Why the Brandon Montour to Toronto speculation makes no sense

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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Anaheim Ducks are going to to be in a very, very tricky situation in June. With the Vegas Golden Knights ready to pounce on some of the best available players in the upcoming expansion draft, Anaheim is filled to the brim with defencemen. Kevin Bieksa will automatically be protected thanks to his no-movement clause, and after that, they will likely only be able to protect two of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Which should make 22-year-old and exempt Brandon Montour a lock to stick around, but here we are talking about him.

Our resource today is Pierre Lebrun’s radio hit on Leafs Lunch on TSN 1050. It’s a lengthy transcription, so bear with me as we claw through this bit by bit.

Pierre Lebrun: Certainly, I know the Leafs, if they do something, it should be on the back end, and it will be something that you’ll see the impact at training camp next year, not just for this “run”. They’re going to keep their long-term view, and a young player like that would certainly fit. Now, as of last week, I hadn’t heard of the Leafs really knocking on Anaheim’s door too loudly yet, but as you mentioned, all the teams I know will be calling Anaheim over the next three weeks here. The Ducks are loaded up and down on d(efence), they can’t protect them all come June, though that’s something that Bob Murray can address in the offseason, he doesn’t have to address it now. 

The Ducks have their window open, they want to win, they want another top six forward, so you know what the price is if not more, and it’s Montour or Theodore that I think are potentially available, one or the other. But for a high price.

Gord Miller: But you’re getting into the Fowler, Lindholm, Vatanen, that group, right? You’re talking more about Theodore-

Lebrun: I think it’s more the kids, and certainly in terms of Fowler, Gord, I think he’s completely off the table. I think the Ducks would like to sign him to an extension this summer, one year out, he’s been their best defenceman this year. They just signed Lindholm, Vatanen’s on a cap-friendly deal. I think it would make more sense for them to see if someone bites hard on one of the kids, but believe me, I don’t think the idea from Anaheim is “we are dealing one of these kids”. I think the question is, is someone going to blink? And there’s no question to me, I think Tampa Bay would be keeping an eye on that, even with their inherent short term and long term D on the blue line. The Winnipeg Jets are a team to keep an eye on, if not with those kids, somewhere else. They need to augment their blueline moving forward too. 

This is why it’s good to be Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks. There are few teams that can sit on a pile of depth at D, and you look at all the teams that are absolutely hurting there, and are desperate to augment.

Patrick O’Sullivan: Just imagine if they had [Simon] Despres, the guy hasn’t played, he’s hurt, he’s injured. That would be another guy that you’d have on the list.

Lebrun: I would say that, Patrick, if they had a healthy Simon Despres, they would’ve traded a defenceman by now. Because they wouldn’t have been cap compliant, and they had problems entering the year after signing Lindholm. As it is, their guys are going up and down to San Diego. By the way, what a great place to play minor league hockey. But if Despres was a healthy player this year, something would’ve, there probably would’ve been a move back in September, October, because the Ducks wouldn’t have been under the cap. 

Andi Petrillo: I know this is hard to predict, because sometimes we get shocked when we see a trade and we’re like “That guy got *that* much for that player?” but when you’re saying that the price can be high for a Theodore or a Montour, what realistically could be the asking price? And, if we kind of narrow it down, because this is Leafs Lunch, if we were the Leafs, what realistically could the Leafs offer up Anaheim? What is the asking price?

Lebrun: As Gord knows, the price varies from organization to organization, because the Ducks would view the assets differently from team to team. But certainly, when it comes to the Leafs, they’re deep up front. You know, is JVR++ going to get them Brandon Montour? I don’t think so. But I could be wrong. I think we know the name that interest them the mo-

O’Sullivan: Nylander would!

Lebrun: Yes. But I don’t know if [the Leafs] want to move him. It might be too early in the process to make that call. Maybe they wait until the offseason. I don’t know. 

Miller: But Pierre, here’s the thing. People rip on Edmonton for trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. But the fact is, the Oilers had a surplus of forwards and needed a defenceman. Now, maybe evaluating straight up, one for one, is Taylor Hall better than Adam Larsson? Yeah, probably. But the Oilers needed a defenceman, they didn’t want PK Subban, and so the price you pay is Taylor Hall. I’m convinced they would make that deal again. I’m sure they would. Because Larsson was something they needed, and Hall was something they already had.

