The Leafs should not consider circling back to Cody Ceci

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Earlier today, I wrote about how it was reported that Cody Ceci was expected to enter the free-agent market on October 9th. Barely two hours after that post came out, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic doubled down on the report and also dropped this terrifying tidbit of information:

As you can tell by the title of this article, this scenario should not and cannot play out in real life. The fact that there remains a distinct possibility of Ceci re-signing with Toronto is something I’m sure a lot of Leafs fans are not too happy about. Even if the two parties agreed to a cheap contract, the Leafs would be far better off without Ceci than with him on the roster.

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This past season saw Ceci post one goal, seven assists, and eight points during an injury-riddled year that limited him to 56 games. He was healthy for the playoffs where he only scored one goal during the five-game series against Columbus. If you take a look at his underlying metrics at 5v5 below, it wasn’t terrible but also wasn’t too great either:

CF% FF% SF% xGF% SCF% HDCF%
50.22 49.04 48.46 50.87 50.99 52.33

These numbers don’t tell the full story as a deeper dive into his impact on the Leafs shows that Ceci not only did not help the Leafs’ chances at success but actually hindered them. When he was on the ice, a significant portion of the team saw a regression in their game, the team performed worse on defence both at 5v5 and on the PK, and the offence faltered. As per Evolving Hockey, his WAR was at zero while his GAR was a -0.1. While his overall performance was an improvement compared to during his time with the Ottawa Senators, it wasn’t enough to help turn the tides in Toronto’s favour more often than not.

Ceci was most often paired up with Morgan Rielly and while the latter said he enjoyed playing with the former, the numbers suggest the pairing was not very effective. This was one of the areas the fanbase had gripes with throughout the season, along with the frustration of Rielly not being slotted alongside Tyson Barrie more often (with the two playing better on the same pair).

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This takes us back to the reason why Ceci was on a consistent presence on the Leafs roster to begin with: the Nikita Zaitsev trade. Make no mistake, Toronto did well in freeing themselves from Zaitsev’s albatross of a contract. The problem was that instead of moving Ceci’s contract rights elsewhere, they decided to keep him around for a year on a $4.5 million contract. His performance this season demonstrated that giving him that kind of money is a big overpayment and he will need to settle for less money to remain in the NHL. Having Ceci for a season certainly was better than keeping Zaitsev on the books for four more campaigns, but it won’t look good on Toronto’s part if they keep the former 15th overall pick for another year or beyond.

So why would the Leafs even consider bringing back Ceci in the first place? Two things: He is a right-shot defenceman and Kyle Dubas apparently loves him.

In spite of the criticism that went Ceci’s way (both warranted and unwarranted), Dubas came to the former’s defence throughout the season and after the Leafs were eliminated by the Blue Jackets. I understand Dubas wants to be on the good side of his players and I believe that to be a good thing in today’s NHL. But whether this was done to up his trade value or get other teams interested in signing him in free agency, it was still a questionable decision for the GM to make and only added to the frustration from Leafs fans over why Ceci was still on the roster.

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Listen, each GM has one player that they give high praise to in spite of the overwhelming signs that suggest the said player isn’t very effective. Martin Marincin continues to defy the odds by remaining on the Leafs roster for five years but he does serve a purpose as the extra defenceman and is actually better than people give him credit for. Ceci has become that player for Toronto and the rumours suggesting either he or the Leafs may circle back for a reunion all but confirms it.

I’m sure Ceci is a nice guy off the ice and his teammates enjoyed his presence in the locker room. But when it comes to on-ice results, he is simply not the answer and it would be in Toronto’s best interest to let him head for greener pastures elsewhere.

At the very least, we will always have this clip of Ceci missing the net in spectacular fashion:

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All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.

The chart used is from Evolving-Hockey.

All salary information is from PuckPedia.com.