To trade or not to trade

To trade or not to trade

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    Most recent Leafs trade talk in the mainstream media centers largely around Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle. Just about enough has been mentioned on those fronts; Brian Burke will not compromise in his return demands for either of his coveted blue-liners and it appears that only time will tell. Here are three other interesting to trade or not to trade scenarios:

    Jason Blake – Will his surge in offensive production since a January 15th hat-trick against Paul Maurice’s Carolina Hurricanes persuade a playoff contender desperate for additional scoring down the stretch to bite and swallow that burdensome contract? If so, should the Leafs deal Blake when the return value seemingly won’t be great? Almost as impressive as his rebound so far in terms of offensive production (currently on 30 goal pace) is Blake’s +6 plus/minus rating on the worst defensive club in the league. If Blake continues his sizzling pace through the month of February there could well be a market out there for a player that Cliff Fletcher was willing to say was outright immovable last deadline. As is typically the case, Blake would garner more at the trade deadline than in the summer as clubs won’t have the free agency option available to bolster their scoring cast. Stanley cup hopefuls in need of some additional scoring help for the playoffs may very well come knocking without a whole lot of middle of the line offensive alternatives to choose from on the current market. One speculated suitor has been Minnesota, a team that by a clear margin scores the least of any current playoff club in the West. While they do in compensation allow the least goals of any Western club, some scoring help seems in order to put them over the top as a perennial playoff participant that’s failed to do post-season damage since their 2003 Conference final appearance. There’s also the hometown dynamic at play as Blake is a native of Moorhead, Minneapolis. Nonetheless, a potential move here would be largely contingent on the contract situation with Marian Graborik in terms of whether or not money and cap space needs to be available to lock him up before he walks to unrestricted free agency. Additionally, netminder Niklas Backstrom is due up for a contract before season’s end so these two factors could heavily hinder Minnesota’s ability to be buyers this trade deadline.

    The question for Brian Burke and us Leaf fans centers around the return value. While Blake’s certainly turned on the offensive jets as of late, teams are not likely to sell the farm for a player that’s largely disappointed save for this recent upsurge. $4 million for a 30 goal, 60 point player (if that’s what he turns out being this year) is palatable. The fact that he’s signed to that figure until the age of 39 isn’t. If the return is just a mid-level draft pick, I’d be far more inclined to keep Blake aboard as someone who might be able to put the puck in the net during the next few re-building seasons with Nik Antropov and Tomas Kaberle, two chief offensive contributors, very possible trade candidates. Remember that whole “justifying the price of the ticket” thing? Blake’s responded well to Wilson’s approach and I don’t just say this because of his recent jump in production but because there’s also been a visible change in his demeanor and work ethic since day one of the season. I’d keep him, but on the condition that the following player stays, who seems to have played a major role in Blake’s offensive upwell:

    Dominic Moore – The reason why Moore’s name has come up in rumour circles as of late is because, alongside Nik Antropov, he’s the most movable asset in the Leafs‘ dressing room. At a 900K cap hit, Moore is the ideal playoff time pick-up. He’ll fit neatly under just about any team’s cap without too much difficulty and he very much plays the playoff brand of game, able to add valuable depth to a team that plans on embarking on a lengthy, grating playoff run. When the news broke about Burke submitting his “trade” list I was kind of surprised not to hear Moore’s name mentioned among those untouchable. He’s a coach’s dream and fits the Wilson and Burke marque to a tee. The reason why Moore appears available for the right price seems to be a name that was listed as untouchable, John Mitchell. Mitchell offers a similarly complete package and has been stranded on a line with two players that are really just hockey players by definition alone. The gameplan appears to be to provide Mitchell with more ice-time for development next season and that’s difficult to accomplish with Matt Stajan, Mikhail Grabovski and Dominic Moore ahead in the depth chart order among centermen. Mitchell looks like a very formidable up and coming third line pivot, rendering Moore to some degree expendable.

    I understand the logic, but I don’t think the need to provide Mitchell with more ice-time is reason alone to deal Moore, unless Moore’s value is much higher than I expect it is. Moore’s 28 years old and seems primed to become a leader of this club when the time comes around for the Leafs to [hopefully] become competitive again. Moore’s not an offensive superstar by any stretch of the imagination but would provide a valuable leadership presence to a developing club. He excels in areas of the game that can be taught and learned – penalty killing, faceoffs, work rate, defensive responsibility, etc. We’ve yet to see Mitchell tested for any length of time in a heavier role nor do we know if Grabovski’s going to manifest the consistency needed to be a top 6 center. It seems premature to cut ties with perhaps the Leafs‘ best all-around performer this season.

    Does it make more sense (pun intended) to move Matt Stajan instead? Stajan seems to have come down to earth after a promising start in his new role of increased responsibility. An intangible to consider with Stajan is that he’s proactive in the community and seems primed to become a permanent alternative captain down the road.

    Nik Antropov – Considered by many the likeliest Leaf trade candidate at the deadline as a very economical option that can bolster the attack of any playoff-bound team. His impending UFA status will hurt his trade value to some extent as he’s due for a pay raise come this summer, as will questions about the long-term sustainability of his knees should a team be looking for something beyond a rental situation. His value has been priced at “a solid prospect and/or a high draft pick” by The Fourth Period. Whether it’s “and” or “or” plays a big role in the decision making process in this blogger’s view. A high draft pick means a first rounder from a playoff team – therefore a lower first round pick. An organization is doing pretty well if a late first rounder turns out a 25-30 goal scorer. To me, what it all boils down to is whether or not Antropov can be re-signed at a reasonable ticket (in the $3.5 million range). It’s known that Antropov loves the city and the country, recently acquiring his Canadian citizenship. In my view, Antropov’s very much a keeper if he can be signed at a discount price. If not, take the pick and – hopefully – the prospect. Another factor to consider is the pair’s role in aiding the development of Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin.

    Brian Burke didn’t appear to have this interest in retaining Antropov, or at least there was no discussion of a contract extension for some time after Burke’s arrival. That’s until Burke publicly denounced Antropov’s play this season on Monday afternoon, which could indicate many a number of things, the most plausible of which (in my view) is that Burke’s trying to eliminate worry that he’s attempting to execute a trade and retrieve scenario. He could be voicing such sentiments to set the record straight because he truly doesn’t want Antropov back, or it could be an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of other GMs so that he can maximize his trade value and also re-sign him on July 1. What also supports the latter theory is that Antropov loves the city and the country and has said on a few occasions that he would like to stay put. Another theory floating about is that Burke’s attempting to drive down the re-sign asking price on Big Nik.

    Interest from the Boston Bruins has been mentioned in rumour circles for some time and Columbus is another rumoured suitor that’s picking up steam as of late, with Jakub Voracek – a seventh overall pick in 2007 – being mentioned as a possible talking point.

    Contingent upon any possible plans of re-signing Antropov in the off-season, would Alexei Ponikarovsky be headed out the door alongside Big Nik? Ponikarovsky is having a career season in terms of goals and points, so should the Leafs sell high or is Poni showing what he’s made of in a role of increased responsibility now that Sundin’s ruining the Canucks? It again seems to me that if the return is anything outside of a first round pick (which I don’t think it will be), the Leafs don’t stand to gain a whole lot. Now, if a Ponikarovsky-Antropov package deal can be arranged involving the likes of Columbus’ Voracek, then we might be talking.

    Your thoughts, specifically on the situations of Blake, Moore/Stajan and Antropov/Ponikarovsky?