Lebrun: They have zero, zero buyer’s remorse on that deal Gord, to your point. Larsson’s been a steady presence, which they needed, and the key part of that deal that gets glossed over all the time? The controllable nature of that cap-friendly deal that Adam Larsson has. That was huge. If Brandon Montour is traded, and again, he may not be, but if he is, he may end up fetching more than Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline. People are going to say “what?”, but because Kevin Shattenkirk is a UFA July 1st, he’s a rental, you’re borrowing a guy for three months. Whereas you’re getting a controllable asset for years to come in Brandon Montour, who is cheap right now too.

Who is Brandon Montour, anyway?

So here’s the weird thing about Montour, before we too deep into this post: I quite like him. The 22-year-old native of Ohsweken, Ontario  is one of the most fun defencemen to watch in the AHL, and he’s right up my alley as far as the type of player I’d like the Leafs to acquire: incredibly mobile and creative, and a player who tilts the ice with offensive traits, rather than defensive ones.

Montour was drafted by the Ducks as an overaged player, thanks to a successful transition from Canadian Junior A to the USHL. The 20-year-old then played half a season for UMass, picking up 20 points in 21 games, before going pro and closing his year out with the Norfolk Admirals.

His big splash, however, came last year, when he scored 12 goals and added 45 assists in a “full” (for Californian teams) 68 game season as an AHL rookie. Those numbers also only trailed Toronto Marlies defenceman TJ Brennan for the league-wide scoring race.

This year, he’s back at it again, putting up 30 points in his first 34 games, putting him in the Top 6 for defensive scoring and Top 5 in points per game.

Would it be worth trading JVR++ for him?

This is where it starts to get muddy. Montour is good. I think Montour is probably an NHLer. But Lebrun’s suggestion is that an offer that starts with James van Riemsdyk, a 27-year-old forward on a 50+ point pace for his fifth straight season on a $4.25 million per season contract wouldn’t be enough for the Ducks, who would need something brighter than that for Montour, who has seven career NHL games under his belt.

Let’s talk about what the base numbers miss with Montour.

As we mentioned above, Montour was the second-highest scoring defenceman in the AHL last year with 57 points. However, if you break them down into even strength and powerplay points, you’ll find that over half of them (30) came on the man advantage. By comparison, Brennan, the defender he was chasing, scored 48 of his points at even strength (71%), and when you take the top 20 defencemen in scoring and you sort by even strength points per game, Robbie Russo and Will O’Neill leapfrog him, and ten defencemen creep within 0.05 per game (or four points in a 76 game season) of him.

This year, he’s improved. His even strength points per game have gone up from 0.39 to 0.53; fourth in the league. He’s shooting way more too, going from 2.7 per game to 4.1, and combined with a spike in shooting percentage to just under 10%, its led to that extra perk in production. It’s impressive for a kid his age, but it’s not as completely obscene as it seems; when we’re talking about acquiring a budget-priced top line winger and additional assets, I’d want my unproven at the NHL level player to be making a mockery of his development league, rather than just being one of the very good guys.

Would it be worth trading Nylander for him?

Which, interestingly, is something we heard a lot of with William Nylander on his way up. Some of the best ever point production rates at his age in the Swedish pros, and in the AHL; it was a sight to behold. That means a lot more when you’re 17, 18, 19 in pro leagues, though. At 22, you run into the issue of being nearly at prime age, and the fact that well, all the big names have made their way up. Montour is on pace for one of the best AHL seasons for a 22-year-old defenceman the cap era. That’s awesome.

Do you know who did that last year as a forward? Seth Griffith. Justin Schultz has the best 22-year-old defenceman season ever, and at 26 years old he’s finally put it together, but he was also putting up nearly 50% more points per game than Montour is.

Of the 30 defencemen who have put up at least 0.50 points per game at the NHL level since 2010, only three of them weren’t full-season, contributing NHLers in their age 22 year. Those players are Mark Giordano, Mark Streit, and Lubomir Visnovsky. The latter two went through old-school European development cycles and Giordano might be one of the greatest examples of misevaluation in the modern era, going both undrafted and getting so such little wiggle room for minutes that he, at one point, spent a year in Russia because he didn’t feel that the AHL was enough of a challenge.

Maybe Montour is a guy who also breaks that barrier. Maybe he’s missing out on an opportunity. But guys who break through and become dynamic offensive defencemen are rare in the NHL; to do it at this stage is a whole other subset.

In the meantime, William Nylander is 20 years old, he’s playing on Toronto’s third line, and is putting up high second line to low first line production and top line possession numbers. It’s not unrealistic to believe that he’s already a fringe star player, and that he’s likely to be an all-out superstar.

