WWYDW: Deadline Day Strategy

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are better than most people expected they would be. In fact, maybe they’re actually good. This was evident in last night’s gutsy win over the Winnipeg Jets. Emotions were high, the Jets are a fast, skilled, and physical team with the ability to get under your skin, and the atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre was rocking. But the young Leafs squad didn’t get rattled. came back from down multiple one-goal deficits, killed a last-minute penalty at the end of regulation, and took the game home in overtime. 

After games like this, it’s hard not to wonder what this team could do in the playoffs, especially with a weak Atlantic Division around them. The trade deadline is a week from today. If you were the Maple Leafs front office, what would you do heading into the deadline? Treat yourself as a contender and buy? Stay the course and worry about the long-term? Or find a way to get creative and do both? 

Be a buyer?

The Leafs have a ridiculous amount of draft picks hoarded in their cupboard. This year, they have their own first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh round picks along with San Jose and Ottawa’s second round picks (the middle of those three picks will be sent to Anaheim for the Andersen trade). Next year, they have all of their own minus their third again, but have another San Jose second rounder. They’ve already stockpiled a ridiculous amount of talent in the past two drafts, as they drafted ten times in the top-90 in 2015 and 2016 combined. 

So with that in mind, should the Leafs use some of these assets to grab a player that can help them win now? They certainly have the draft pick and prospect capital to not only nab a decent depth player or two, but they could grab one of the better players on the market, like Martin Hanzal, Kevin Shattenkirk, or Patrick Sharp. 

Be a seller? 

I really don’t see this happening, but it’s still an option. Roman Polak, Matt Hunwick, Ben Smith, and Curtis McElhinney are the only impending unrestricted free agents on the Leafs roster that could be used as rental sales. Beyond that, though, James van Riemsdyk, Leo Komarov, and Tyler Bozak are all productive players who are on deals with one more year of control left. 

It’s no secret that this is a seller’s market. The false parity in the league has made it so that literally everybody other than the exceedingly bad Coyotes and Avalanche think they go on a playoff run. It’s ill-advised, of course, as the list of actual Cup contenders in the league right now is very small. But put yourself in the shoes of a small market, mediocre team, and what a playoff run can mean to your fanbase and profit for the season. 

If so few teams are selling, maybe the Leafs can capitalize and sell guys like Bozak or Komarov for more than they usually would be able to, especially considering the added value of that extra year of control. 

Stand pat? 

This is probably the most likely option. The Leafs are better than expected this season, and realistically could make the playoffs without making a single change to their roster. That would allow them to appease a fanbase hungry for playoff action, give their young core experience in games that matter, and not stray from the process that has ultimately landed them such a bright future. 

Do something creative? 

In a salary cap world, it’s incredibly difficult to pull off major moves during the season. This year that reality is even more prominent as the looming expansion draft has added another element getting in the way of blockbuster deals. 

But the Leafs are in an interesting position. They’re young and good, and also very, very cheap, as their combination of entry-level talent coupled with their savvy use of the long term injured reserve has left them with a ridiculous amount of cap room at the deadline. 

With that in mind, the Leafs can take on awful contracts in order to help teams free up room to make rental moves of their own. They did this last year with Brooks Laich, and it netted them Connor Carrick and draft picks, which was certainly worthwhile. 

Maybe taking on a few ugly contracts for the rest of the season in return for more draft pick capital would make the Leafs comfortable with paying a hefty price for, say, Kevin Shattenkirk? Maybe the Rangers would be interested in giving away Rick Nash so they can protect a younger player at the expansion draft, and then JVR could be used to acquire one of Anaheim’s soon-to-be-exposed good, young defencemen. 

The options! 

What say you, Leafs Nation? Let us know in the comments. What would your 2017 trade deadline strategy look like? 

  • Harte of a Lion

    Cam, the Leafs have three 2nd’s but the middle one *based on the final standings* will go to Anaheim to complete the Andersen trade.
    As far as moves, the Leafs should look at players like Filppula. The Lightening need cap space and the Leafs have the ability to assume his contract through 2017/18. Imagine Filppula centering Martin and Brown/Leivo. That’s a 4th line that is hard to play against, reasonably responsible in all zones with the ability to score. It also gives Babcock the ability to ice a 4th line that can play more than 8-9 minutes a night.
    Filppula can also play up and down the lineup in the event of injuries.
    Tampa is making a push for the playoffs so…what is it worth to Yzerman to clear $5 million from his cap for next season?
    Filppula has also had success playing for Babcock in Detroit and with the talent plus the future success the Leafs are capable of, he might consider waiving his modified NMC.
    The only problem for the Leafs is, would he need to be protected in the expansion draft?

  • Brent Wisken

    I personally would prefer that the Leafs largely stand pat before the trade deadline, while looking at trading Polak and Hunwick for draft picks. If people are so attached to Polak, we could always bring him back a third time 🙂 Nevertheless, i would prefer to trade him, while just tweaking the line-up. The team has good chemistry and they could make the playoffs. The playoff push is good for young player development, even if we don’t make it in. I would keep our draft picks rather than look for short-term fixes. Stay the course, my preference. Taking on ugly contracts for the sake of draft picks/prospects is also worthwhile.

    As for JVR, if they consider trading him, might be better after the playoffs, but before the expansion draft. Some potential trading partners (e.g., Minnesota) have gone on record that they would prefer to risk losing a d-man in the expansion draft rather than give up on their playoff/Stanley Cup push. As such, might be more of an opportunity to acquire a young defenseman in the off-season, prior to the expansion draft.

