topped 100 penalty minutes four times including 138 minutes two seasons ago.
The Leafs should line up Bozak between Lupul and Kessel, Nazem Kadri centering van Riemsdyk and Clarkson and a tenacious checking line comprised of Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin and Jay McClement.
Nonis has enjoyed a productive off-season.
The ledger shows Mike Komisarek, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin and draft choices going out. Incoming are 24-year-old Jonathan Bernier who will contend for the net, the ultra-competitive Clarkson, Bolland a 27-year-old two-time Cup winner who can anchor a checking line and provide timely offence and Bozak whose absence to injury was felt profoundly in the Leafs Game 7 defeat in Boston.
If your taste runs to mathematics, the Leafs moved out 24 goals (nine for Grabovski, eight for MacArthur and seven for Frattin) and brought 34 goals in (15 for Clarkson a returning 12 for Bozak and seven more for Bolland).
They also dramatically boosted their playoff experience. The four players going out played a total of 47 playoff games. Bolland and Clarkson have combined for 111.
Nonis’ summer isn’t over. The acquisitions leave the Leafs with $14.3 million in which to sign a handful of restricted free agents including defencemen Carl Gunnarsson and Cody Franson, Kadri and Bernier.
There is also the matter of extending Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, two players eligible to be unrestricted free agents next summer.
Nonis will hope for a swelling of hockey-related revenues and will not be hampered by the $1 million buyouts Colby Armstrong and Darcy Tucker will collect this year.