If Nylander is on the block for a defencemen, I want a proven, decent aged superstar on a favourable contract. The Senators aren’t giving up Erik Karlsson for William Nylander, the Los Angeles Kings aren’t giving up Drew Doughty, the Lightning aren’t giving up Victor Hedman, and in a 1-for-1 situation, that’s really about where I cut this conversation off until Nylander gives me an actual reason to be on the trade block other than TSN bringing him up for the eight-hundredth time this season.

What should the Leafs do with this info?

Remember how I said that Montour compares to a bunch of different players once you get rid of powerplay scoring and focus on what he does at the 5 on 5 level?

carrick

Montour is having a great follow-up season in the AHL. Connor Carrick is in the NHL, on Toronto’s best play-driving pair. Let’s pretend that this is a wash, just for the sake of conversation. After all, Montour might be stuck in an impossible situation, rather than spending most of the season being considered not being good enough to replace a 35-year-old Kevin Bieksa in the lineup (PS: Making Bieksa feel unwanted enough to waive his NMC would be morally awful, but also a great way to free up another protection spot for Anaheim).

Knowing what we’ve just been told, that Montour has a price tag of more than Van Riemsdyk, something closer to the lines of Nylander, and that if the Leafs don’t act fast, they might lose out to teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning…

Lou Lamoriello should pick up the phone, he should call Steve Yzerman, and offer up Connor Carrick for Jonathan Drouin.

You’re laughing at this, as you likely should. But again; Carrick, who is two days younger than Montour, did just as well last regular season in the AHL. He did much better in the playoffs, and has an NHL job that he’s doing well in, having played 93 additional games in his career to date. Drouin is putting up numbers that resemble Nylander’s, but also has an additional year of age.

Yes, Carrick for Drouin would be ridiculous for the Lightning to do, and I say this as a huge Connor Carrick booster. But that’s my point; that trade is as lopsided as the suggested “fair value, realistic” deals involving Toronto in this radio hit.

I really can’t see Toronto legitimately talking to Anaheim about Montour if the price is close to this high. That changes if it drastically lessens, to say a second or third round pick, or a B level prospect to simply swap out positions. Remember that Carrick is less than a year removed from being in a package that included Brooks Laich and a second-round pick in exchange for Daniel Winnik and a fifth, which isn’t even in the same stratosphere as we’re talking about with Montour.

If the Leafs are actually calling the Ducks, they’ll probably be looking for more than Montour, while offering less than Nylander. Even in this regime’s “weaker” moments of decision making, they haven’t been nearly far-off enough to believe that they would trade one of the best prospects in the world for a player two years older with significantly less NHL experience and a noticeably lower (though still decently high) upside.

What should we expect out of this?

Honestly, if I had to guess, I think the Anaheim Ducks are feeding information to the outer world to warp the market for their players, and that this is a case of insiders reporting what they’ve been led to believe is true, but is a road on a parallel path.

Cam Fowler has been hyped up a few times in the past several weeks as their best defenceman and untouchable, while the team has been linked with trading players that are exempt from the expansion draft instead of the logjam that are ripe for the picking. It makes the opposite of sense.

What I think is happening here is that Anaheim is trying to drive up the value of Fowler, who has a lot of really fun player traits (I could watch him skate on a loop for hours) but doesn’t get the results of his peers, while creating a justification for moving him by hyping up the younger players.

If the Ducks were, for example, to move both Fowler and maybe even Vatanen or Manson to clear their expansion draft logjam, and called up Montour and Theodore in their place, those two could be sold to a shocked fanbase under the pretense of “we really like these young guys, look at the offers we rejected”. Until that happens, sticking to the veterans in the public eye creates a perception of a non-buyers market, despite the fact that common sense implies that the Ducks are in trouble if they don’t move a bigger name defenceman or two before mid-June.

Fowler is the most obvious player to move. By making him “untouchable”, you increase the asking price. I could be wrong, but I really, really believe that he’s the one they really want to sell. Montour, for all intents and purposes, is on a tire-pumping tour to justify his future spot, unless a team is crazy enough to drastically overpay to roll the dice on his potential.

At the end of the day, I don’t see the Leafs being that team. As we’ve stressed repeatedly here, if the market for defencemen is this steep right now, it makes more sense to not play it until it normalizes.

  • Harte of a Lion

    With Shanny and Lou calling the shots, and Brandon Pridham overseeing the cap, there is no way the Leafs are trading a 20 year old borderline superstar for a “maybe”.
    Look for more moves like picking up Alexei Marchenko on waivers or selective trades like Corrado for a draft pick.
    Everyone needs to have patience and trust in the process. If the Leafs were improved but not a potential playoff team, TSN, the rumour monger’s would have nothing to pump ratings… wait, they would be trashing Babcock and his systems or find some other make believe nonsense that Simmons and Feschfuck missed.