  • Brent Wisken

    Incidentally, just watched a short TSN interview clip titled “Third Wheel: Is Nylander underrated?”. Liked seeing Babcock say that Nylander “is an important player for us”. Hopefully that puts to rest absurd suggestions that the Leafs are going to trade Nylander. Furthermore, a week ago Babcock outlined that he planned to likely keep Nylander on the wing not just this year, but also next year. Given that they have such a multi-year plan, hopefully that also halts the trade rumours/suggestions.

    During that TSN interview clip, Matthews also said that Nylander is underrated, which was nice to see. On the other hand, it was awkward to listen to the reporter ask Nylander if he felt he was underrated and flying under the radar given that Matthews and Marner are getting so much attention. Very awkward question, but Nylander handled himself well.

    I have seen a couple of other blog commenters note that Nylander is projected to have a few more points by end of year than Jack Eichel had last year, yet nobody made the absurd claim to trade Eichel. Almost any other year Nylander would be a front-runner for the Calder. He is such a great rookie with elite skills and keeps getting better.

    • LukeWarmWater

      Well said Brent, not too often that one team has three top talented players that come in as rookies in the same year. The leafs and their fans are blessed that we have the M & M boys Marner and Matthews and Nylander. Plus several other rookies such as Hyman and Brown have been exceptional as well.

  • STAN

    My money is on NO more moves (welcome aboard Kalinn and Marchenko). The Leafs best bet might be to convert some of these picks and a prospect or two into a key player from Las Vegas, depending who they snap up in the draft from the rosters of the other 30 NHL teams. Who knows?

        • LukeDaDrifter

          The NHL’s new reasoning behind this years expansion is they feel it is in everyone’s best interest for Vegas to start out with a strong contending team, to build a strong fan base. All thirty teams will receive aprox. 16 million for giving up a good player.There are very few markets where you can establish hockey while icing a losing team for 10 years.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    The smart and most likely thing to do is the hang tough. It is supposed to be a seller’s market but how can it be if there are no buyers. After the season is over and the Leafs do their final analysis, I think they will check out the free agent market to see if they can improve their defence, As for trading Polak and Hunwick before the deadline……..If we do then it is most likely we will miss the playoffs,

    • AussieBoy

      I’m with you.
      “If it ain’t broke…”

      Now I know it could be better but let this group go into the playoffs and tangle with the best of them,make some mistakes,take some strides,then they have a clearer picture in terms of what they need for next season.
      The PK is as[if not more] important in a playoff picture,so some of you may rue the day Hunlak are not there to kill it…[I know,I know]

      Leave it alone,let it lay.
      There might not even BE a playoff for the Leafs so lets just see first…

  • DukesRocks

    The Leafs will most likely stand pat. I like Harte’s suggestion in reference to Filppula provided the price is right and doesn’t involve core players. The only way key players like Bozak or JVR get moved is if it’s a knock your sock off deal. The Leafs don’t have to force anything,other teams that are in win now mode for the cup will have to pay that premium…. if they come calling on the key pieces on the Leafs roster.

    • Ulf

      With JVR on a contract year next year when we really don’t want to be sellers at the deadline, there is actually a decent argument to moving him now. Don’t think it happens, don’t want to mess with the core much at all, but its not a terrible planning move.

      • DukesRocks

        Agree, my feeling is if the trade addresses the future and the other team is paying a premium, it would make sense to do a deal for guys like JVR and Bozak.

          • DukesRocks

            Not really, Leafs could trade for some riff raff that meets the criteria or can also make a deal with LV. There are way around anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lou hasn’t already talked talked LV and hammered out a deal that involves picks or farm prospects.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    On Thursday, the rangy Russian debuts in blue and white against the
    New York Rangers. He replaces the injured Connor Carrick, who suffered
    an upper-body injury early in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime win over the
    Winnipeg Jets.

    Also being kept out of Thursday’s game is right winger Mitch Marner,
    who’ll miss a third straight start with a shoulder injury, though he was
    back on the ice shooting pucks Wednesday with a small group of players
    at practice.

  • Ulf

    I think its extremely unlikely that the Leafs stand pat completely, but they’re not going to be making any core changes or additions.

    They have something that every team in the league is coveting these days, and that is plenty of cap space (and the money to utilize it). Management are as clever as it gets, and they freed up all that space with the LTIR for a reason. They are going to do everything they can to leverage every asset they have to improving the team’s future, and right now the ability to take on cap is no question an asset.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Polak/Hunwick go, and for the Leafs to get a D that is probably not an upgrade at the position and costs significantly more, but on an expiring contract and with a pick or prospect to sweeten the deal. Saw a Wideman rumour going around, and it is exactly that. No, getting Wideman isn’t helping our defense any significant amount, but he’s not what we’re getting out of the trade, what we’d be getting for the future is whatever the sweetener is, whether a pick or prospect.

    In any event, look for similar deals to the past few years, selling off anything not part of the core, leveraging cap space and now expansion exposure in exchange for futures.

  • Kevin

    I would like to see the Leafs either stand pat or make another Laich/Carrick deal where the Leafs take on salary in the short term for a pick/prospect. They Leafs will have lots of cap space with Laich, Robidas, Michalek, Greening, Hunwick, and Polak coming off the books. With the cap expected to stay flat and no internal cap, the Leafs are in a great position to take assets from cap-strapped steams. The time to make a move for a top-4 D-man is likely after the expansion draft, that is unless some team is willing to trade someone exempt from the expansion draft or who is a clear upgrade over Carrick while not costing too many assets.