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Photo Credit: Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Leafs shouldn’t trade James van Riemsdyk

In terms of trade rumours surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs, James Van Riemsdyk’s name is one that’s picked up significant steam throughout this season and will no doubt be at the top of the Leafs’ hypothetical trade boards as we get closer to the playoffs ending. He’s signed for just one more season at $4.25 million, and is looking to hit a big payday in his first year as a UFA in 2017-18.

JVR may end up a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs one year and a few months from now, or he may not. Even though it’s in the backs of their heads, I doubt either JVR or management knows exactly what his future holds.

If JVR does end up leaving the Leafs under this current contract, it shouldn’t be via a trade.

Here’s a set of reasons why the Leafs would probably regret that move if they were to pull it off:

Needing pieces for the “push”

For years, Leafs fans wanted one thing: a competitive, exceptional roster. Though it took multiple rebuilds, it’s safe to say they got that from the 2016-17 edition and it can only be assumed they’re about to get better moving forward.

James van Riemsdyk, of course, is a big part of that core. He finished second on the team in overall scoring and third in goals, potting 29 markers in the season. In the three seasons with the Leafs where he’s played at least 80 games, he’s gone for 27, 29, and 30 goals. A good offensive player, that.

The Leafs can safely say they’ll be looking to be a top contender for the Cup within the next few seasons. While it might be too early to start calling them favourites, it’s really not that farfetched to see a team with an elite offence and solid goaltending making a push to try to win it all within JVR’s current contract.

Though it’s easy to talk about how great the Leafs’ rookies are, it shouldn’t be understated how much JVR, Nazem Kadri and even yes, Tyler Bozak contribute to the Leafs offence. Had any one of those players gone down for significant time this season, the Leafs wouldn’t have had six forwards all top 55 points, and just maybe might have missed the playoffs.

Next year, the Leafs are going to need to get every piece of scoring they can get, and giving up on JVR would be a step backwards in this team’s path to being an elite offence.

Loyalty

Loyalty is one of the most overrated things in sports, when it comes from a player’s’ perspective. Many fans get personally insulted when a free agent decides to take on another contract offer. JVR, who has been a very good player in Toronto, owes nothing to the organization and is free to explore his options next July.

I don’t know where his priorities lie, but the ball’s in JVR’s court. If he wants to come to a contender, re-signing in Toronto is probably a great option. If he wants term, he’ll get it somewhere, and if he wants a splurge to be made a team’s top-2 forward, there’s likely someone looking to pay him too.

But loyalty, when it comes from a management-to-players standpoint, is really a rare use of the word “intangible” that’s tough to really understand from the outside looking in. Whatever kind of culture they were building in Toronto, JVR has been living it since day one and has been with the Leafs through good and bad. What kind of image to the league would it project if the Leafs were to trade away a star player who’s been around for mostly garbage seasons simply because they might come out slightly ahead on the deal?

The move would be bad press for the Leafs organization as a whole and their player management skills would not be looked upon strongly. On the off-chance it could inadvertently impact their ability to sign a free agent in the future, the move could end up being more costly than it looks on paper.

You’ll lose the trade

If a team were to acquire him at the trade deadline, you’d get about 20ish games of JVR and his playoff performance.  What’s the value of an expected 15 points or so over that stretch? A late first round pick? A second round pick? A good prospect? A weird package? Honestly, it’s a really tough judge on what exactly a UFA rental will get in any given year. Some GMs are good at this and others are bad. I have no real idea what the Leafs would get in the trade, but it probably wouldn’t be a one-for one deal.

The old adage that “you can never have too many picks” is true, but there definitely comes a tipping point where it stops making sense. The Leafs, who are already good, have seven second or third round picks over the next two seasons alone.

Of course, the caveat comes if the Leafs try to make the trade in the offseason, where we’d get a full season (or more) of any players coming back the other way. If the Leafs were simply trading for another forward, the question is why? If it’s a young prospect, I mean, I guess, but how many young prospect forwards are the Leafs going to take?

If it’s a defenceman, how many defencemen can contribute as much defensively as JVR can offensively? They’re not going to be landing a premier offensive contributor in this deal. If anything, the Leafs brass would be targeting a fancy-stats darling who could help lower the Leafs’ shots against total. Can they find a guy who can both do that and help contribute to the Leafs goal differential as much as a forward who’s a lock for 25 goals and finished in the top 60 for even strength scoring rates over the past three years? Unlikely.