  • Snizzbone

    If its JVR they want, then I’m asking for lindholm/Vatanen.

    If its Montour/Theodore the leafs want, I’m starting with AHL forwards. Guys like Tobias Lindberg, Kerby Rychel, Josh Leivo, or maybe Andreas Johnson.

    the price may look like the leafs slightly came out on top, but Anaheim is backed up against a wall. Better to get something for them rather than nothing.

  • Robert Quadrini

    I don’t know anything about Montour, except what’s in this article. Saying that, it sounds like if the Leafs like and want Montour a fair trade would be Kapanen going the other way. Montour-young, unproven “A” prospect, playing in the AHL at a position the Ducks have depth in=Kapanen-young, unproven “A” prospect playing in the AHL at a position the Leafs have depth in. That’s a fair trade for both teams. Trading JVR to Ducks for Montour is robbery by Anaheim, same goes for Nylander. Just don’t see how that makes sense, however we are in the Trump-age of “Alt-facts” so who knows makes sense anymore.

  • Kanuunankuula

    Why not Manson? Less goals/points = cheaper. Solid defensively, would compliment Rielly really well (Manson is good at shot supression, not that good at generation).

  • Kevin

    I have to agree with the author, I don’t understand where Lebrun pulled that evaluation for Montour. He seems like a good prospect, but that is exactly what he is, a prospect. Montour wasn’t even a blue chipper, he was drafted as an overager in the 2nd round and while he’s progressed very well, he’s only played a handful of games at the NHL level and we don’t know how well his game will translate. Taking a look a Carrick (similar age and stats in the AHL), he dominated on the Marlies (especially during the playoffs) and has done fairly well this season, but is nowhere near worth the same to the Leafs as JVR. It’s true there is a premium on defencemen and everyone points out the Hall-Larsson trade, but Larsson was a top five pick with multiple years of NHL experience. Very different situation here.

    I also agree that it’s unlikely the Ducks would trade one of their defencemen who is exempt for the expansion draft when they will likely lose one of them to Las Vegas.

    There will be a lot of movement and players made available prior to the expansion draft and the Leafs will be in good position to improve their roster at that time.

  • ChelmsfordLeafs

    Why does everyone want to trade Nylander? In my “I’m from the UK and know nothing about hockey” viewpoint, he is too good to trade. Even if our defence is sh1t. I genuinely believe that while he wont get the goals he will grow into one of the best producers in the league.
    No one cares but the Chelmsford Chietains won their league for the 5th year running. With 6 games to play.

    • Glen

      Any Canadians in the league you follow across the pond? Just listened to the Leafs Lunch podcast with Messchuck, Petrillo and O’Sour and they went on and on about why you had to trade Nylander to get a good D. Like I said before IMO he should be kept until they know what he will become. Willy for a minor leaguer, I don’t think so.

      • ChelmsfordLeafs

        The British Elite League has plenty of Canadians as Commonwealth or ancestry means they get around import restrictions, though the teams are developing more home grown talent. The Chieftains play 2 leagues below in a development league so full of locals and East Europeans who have migrated to the UK. One of our ex-players is a regular with the Cardiff Devils who lead the Elite League. And Nottingham Panthers won a European competition for the second tier nations and next year will play against Swiss and Scandanavian teams. Great Britain is two layers below the elite nations and have been close to promotion for the last 3 years.

  • Owen Durkin

    Two words: seller’s market. ANA has all the leverage here despite their predicament re: expansion. there are bound to be multiple conversations happening daily between Murray and at least eight potential suitors, one of those being Toronto. There has always been this bubble that Toronto sports bloggers and fans alike operate in, being: “what am I prepared to give up”; as opposed to: “what’s the market-driven value”? Larsson cost Chiarelli Taylor-effing Hall. Let that really sink in, folks. I dont agree that Murray can protect his top 3 D-men, and for that reason, I dont think Montour or Theodore are moving, but of the NHL-roster defenders currently playing in ANA, the asking price is bound to be very, very high, and JvR alone won’t get it done.

    • FlareKnight

      The problem with that is the market. If you out price a commodity no one is going to buy it. JVR alone doesn’t get that trade done? Well then you don’t make a trade obviously.

      The Taylor Hall trade shouldn’t set anything. Everyone knew Edmonton was desperate both to upgrade and to change the roster they had. They had to make a move. They didn’t have any leeway to say “well maybe next year.” They’d cornered themselves and the Devils took full advantage of it.

