With their short-term fortunes all but sunk, the Toronto Maple Leafs have unsurprisingly been the single most active team ahead of Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline.
Already Brendan Shanahan and company have managed to add a first-round pick, a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick and an intriguing prospect in Brendan Leipsic for their trio of rental pieces. Then they managed the improbable, and found a taker for David Clarkson’s league-worst contract.
If, at this point, the Maple Leafs were to sit back and wait for the draft before looking to shop players like Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf, among others, no one would blame them. That still might come to pass, but we might reasonably expect the Maple Leafs to look to continue to dismantle their flawed core in the days ahead, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun.
“There is no guarantee that (Joffrey) Lupul is going to be traded,” Dreger declared during an Insider Trading segment on TSN on Wednesday. “Nor is there any guarantee that Tyler Bozak or DIon Phaneuf will be traded before the deadline, but know this, there is a lot of interest and activity around those players.”
So what do we know about the market for those three players? Let’s get into it.
That the Maple Leafs would like to move Lupul, a talented goal scorer with a limited two-way game and significant durability issues, has been known for a while. The St. Louis Blues were rumoured to be interested earlier this month, but a new bidder has emerged.
From Pierre LeBrun:
(The Washington Capitals) haven’t made themselves heard yet before the trade deadline, but they intend to. They want a top-six forward.
They have interest in Erik Cole… they like Curtis Glencross, and they also have looked in on Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Obviously he’s not a free agent, so that’s a bigger deal, but he’s on their radar as well.
“Things are heating up around the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Lupul in possible connection to the Washington Capitals is among the things that is of interest to Dave Nonis in the moment. It makes sense the Capitals are looking for help on the left side alongside Alex Ovechkin…”
Moving Lupul makes a tonne of sense for a Maple Leafs club that’s clearly looking to shed salary and accumulate future assets.
Lupul probably isn’t at the point where he has negative trade value necessarily, but his longstanding and multitudinous health issues, and his big contract will inhibit the club’s ability to recoup much of value in a possible trade. If they can shed Lupul’s salary and add a mid-round pick or a decent prospect in a deal, you’d have to think Maple Leafs brass would find that extremely tempting.
Bozak doesn’t know if he’ll be a Maple Leaf beyond the trade deadline. So he’s in the same boat we are.
“I have no idea. I don’t really look into it. I don’t read anything about it,” Bozak said of trade speculation on Thursday via Sportsnet. “I’m just going to go out and play, and hopefully I stay here. But if things change, then I guess I’ll move on to that chapter in my life.”
Of late its been reported that the New York Rangers have some interest in trading for Bozak.
The Rangers already have Derek Stepan and Derrick Brassard down the middle, so Bozak would likely fit on their third-line, which would move talented rookie Kevin Hayes to the wing.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was with the Vancouver Canucks when Bozak was rumoured as part of a possible return in a potential Roberto Luongo trade, and the general consensus was that Vancouver believed that Bozak was miscast in a first-line role in Toronto. It would be extremely interesting to see how Vigneault, one of the most interesting tacticians in professional hockey, deployed a polarizing player like Bozak.
While we might expect the Maple Leafs to be content with giving Lupul away for cents on the dollar, don’t expect the club to be satisfied with selling low on Bozak.
“There’s been a bit of a buzz growing around Tyler Bozak,” Dreger said during a TSN 1050 radio hit this week. “I’m not convinced that Tyler Bozak is going to be traded by Monday, but every day that goes by I’m starting to lean towards the *likelihood* of Tyler Bozak being traded.
“But it’s going to take the right deal. Toronto is going to have to get players back, or a decent young player back. In Toronto, Bozak is – on most nights – Toronto’s number one centre. Well he may not be that for the New York Rangers or another team that has expressed some interest in him, y’know, maybe he’s a number two or a number three, but if they want that player, then it’s going to take a quality offer to get that player. Otherwise Toronto will hold onto him.”
So a club considering adding Bozak is probably looking at giving up a young roster player-plus, which is sensible as an asking price for the Maple Leafs.
He gets criticized ad nauseam in the Toronto market and, yes, Bozak isn’t a first-line centre and his two-way play leaves a lot to be desired, but he still plays a premium position, is a good face-off man, has decent offensive skills and he can contribute on both special teams units.
If the offer isn’t right, the Maple Leafs probably should be reluctant to do a deal designed simply to shed Bozak’s salary.
Phaneuf is a big ticket item, signed at an expensive clip through 2021. So any move that he’s involved in will necessarily be complicated.
In the past it was believed that bad contracts were most likely to move at the draft, but in consecutive seasons we’ve seen two ‘immovable’ contracts (Clarkson’s and Luongo’s) move ahead of the deadline. Perhaps the old mantra no longer applies here.
Even so, it’s tough to imagine Phaneuf moving this week. If it does happen though, expect the Maple Leafs to retain some salary, according to Dreger (from an appearance on TSN 1050 his morning).
I’m not predicting (that) Dion Phaneuf is going to get dealt, I think that there’s still a larger percentage that he doesn’t get traded between now and Monday, but it’s certainly possible.
If there’s a team out there that wants to make a hockey deal on Dion Phaneuf, and I think Detroit might circle back. I’m not convinced that they’ll find a way to get it done, but I know that Detroit is one of the teams that has interest in Phaneuf if he’s in the right situation – a second pairing guy and some money comes back, so that he’s not a $7 million cap-hit. Maybe he’s a $5, $5.5 million cap-hit. Well that’s palatable for Detroit and maybe some other teams as well.
Phaneuf would seem an odd fit for a Red Wings club that’s expected to approach the deadline conservatively.
If there’s a need on the Red Wings blue-line it’s for a right-handed shooter, and though Phaneuf plays the right-side well (he’s probably better defensively on the left side, but he’s more dangerous offensively on the right), he’s not that right-shot cannon that the Red Wings could sorely use for the power play.
Detroit’s prospect pool is deep and intriguing, but Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has been explicit about refusing to trade his first-round pick this season. Tough to imagine the Maple Leafs agreeing to trade Phaneuf and retain 25-30 percent of his salary and cap-hit without netting a first-round pick in return, though with Phaneuf’s advancing age, it certainly makes sense if the Maple Leafs captain no longer fits into the franchise’s long-term plans.
No matter how the next few days play out in regards to Lupul, Bozak, Phaneuf and others, the Maple Leafs have been busy enough that no one could describe their 2015 deadline performance as a dud (or a dudline, if they love puns). The Maple Leafs have generally done really well too, in terms of recouping assets for expiring contracts and shedding onerous deals.
That’s just the start of this though and the next run expected of trades will not involve rental players, or terrible deals. These are more complicated transactions, in which the Maple Leafs will need to find a partner that’s willing to commit salary, term and assets in order to acquire a useful player that no longer fits into Toronto’s plans.
There’s value to the Maple Leafs in shedding salary, but these are helpful players also. Giving useful players away for cap space alone won’t be good enough, which makes potential Phaneuf, Lupul and Bozak deals the types of trades that are toughest to complete.
And Shanahan and company don’t have long to complete them before the clock strikes midnight on the NHL’s trading window.