Yesterdayís Keith Aucoin signing might not look like much more than an AHL depth signing, and while it is true, to me it signifies that the years of building, waiting and watching with baited breath are finally bearing fruits. Before you throw rocks at me to voice your disagreement, allow me to explain my thinking and perhaps you will change your mind, or at least see where Iím coming from with this thinking.
If you missed it, the Leafs inked Keith Aucoin yesterday to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650k at the NHL level and $350k in the AHL. If you know anything about AHL contracts, youíll know that $350k on a two-way deal isnít exactly chump change. Aucoin is a bonafide AHL superstar. A prolific scorer in the American league, I could list every season where he put up great numbers, but we might be here all day. You could liken Aucoinís signing to that of Zach PariseĎs, albeit with much less fanfare and media attention, although the contracts might be somewhat comparable.
Please note: the following is for playerís on two-way contracts, with a separate AHL salary. It does not include players on one-way contracts who have been demoted.
On average, a team spends anywhere from 1-2.5 million in AHL payroll, excluding albatross contracts like Jeff Finger and Wade Redden. Aucoin, at $350k is the AHLís highest paid player for this season so far. Going based on the work done here (thanks to the guys at Copper and Blue), letís just set our Ďcapí at $2.5 million. Aucoinís salary takes up 14% of this Ďcapí. If you were to translate that to the NHL, with this past seasonís cap of $70.2 million, youíd have a player salary of $9.828 million.
You might be wondering where Iím going with this, and rightfully so. I kind of went off on a tangent there, but at least you have a hint of what Iím trying to get at. The Toronto Marlies have become a destination for AHL superstars like Keith Aucoin and Mike Kostka (who, at $250k is comparable to an NHL player making $7.02 million aka Ryan Suter).
Why am I mentioning this, and what does it have to do with healthy vital signs, and more importantly the Toronto Maple Leafs and the never-forgotten playoff drought? A lot actually, in my humble opinion.
Every good franchise is built upon a solid foundation. Every good franchise also drafts well, so it has to start with the scouts, who drive the entire drafting process. If the scouts can find talented, passionate players then you have a solid influx of talent into the organization. Toronto has revamped their scouting staff, and changed their approach in drafting. So far, so good. No home runs yet, but lots of safe picks with players. Time will tell how they do in this regard.
Next comes the teamís ability to develop. Players in junior are left to their own devices with their respective teams, but are gently guided by team officials on which areas to improve, and what roles to take that will best lead them on the road to the NHL.
From there, itís off to professional hockey where development is as emphasized as winning. Itís a business after all. This is where I believe the Leafs have made their latest step-up, boasting a Marlies team that is both developmentally sound and strongly competitive. Fresh off the heels of a Calder Cup defeat to champions Norfolk, the Marlies are surely looking to go all the way this year. Thatís why theyíve Ďsplurgedí on AHL superstars Aucoin and Kostka, and potentially more.