Things are happening. Finally. For the love of god, finally.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in the hockey world. Twitter seemed to be a relatively tranquil place earlier this afternoon, with the conversation being primarily dominated by people taking turns in laughing at the Tampa Bay Rays for the borderline Nathan For You business scheme they constructed to stay alive.
The takes were cold. The air was light.
And then, this:
Toronto Maple Leafs bracing for activity. Telling teams they will listen on Kapanen and Kadri. Would need a D back in a Kapanen trade and a centre back for Kadri. Strong sense Connor Brown could go as well.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 20, 2019
Side Note: It says a lot about the entertainment index of the NHL’s offseason that the mere possibility of player movement draws comparisons to a Woj Bomb.
By the end of today – heck, by the end of this sentence, even – the Toronto Maple Leafs could look markedly different. The names of which Dreger mentions as possible trade candidates are not the par-for-the-course casualties we’ve waxed about all summer – save for Connor Brown. His departure, much like Thanos, is inevitable.
These are deep cuts, capable of altering the very makeup of this hockey team; their inclusions both expected while also warranting pause.
Nazem Kadri and Kasperi Kapanen were each seen as long-term pillars of the Leafs’ contention window not too long ago; the former gifting Mike Babcock with the luxury to plug a top-six centre (on a bargain contract, no less) into a bottom-six role, and the latter endowing Toronto’s lineup with a skilled, two-way scoring threat who bears legitimately elite speed.
Now, both Kadri and Kapanen are reportedly on the trade block, confirming that the Maple Leafs, in some form or another, have envisioned a future in which either’s services are not required. Kyle Dubas was always believed to use this offseason as a means for change.
It seems as if we weren’t fully aware as to how just how significant that change could possibly be.
Of course, the biggest hang-up in any Kadri or Kapanen trade is, naturally, the return. As Dreger posits, the preferred price for Kapanen’s services in any hypothetical deal is that of a defenceman, something which seems to align quite well with the Leafs’ most glaring roster need at the moment. Given that Nikita Zaitsev has been practically half-way out the door for the better part of a month, and that Timothy Liljegren still requires a smidge of extra seasoning, Toronto’s right side consists today of Justin Holl, and…well, that’s pretty much it.
Needless to say, you simply cannot enter the season in that position.
Kapanen’s presence in trade rumours, while intriguing, otherwise lines up. The 22-year-old is a talented, albeit limited young player whose RFA status this summer may dictate his new cap hit outweigh his on-ice value. Would Kapanen be a terrific middle-six winger/ shorthanded threat at a fee of around $2-2.5 million per year? Absolutely. A Leafs’ penalty bolstered by this kid’s blistering speed could do wonders if deployed correctly. But once Kapanen’s hypothetical price tag climbs beyond that point – and there is an uneasy feeling in Leafs Land that it may do just that – his value on the trade market becomes harder and harder to ignore.
So, swapping out Kapanen for an equally useful RHD makes logical sense. It’s Kadri’s name being bandied about, however, that frankly doesn’t.
When it comes to the areas of Toronto’s depth chart, the centre position stands as perhaps the second thinnest behind only that of right D, with John Tavares and Auston Matthews filling out the two top-six spots and leaving little – save for Kadri – down below them. The Leafs are a decidedly top-heavy group down the middle. And were Kadri to then be plucked from that equation, a Suicide Squad of Frederik Gauthier, Nic Petan, and Adam Brooks would stack up as their lone remaining options.
Similar to the case with Holl, that is not a feasible avenue.
For argument’s sake, though, let’s dream in technicolour for a moment. Even if Dubas manages to snag another centre in the return for Kadri, what are the chances that the body coming is a better player than the body moving out?
Unless Kadri is folded into a package meant to acquire a Paul Stastny or Ryan O’Reilly-type (which is HIGHLY unlikely, given the confines of the Leafs’ current cap situation and the fact that Kadri is younger, cheaper, and arguably more effective than either of those two) the returning asset will almost certainly be a downgrade. Could Kadri net an upper-end centre prospect? Sure. Anything is possible. Yet Toronto’s contention window is open widest in the present, not far off into the future, and swapping out a useful pivot for one whose NHL arrival date is likely a minimum of one year away doesn’t seem to line up with the trajectory of a team boasting Stanley Cup aspirations.
Alas; the elephant in the room.
The caveat to all of this Kadri talk has little to do with his actual hockey abilities and, rather, everything to do with the 28-year-old’s repeated lapse in on-ice judgement. This is the second straight year in which Kadri’s utter failure to control his emotions effectively knee-capped the Leafs at a moment of need, leaving them without their coveted centre once again for the bulk of their first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
One slip up is an understandable gaffe. Two, on the other hand, is the birth of a trend. And when determining Kadri’s current temperature within the greater Maple Leafs’ organization, his chances of remaining with his hometown squad boil down to a nucleus of trust.
At this time, it doesn’t seem as if he’s earned any. But it doesn’t mean that won’t change.
As Steve Dangle said (screamed) repeatedly in the fallout from Game Seven Part Three™ back in April, this year’s suspension was on Kadri. The next one, though? That’s on Dubas. Full stop. If the bespectacled GM allows this pattern of behaviour to continue uninterrupted, just as it has for the past two years, the blame will lie entirely at his feet.
So, what route will it be? Do you roll the dice that the third time will not, in fact, be the charm and keep Kadri around? Or do you opt to protect your roster from yet another crippling at the hands of a single player’s selfishness and sell high while Kadri still has value?
It’s a difficult dilemma. One thing is for sure, though; these are the type of season-defining questions which make a general manager’s job far less enviable. It might not be too long until fans find out Dubas’s answer.