Not everything is about perfect value asset management

It’s obviously not an exact comparable, but Kevin Shattenkirk was a member of the Washington Capitals for exactly 32 games this season. Along with Pheonix Copley, Shattenkirk was traded for Bradley Malone, Zach Sanford, a conditional draft pick, a round 1 pick in the 2017 draft and round 2 pick in the 2019 draft.

Copley, an AHL goalie, and Shattenkirk are both upcoming UFAs this season and you have to assume it’s more likely than not the Capitals don’t re-sign them. In the end, the Capitals got “not a Cup” from Shattenkirk, and an expired UFA deal. Was it a bad trade because of that? Well, 29 teams (soon to be 30) lose the Cup every year. Just about every one of them has expiring deals. If you’re going to want to win the Cup in any given year, you’re going to have to take some risks.

Obviously not trading away a UFA is different than acquiring one and losing assets, but the premise is the same. In any case, your goal is to make your team as competitive as possible, and that’s what the Leafs would do by keeping JVR as the Capitals did by acquiring Shattenkirk.

The Leafs might win the Stanley Cup next season, but even if just about everything goes right, they still probably won’t. The odds are still stacked against even the most talented team entering the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to give it your best shot, and both JVR and the Leafs have earned that chance.

  • mst

    Replacing JVR’s offense will cost 6 mil per year after next year. JVR and Shattenkirk ar the same age, and have produced almost exactly the same points per game over the past three years. Shattenkirk also is a top 4 D man.

    Shattenkirk wants 7 mil per season. That’s 1 million dollars more than JVR for the same offense but you don’t have to pay for 1 top 4Dman which saves at least 4.5 million, and you get to put someone like Lievo in JVRs old slot for even more offense.

    Therefore trade for a first this year and use the cap savings on Shatty. More offense, lower overall cap hit for the team, and a 1st rounder to lower the team cap hit 3 years from now when that 1st rounder is taking up a roster spot on a cheap ELC

    • Petersversion

      Except, they don’t need cap savings next year. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They have more cap space than they’ll be able to fill. I think they should keep JVR especially if they’re lucky enough to get Shattenkirk. They have to try to win now while they’re paying the kids basically nothing, because in two more years they’ll have to pay them a crap ton, and it will be much harder to surround them with elite players.

    • Bob Canuck

      First, I’m not sure that you get more offense with Shattenkirk and Leivo than you do with JVR and the sixth D-man, who would drop off the starting lineup with Shattenkirk. Given that Leivo has only played 34 games, it is uncertain at this point as to how productive he will be. Also, over the past three season, 54% of Shattenkirk’s points came on the power play. Given that the Leafs went with 1 D and 4 Fs on the power play, you have to subtract the power play production of either Gardiner or Zaitsev to determine the net impact of Shattenkirk. By comparison, 32% of JVR’s points came on the power play during the last three seasons.

      Second, I think you are mixing up the scenarios. If you trade JVR and then replace him with Shattenkirk, your 2017-2018 cap hit will increase by $2.75 million (your $7 million for Shattenkirk less JVR’s $4.25 million cap hit). I have assumed that the cost for Leivo and the sixth D-man are the same. Using your figures, for the six seasons after 2017-2018, Shattenkirk will cost $1 million more per season than JVR/his replacement; that is an additional $8.75 million over the next 7 seasons to replace JVR with Shattenkirk. I don’t see the savings.

  • The Russian Rocket

    Great argument, Adam. I wouldn’t be upset if the Leafs management ‘let him walk’ to the highest bidder next off-season. Unless they make some whopper of a deal landing a defensemen who can make an immediate impact, having JVR for the stretch run is a fine strategy in my books. What would the team learn by trading JVR away and then losing games down the stretch with a shiny new prospect or draft picks in the cupboard?

  • LeafsintheUK

    Should complete trade him this summer. He is terrible defensively, they can’t afford to sign him to a new contract, and there are several replacements at hand who could fill in his spot (Kapanen, Leipsic or even Rychel as a different mix.) I’m sure he is a great guy, “good in the room” etc — but in terms of long-range planning for the Leafs, they need to find him a new home in the next couple of months for the greater good of the team

    • The Russian Rocket

      Don’t think Vegas would go for that but if they did, that’d probably be worth it. From Vegas’ standpoint that could be a big win. They have deep pockets and need to put an entertaining team on the ice on Day #1. All that said, we’d miss JVR in next year’s playoff push.

