TORONTO, Ontario - Skating as part of a regular line since the Maple Leafs reconvened for practice last Wednesday, it was a different look for David Bolland this morning, adorning a “non-contact” maroon jersey and participating only in selected drills as an extra player.
“We felt Bolland took a step back yesterday, we felt it would be best suited that he didn't participate on a line today,” said head coach Randy Carlyle. “It's not a positive but it's not a huge negative, don't read into it that it's something we can't deal with.”
“He's unlikely for tomorrow; he had a little bit of a tweak there yesterday,” added GM Dave Nonis on “Leafs Lunch” on TSN 1050. “He's had this before and it's kind of a step program where he has this and it plateaus for a day or two and then he gets right back at it.”
Bolland stumbled near the end of Tuesday's practice after a minor collision during a drill and appeared to grimace. He continued to participate in the few remaining drills but went straight to the locker room instead of joining the team's group discussion on the ice once practice has concluded.
“We were playing a game mode situation there and I just had a little bit of a fall there but that's what's going to happen in a game so that's what I have to get ready for,” Bolland explained on Wednesday.
While he will travel with the Leafs to New York and intends to take the morning skate, as Carlyle and Nonis indicated, Bolland will likely miss his 46th consecutive game on Thursday. Nikolai Kulemin between Mason Raymond and Troy Bodie formed the third line at Wednesday's practice.
“Right now it's just day to day. It's just getting it stronger,” Bolland said. “You have to be 100 per cent getting back in the line-up. Don't want to be a liability out there.”
But when he gets back in isn't the only decision facing Leafs brass faces when it comes to Bolland. An unrestricted free agent on July 1, he is said to be seeking a longer term contract in the $5-plus million per year range as reported by TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger.
Anything over $5.25 million – the cap hits for both Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson – would make Bolland the Leafs second-highest paid forward, behind only Phil Kessel's $8 million cap hit which kicks in next season.
Best suited as a third line centre, can the Leafs afford to have Bolland that high on their pay scale? GM Dave Nonis indicated he doesn't necessarily feel compelled to make a decision before the Mar. 5 trade deadline.
“If you've got a player that's unrestricted it doesn't mean he won't sign if you don't sign him before the (July 1) deadline,” Nonis explained on TSN 1050. “Look at our situation last year with Tyler Bozak. We didn't reach an agreement (before the trade deadline), he felt we needed to have him in order to get into the post-season and at the end of the season, he was a player who wanted to be here and we wanted to sign him and we found a way to reach an agreement. I don't believe you have to have a player signed, I'm perfectly content of letting the UFAs play it out and see where we are.”
And that might be the wisest course of action. Once healthy, Bolland would certainly help the Leafs down the stretch and into the playoffs. Given that the Leafs have built a seven point cushion on a playoff spot without him for most of the season, his return can be viewed almost as if it's a deadline acquisition, and a good one at that, without giving anything up.
With a resume that speaks for itself – two Stanley Cups, a Cup-winning goal, a proven savvy playoff performer and a good leader – it's not unreasonable for Bolland to look in the range of $5 million per season. If he doesn't get it from the Leafs, there will be other suitors more than content to offer that type of deal.
But with Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson slated for restricted free agency at the end of the season, Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Bernier at the end of the 2015 campaign and Morgan Rielly the year after that, all of whom will be due raises, how much value can the Leafs place on intangibles?
“I think a little,” Nonis said on TSN 1050. “You still want to make sure the player is a good fit, that he can contribute on the ice. There're very few guys that are making an NHL living just on being good guys in the locker room. They need to be able to go out and perform on the ice but there are some things that don't show up on the score sheet that you look at.”
There's no debate as to whether Bolland makes any team he plays on better but, at this point, he could be a luxury the Leafs just can't afford.