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Deadline buyer bewares, Woll’s net, and the quiet trade market: Leaflets

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Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
A six game winning streak seems exactly like what this team needed to regain its confidence. And while there could be a lot at play, I don’t doubt that Morgan Rielly’s suspension has truly jumpstarted this team. Even more than that, Morgan Rielly essentially paid almost $200k to show how much he cares about this team and its reputation and money talks with this group. This has been a great glimpse into what this team can be as opposed to what we’ve seen most of the season, which has been underwhelming given the talent on the roster. The truth for what the Leafs are lies somewhere between the unbeatable team of the past couple of weeks and the inconsistent mess we’ve seen the rest of the way, and while bumping them to the top of the cup favourites list seems like a stretch, the middle ground of what they can be with a consistent effort at least brings them back to who they were last season.
Here are a few other stray thoughts:

Buyer Beware: Too good to be true and the right fit

I feel like I’m going to pick on Sean Walker a lot between now and the trade deadline because he is the player a team is most likely to overpay for. And it’s not that Sean Walker is a bad defenceman, he never has been, but he is in the midst of a career year in an environment that is tailor made for him playing under John Tortorella. Sheldon Keefe is a very different coach and the Leafs would likely be acquiring the L.A. Kings version of Sean Walker, a good defenceman, but not one that you mortgage your future for:
Sean Walker this season:
Sean Walker’s previous three seasons:
Again, not bad, but definitely not the career year he’s having and certainly not logging the icetime he’s been playing this year either. The fact that it is the defensive categories that take the biggest hit here also raise the red flag that there wouldn’t be an upgrade as substantial as the Leafs need.
I used Walker as an example, but players like Alex Carrier and Nick Seeler are a couple others that stand out as benefiting from the structure, partner, and role they are currently in. Whether they’d have the same impact in Toronto remains to be seen.
On the offensive side of things there needs to a be a buyer beware for high point forwards on a bad team. Sean Monahan has been demonstrating that already. He had a decent point total on Montreal because there simply wasn’t anyone else to play with Caufield and Suzuki on the top powerplay unit and he was seeing plenty of top six icetime he won’t get anywhere else, he was never going to have a substantial impact offensively and honestly the Canucks will probably get the same results out of signing Phil Kessel to a league minimum deal for the rest of the season.
It’s also not entirely different from when the Leafs sold high on Matt Stajan, Nik Antropov, P.A. Parenteau, Daniel Winnik, and countless others during the rebuilding times. None of these players went on to match their best offensive outputs in the season they were dealt and there needs to be red flags about overpaying for players that selling teams are quick to offer up.
That said, you look at who is out there and are legitimate options like Tanev and Hanifin or players who might not have great numbers on their bad team but the scouting says they are doing the things that would work in the Leafs system.
As much as it seems so simple to connect the dots between a current high performer and the Leafs needs, it requires a lot more due diligence than that.

Samsonov has been better, but it is still Woll’s net to lose

With the return of Joseph Woll likely coming next week it’s probably worth reflecting on who should get the majority of the starts the rest of the way. The answer seems pretty simple to me and I’m sure a lot of you as well, and it’s the net belongs to Woll.
While it is great that Samsonov has played some better hockey after his restart, he is still a sub .900 goaltender in February. A lot of that might be due to the Leafs suppressing shots more than they had been previously but Samsonov has been adequate not stellar.
Woll on the other hand has been stellar at times over the past couple of seasons and was the better option in the playoffs. He’s also the goaltender that will certainly be back next season while it seems unlikely that Samsonov will return (although when you look at the options available, a case could be made for him.)
Toronto will likely keep things fairly close when it comes to workload to not completely eliminate either as an option and it’s entirely possible we haven’t seen the last of Martin Jones as well, but it won’t be surprising that if after an initial easing of Woll back into the lineup that we see him start taking 2 out of every 3 starts.

The lack of trades is a positive thing

I’m going to leave you all with one last thought before you part ways for the day. The lack of trades so far sends a strong message to the sellers that if they want to get assets back for their struggling team, they are going to need to do better than parting with bottom of the roster unrestricted free agents.
NHL GMs seem to like avoiding making the tough decision and it’s easy when you have an unrestricted free agent that probably is going to age himself off the roster before your team is competitive to say, “you’re going to be traded.” The result is using a third round pick or so and because you’ve traded with a competitive team, it’s a late third round pick. And probably since your team isn’t doing so hot, your scouting might not be the best as is your player development and you’ve essentially acquired nothing.
On the flip side of things, the buying GMs seem to be more annoyed this season than ever that all the sellers are putting on the market are their UFAs. And given that this year is trending towards a pretty thin free agent market as well, the chance to improve teams with what is being made available simply isn’t there. It’s nice to see that teams are simply not having it and they are sparing us the indignity of a Nic Dowd bidding war.
It will be interesting to see which side cracks first. Will the buyers start paying premium prices for fourth line and bottom pairing talent? Or are selling GMs going to need to take a hard look at their rosters and decide that the 25 year old defenceman that seems essentially to their 24th place team won’t be so great when the team is finally competitive in 5 years and make the hard choice.
As is often the case, I’d say we can expect both, but it is certainly in the buyers best interest to play chicken with the sellers and wait until the last minute. The sellers might start putting some better names out there (does Ottawa decide to cash in on Artem Zub, for example) or if the sellers refuse to break up the core of their bad teams, the somewhat unappealing trade market will become a lot more appealing in the last hour before the deadline when teams have to start taking whatever they can get before they wind up committed to the player just walking to free agency at the end of the season.
There is no incentive to jump the gun. Even on worthwhile talent like Chris Tanev there are a lot of compromises to make on acquiring him and the bidding war for him has probably already taken some of the appeal off of acquiring him. Hopefully we see some hands forced and are treated to an interesting deadline rather than just a shuffling of mid-round draft picks and penalty kill specialists.
Data from Evolving Hockey
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