    • Petersversion

      There is a less than zero chance that happens. Mcphee is a smart GM. He’s going to want to put an entertaining product on the ice while building an actual contender. No way in hell he trades away that pick. PLUS the Leafs don’t need that pick. They are no longer rebuilding. They have a fantastic core, and are going to support that core with additional talent. Why would they move a 30 goal scorer (now) for a kid who won’t help the team for at least three years (if at all)?

  • Kevin

    As currently constructed, the Leafs are a bubble team next year. That may change by the start of next season but until the defense gets sorted out they will not be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The Leafs are not yet in a position to lose a significant asset like JVR to free agency and receive nothing in return. It’s different to trade a 2nd round pick for a UFA like Boyle this past year. A JVR trade in the offseason should result in a good player/prospect and/or 1st round pick coming back to the Leafs and that is a significant price (for what is in essence a rental). Management need to determine if JVR is part of the plan going forward and if so, sign him to an extension. In my opinion, the Leafs would regret giving a long term deal to JVR (like the Lucic deal in Edmonton) as it may handcuff the team (declining asset with large cap hit). Ideally, you trade JVR as part of a package for another positional need (center or defense) and make a roster spot available for one of your prospects (Leivo, Rychel or Leipsic). The Leafs will not likely be able to replace his offense (at the moment), but the return could make them better in a more critical position and save them cap space that will be needed once the big three come off their ELCs.

    • killerkash

      I totally agree. JVR is close to being on the side of his career where his points totals will fall as he gets older. The Leafs need to seriously try and deal him at some point in the next 9 months. I would deal him sooner rather than later to maximize the return. I’m sure there’s a team out there that would part for a 1st round pick this year to get him. That pick could turn into a good defenceman for the future. I don’t buy the argument that it would hurt the Leafs image with other players one bit. It’s a business like any other. There’s a time to buy and there’s a time to cut bait. With JVR it’s time to cut bait.

  • M&Mdynasty

    Shattenkirk is 28 and not worth 7 mill for 7 years. Its an absurd overpayment.
    As for JVR, I love him, but he’ll be asking a lot and he’s probably worth quite a bit in trade value. It’s not like we’re short on wingers. If we need to make a decisive move for a dman, JVR is probably best suited for trade bait. Someone along the lines of Dumba. If he’s actually available, we know Minnesota needs wingers.

    JVR plus conditional pick (2018 3rd?)
    For
    Dumba plus Vanek buyout?

    Expose leivo and carrick
    Keep pick #17 and draft best available player ( hopefully a centre)

    Our top lines become:
    Hyman Matthews Nylander
    Komarov Kadri Marner
    Reilly Dumba
    Gardner Zaitsev

    • Bob Canuck

      Vanek was most recently with Florida and he will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season. He was bought out by the Wild after the 2015-2016 season.

        • Petersversion

          Right. But they only have him for 1 year. They’re not going to give up a premium, NHL asset with upside for a player with one year on his contract. Maybe if there was some kind of extension agreement, but those kind of deals don’t normally happen in deals with current NHL players (like Dumba) coming back. They’re usually you get a higher or additional draft pick if he signs. Basically, I just can’t see it. Who knows though?

          • Petersversion

            I’m not saying the Leafs might not end up with Dumba, but I doubt it’ll be for JVR. I bet the Leafs sign him to an extension this summer (ideally four years, but probably five).

          • The Russian Rocket

            Yeah, I assume there would have to be an agreement in place ahead of time, similar to the way we signed Freddie as soon as we got him from Anaheim. However, Sutter and Parise already have a heft price tag now that I think of it. I’m not sure how many high priced players they can afford.

  • ACLeafs

    I find the loyalty argument to be over-rated, players get traded in pro sports all the time, its part of the business. As long as the Leafs give players the first class treatment while they are here that’s all that really matters. If the Leafs are gonna get a bad reputation it will be from burying veteran players in the AHL or sending players to Robidas Island.

    As far as trading JVR I would suspect it would happen this off season, if it happens at all. Right now JVR and the Leafs have probably started conversations of what an extension looks like. If the Leafs don’t think they can sign him for the money and term they think is reasonable, then they should get some assets back for him. If they don’t trade him this off-season it would look bad to try and trade him if the Leafs are in a play-off race next spring.

    While I agree keeping a player as a “own rental” works when your Washington and you’re pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot before the season even starts and your in a win now mode. To me the Leafs will be in a race to make the playoffs next year again but are by no means guaranteed a spot, so to let assets walk for nothing this early in the rebuild seems like poor asset management.