      The Leafs aren’t desperate to upgrade the blueline and won’t make a moronic trade because the market is currently stupid.

      It’s not a sellers market, it’s not any market. Because no one is making any real trades. It’s a dead market.

      • Owen Durkin

        I get what you’re saying, and kudos for doing it in a mature and respectful way – a rarity in hockey forums…as we approach the trade deadline (silly season) and teams start preparing for playoffs, skilled defenders become increasingly important. Defense is a wear and tear position, as we are seeing more and more, and I think you’ll find that, not unlike the Chiarell-Shero negotiations, it is very much a seller’s market in terms of first-pairing-calibre young defenders.

        • espo

          except the Oilers were in worse shape defensively, and were desperate to start winning despite already having McDavid. Chiarelli was trying to make a splash and paid the price for it. It’s foolish to think that Lou would bother overpaying for defensive help.
          Might be a sellers market, but no one’s buying, Trouba, Hamonic, Lindholm and Shattenkirk all allegedly on the market, no one willing to meet the crazy demands. All well and good to hold all the cards, but they don’t do much if you can’t play them.

          • Owen Durkin

            With Tyler Myers on I.R for 4-6 weeks, Trouba is not on the market. Unless NYI completely drops out of the race for a wild card spot, Hamonic isn’t being moved either. I agree that Lindholm may be available. Shatty is definitely available, but STL is obviously waiting until the market heats up closer to the deadline because they are in the driver’s seat. Otherwise, he’d have been moved already. The term “overpaying” is subjective, and relative to market-value. There’s no gold standard here. Chiarelli tried for six months to make a deal for a defender, and everyone knew it. Again, market-driven, all the way. I disagree that none’s buying. everyone’s sporting their best poker face waiting for the other guy to blink.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            It should be a seller’s market, but is it really. There are quite a few teams out there that would dearly like to acquire a top center like Matt Duchene. A goalie like Ben Bishop. A top four like Kevin Shattenkirk. All of these guys are rumoured to be on the market. There are only so many guys of this caliber available yet no one is willing to pay the freight. How much effect do you put on to the upcoming expansion draft? Surely GM’s have to look closely at their own exposure situation when acquiring a new player. Some of those GM’s have exposure problems of their own.

        • LukeDaDrifter

          Hi Owen, It’s the first time I noticed you commenting on the site. It’s easy to see you know your hockey. You mentioned ” mature and respectful way – a rarity in hockey forums.”. We do try to keep things that way. Once in a blue moon things do get out of hand. After all, for the most part, we are dedicated, passionate, opinionated, long time Leafs fans. I hope you continue to voice your opinion here. As for the “seller’s market” scenario one wonders if after the first trade is made will it have an immediate domino effect. The media seems stumped as to why nothing much has happened yet. I am starting to wonder if some of those sellers will end up sucking hind tit as my dad used to says.

    • DukesRocks

      Besides the expansion draft problem ANA will have at the end of the season, their core forward group is getting up there in age. ANA is in a WIN NOW situation and JVR would be a good fit there. Offensively ANA is decent but not great, JVR could be that piece that gets them to the cup. Lastly the Leafs ARE the team holding the cards, the Leafs aren’t in any rush to do anything with any team in the NHL,

      • Owen Durkin

        The card that Toronto holds, is an embarrassment of riches in terms of offensive talent. Another team that fit that description: Edmonton. I think JvR is ideal for ANA and their needs. He’s also a year away from UFA and a substantial raise. ANA isn’t going to trade cost-controlled assets for a rental. Not straight up, anyway.

  • Owen Durkin

    @ Harte of a Lion: Patience is key, I agree; but that Leaf blue line as it stands is never going to be good enough to win you a playoff round. One injury to Gardiner, Zaitsev, or Rielly, and you’re hitting the links. There are two ways to move the needle here: 1. draft and develop; 2. trade from a position of strength (i.e. forward depth) and reshuffle the deck so as to balance your back end with a right shot D who puts Zaitsev in the 2nd pairing.

  • The China Wall

    I tip my hat to Jeff for this article.

    Really well researched and well written.

    Interesting comparison vis-a-vis Carrick and Montour and what their relative values should be.

  • Ron K

    Great article Jeff! Thank god Lou’s making the deals and not the loonies on TSN. Nylander is NOT or will NOT be going anywhere. That will never happen unless a young #1 dman is coming back in return and that will never be the case. They’re too hard to find……
    If Montour or Theodore had that kind of potential they’d be playing in the bigs already.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    Well the Ducks appear to have the high asking price for Matt Duchene ( a top four, a first round pick, and a good prospect). Would that not be a better deal for the Ducks.