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Why the Maple Leafs are better off keeping their 1st round pick

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
We are trying something a bit different on TLN today. We have two articles going up at the same time with different takes on the same topic, what the Maple Leafs should do with their 2024 1st round draft pick. Let us know in the comments who got it right.
Admittedly when we decided to do this series it felt like I was going to have an easy time with making this case. The Leafs had an underwhelming January, they came out of the All-Star break dropping games to the Islanders and Senators, and Morgan Rielly was just about to begin a five game suspension. Making the case for the Leafs not blowing up their future to support an underperforming present roster seemed easy. It’s not that straight forward anymore as the Leafs have looked like the team most fans want them to be and believe they are capable of being all the time.
Still, I’ll power on with my belief that the Leafs are better off keeping their first round pick and while it might make for a less fun trade deadline, it feels like the right course of action.
The first reason is the simple math of it. At what point does it feel like it sacrificing the future is worth it. The Leafs would enter the playoffs with an all things being equal 1 in 16 shot at the Stanley Cup and a 1 in 8 shot at making the finals. Does the 1 in 4 chance at making it to the Conference Finals justify it? It might, but those are the simple versions of the odds, a road that goes through Florida and Boston before likely meaning a series against the Rangers or Hurricanes before even getting a sniff of the Western Conference is difficult. And as much as Brad Treliving may improve the roster, how much has Sheldon Keefe done to change your opinion of how he’d match up against Jim Montgomery or Paul Maurice in a seven game series? How confident are you in the Joseph Woll/Ilya Samsonov tandem? It’s not that this group can’t win, it’s just a matter of do you want to bet a first round pick on it?
The next reason to consider is who is out there that can truly make a difference on the Leafs roster? Who will move the bar for this team? I’m going to say that I don’t think Sean Walker or Nick Seeler are those guys. Matt Dumba is an interesting addition and seems like he could potentially be a fit for playing with Morgan Rielly but he doesn’t move the bar much on who the Leafs are. And honestly, none of the players I’ve mentioned should come with a first round pick price tag anyway. Nor should Chris Tanev, who might be the closest thing to a difference maker available right now. While there are plenty of sellers out there, the number of sellers willing to part with what actually would improve playoff teams is lacking and if the Leafs were going to move their first round pick, Brad Treliving has the right idea in holding out for a player with term or someone he can negotiate a new contract with in advance. The options don’t appear to be available, though I guess they could be discussed.
The final reasoning comes don’t to the combination of the Leafs salary cap situation and the depth of their prospect pool. Both are ungoing concerns and while Toronto is very much in the “win now” mode, it is reckless to have a cup or bust attitude when the 2025 draft already sees the Leafs not picking until the third round and the Leafs salary cap situation based on what is being paid top Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, and Marner points to a team that is desperate need of entry level contract players who provide surplus value to the roster. The Leafs are beginning to realize some of that value in Matthew Knies this season as he gets more comfortable in his role with Matthews and Marner, and recently the team is understanding that McMann, Holmberg, and Robertson are better options in their bottom six rather than expensive depth like David Kampf or Ryan Reaves. The Leafs need to be able to continue and improve upon that and outside of possible Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten, the Leafs talent pool has a lot of question marks and that group will likely be further thinned out via the trade deadline if the Leafs trade their first round pick or not.
For the most part my argument is that the Leafs should be risk averse. It’s not a bad thing nor is risk mitigation. I think with a lot of the trade targets out there the Leafs could consider options where they trade their first and possibly another asset and, in the process, get the player they want as well as a 2nd round pick. The Leafs picking within the first couple of rounds does a lot to quell the fears that I have about the team not having prospects to develop and especially since this is being treated as a 20 player deep draft, whether Toronto picks 23rd or 52nd, there is a good chance their scouts can find a player of merit to work with.
There are also players out there, using Jakob Chychrun as an example, that warrant paying a higher price to get a talented player on a good contract with some term left. I’m not saying that Jakob Chychrun is the ideal target, as the Leafs should very much be leaning towards a right shot defenceman, but strictly from a talent, contract, term perspective if the boxes can be checked, the Leafs would be right to act. Term goes a long way in addressing the issues about mortgaging the future for a low odd shot at the Stanley Cup.
Given that Brad Treliving has a pretty conservative trade deadline history, I’m not sure that the first round pick is in play as much as we talk about it either. Everything about his previous deadlines shows a GM who adds a supporting cast not one who brings in a new star. If that practice continues, the Leafs will likely be selecting someone in the first round of the draft this year in Vegas.

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