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If the Leafs trade Marner, stockpiling draft picks isn’t the way to go

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Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
Since it is very much Marner speculation season it seems like one area of speculation that needs to have some cold water splashed on it instantly is a futures-based deal for Marner. The next couple of weeks are going to see fans and teams put unreasonable values on draft picks and while it should go without saying that the Leafs should be valuing players who can help now over players that can help in the future, I’ll take the time to say it anyway.

Draft pick valuation

Every year around this time I am reminded of one of the more obscure tools out there in the NHL, the draft pick value calculator. The last thing I want to do is knock the hard work of someone else, the methodology is quite sound when it comes to determining not only the likelihood of getting an NHL player at any given pick but one that you are excited to have in your lineup.
The obvious shortcoming with this is the lack of variance. Some teams have horrific scouting departments that are nothing more than landing spots for alumni and conduct themselves similarly to the Moneyball parody of the Oakland A’s scouting department. Others seem to have no shortage of scouts, development personnel, and a network of league connections feeding the best information to their team. Draft picks seem more valuable in the hands of the Maple Leafs scouts than many other teams.
The other catch is draft class variance. And this is the easy hole to poke in the methodology. In this Macklin Celebrini draft, the top of the draft looks amazing, the top ten is promising, and as is tradition, the next tier seems to drop off right before the Maple Leafs pick. Pick values will differ based on talent but there should at least be some level of relativity within the draft themselves. Nial Yakupov and Auston Matthews certainly weren’t as valuable as 1st round picks but the value of draft picks in each draft should generally hold up. The biggest barrier is how you value an NHL player to a draft pick.
Let’s look at if the Maple Leafs traded their draft pick at the trade deadline. Using PuckPedia’s draft pick value calculator the 23rd overall pick is valued at 16.01, with the first overall pick being valued at 100. At the time the Leafs wouldn’t have been locked into that draft spot and while they were likely a playoff team it seems that the range of pick value could have been anything from a high of 22.18 to the 10.38 value of a Stanley Cup winner at the 32nd overall pick. That makes it a challenge to pin down a value for a first round pick as this is the range that most teams willing to trade a first are offering up.
Using some recent deadline examples the Jets offered up a pick valued at 13.77 for Sean Monahan, while the Oilers and their success have limited the pick value on Adam Henrique to either 10.38 or 10.87. At least with first round picks, there is tangible value attached to the player and anything after the second round is akin to a lottery ticket. The final pick in the second round is valued at 3.15, less than a third of what the Henrique pick is worth. Considering the Jets paid a 2nd (2025) and 3rd (2024) for Tyler Toffoli, the valuation of picks is somewhat absurd as I’d imagine most teams picking in the latter part of the first round would be thrilled to land a current state version of Tyler Toffoli with that pick.
Anything beyond the first two rounds becomes lottery tickets with diminishing values attached to them. With teams most likely to trade their picks owning picks in the later parts of the round, pick valuation would like to be at 2, remembering that potential Connor McDavid or Nail Yakupov first overall pick is at 100.

How this relates to the Leafs and Marner

The draft really is about the allure of the mystery box coupled with teams looking to get younger, free up cap space, and often deal rental players for any kind of return they can get. The idea of trading a good player under contract for a draft pick return if you have a competitive team does seem like a foolish gamble though. For example, let’s say you have a player named M. Marner, no let’s call them Mitch M. This player when selected in their draft would have carried a draft pick value of 55.24, already a pretty impressive number, but when you compare that player to the likes of Alexis Lafreniere, Erik Johnson, Nial Yakupov, Juraj Slafkovsky, and even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it is clear that they’ve had a career that exceeds a lot of 100 draft pick value players. Centring a trade around futures seems like a difficult-to-recoup endeavour, especially when teams are looking to add and teams worth waiving a no-trade clause for likely hold picks at the bottom of the round. While cap space is nice and a good chance at finding a player who can have a strong NHL career is nice, those are not worth even a season of a star player.
There is a mindset that draft picks are the currency of the NHL and that converting players into draft picks then allows you to flip those draft picks for any desired return around the league. This too can be a flawed premise as maybe a team deems that Mitch Marner would be worth their next three first-round picks. If the Leafs then flip those picks, they could be flipping them individually and wind up with a collection of players that is similar to Barclay Goodrow, Tanner Jeannot, and Sean Monahan. That is not an acceptable return and for my own sanity’s sake, I’m going to stop speculating on the return for Mitch Marner.
That’s not to say that trading for draft picks doesn’t still have its merit, and they are a great way of finding equity in deals that require a bit more balance, but they come with a lot of risk.
The best balance for a competitive team like the Leafs seems to be finding the right balance to retain some of their first and second round picks so there is the potential for a steady stream of young players on entry-level contracts that can benefit the Leafs in key positions in their lineup and they can take a gamble on their potential having an increased impact. Even this isn’t as critical as it has been in previous seasons in a more static salary cap environment.
If the Leafs are at all interested in recouping draft picks and thinking to the future, Marner isn’t the way to do it. The best path forward might be other young players like Liljegren or Robertson if they don’t fit into the Leafs’ future plans. And when it comes to trading Marner, the optimal value for him might come after free agency, once Marner’s bonuses have been paid and the potential for draft picks as key assets in a trade has disappeared. As much as the draft provides instant gratification in late June and is important, it shouldn’t be where the Maple Leafs are focusing their primary efforts on improving their team.

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