The NHL trade deadline is really starting to creep up. A little over a month away, no doubt the rumor-mongering will reach another level once the NHL All-Star Weekend wraps up.
With that in mind, it’s time to turn our attention even further towards what the Leafs’ situation looks like surrounding February 29th. Today, we’re going to take a look at all of the impending unrestricted free agents on the Leafs, and take an initial stab at what we might be able to expect out of these players on the trade market in the coming weeks.
For my money, this guy’s a goner. Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, and Matt Hunwick are all under contract for next season. Morgan Rielly isn’t, but he’s obviously part of the Leafs’ long-term plans. There’s your top four right there. Now consider the fact that the Leafs, a rebuilding team, have a plethora of young-ish defensemen they can rely on in depth roles now and in the future such as Martin Marincin, Scott Harrington, Frank Corrado, Stuart Percy, and oh yeah, Nikita Zaitsev. Polak’s cap hit is a fair 2.750, and he’s a big-bodied veteran defenseman whose name has been in the rumor mill for the better part of a year. I’d be pretty surprised if he was still on the Leafs’ roster past the deadline.
Like Polak, I think this guy is as good as gone. He’s got 23 points in 48 games this season – not great, but not terrible either. But when you consider the fact that scoring is tough to come by in the NHL these days, as well as the fact that Parenteau is a veteran forward making just $1.5M on an expiring contract, Parenteau likely possesses the best mixture of tradeability and value on the entire roster.
I wrote last week that, despite the fact that Reimer is a good #1 goalie in his prime, it probably makes sense to trade him before the deadline given the current state of the franchise. That said, I don’t see it happening. Reimer’s played too well and been too loyal to the organization, in my opinion, for the team to so easily pawn him off. It might make sense to trade him, but something tells me that, perhaps against conventional wisdom, the Leafs are going to decide to hold onto him for the long haul.
The fact that there doesn’t seem to be many teams in a contending position in need of a goalie probably doesn’t help.
THE OTHER GUYS
Shawn Matthias, Michael Grabner, Nick Spaling, and Brad Boyes comprise the remaining group of impending unrestricted free agents on the Leafs. I can’t imagine the Leafs wouldn’t be exploring trade possibilities for all four of these players, but it might be wishful thinking to assume that the Leafs will be able to find a home for all of them.
Shawn Matthias might be the most likely to go. He’s a veteran forward that has 14 points on the year, can play on the penalty kill, is considered to be a good guy in the intangibles department, has remained reasonably consistent throughout his career as a decent bottom-six forward, and his cap hit is just $2.3M. You aren’t likely to get more than say a 3rd or 4th round pick for him, but I think someone will be willing to bite.
I think Michael Grabner also still possesses a decent amount of value. He has a lot of the same attributes as Matthias, but I think what’ll make Grabner enticing to other teams is the fact that he’s an incredibly fast skater as well as the fact that he’s had three seasons in the NHL where he either scored 20 goals or was on pace to score 20 goals in a full 82 game season. I think teams will recognize that his speed can make him a difference-maker in certain situations, and that his past production leaves room for some “hey, you never know” upside. Like Matthias, the Leafs probably have a good chance of netting a 3rd or 4th round pick for him.
One more note on Grabner: I think of the Leafs impending UFAs, other than Reimer, Grabner might be the most likely to come back beyond next season. His speed and past production, combined with his age (28) and expected next contract (reasonably cheap), make him at least somewhat enticing as a returning bottom-six player in coming seasons. Hey, the Leafs need to fill spots somehow.
Nick Spaling has flat-out sucked for the Leafs this year. He has 4 points (none of which are goals) and just 19 shots on goal in 26 games this season, all while averaging over 15 minutes per game. But he does have a reputation as being a good penalty killer, being positionally versatile, and being adept on faceoffs. I think Spaling is pretty bad, but I won’t be surprised if another team finds some sort of value in him.
Brad Boyes leads the Leafs in even-strength points per 60 with 1.97, but the fact that he’s being used sparingly by Mike Babcock and his lack of traditional bottom-six acumen leaves me thinking Boyes will probably stick around past the deadline. Still, I think he can help another team looking for depth (certainly more-so than Nick Spaling), so maybe he finds a home somewhere.
OH YEAH, AND RICH CLUNE…
At the rate he’s currently going at, I’d be shocked if Jim Benning didn’t trade for him.