For the first time since 2006, the Maple Leafs stood pat on trade deadline day.
It was the right move.
On a day where pretty well every team around the Leafs got better, there wasn’t a whole lot out there that made sense for this team to do, in part because of cap constraints.
The Leafs already don’t have a second round pick for the upcoming draft, so moving multiple picks — which is what netted Goc, Hemsky and MacDonald — would have gutted their draft pick stocks. Going into the draft with, say, only a 1st and 4th just so that Marcel Goc can play on the Leafs third line instead of Peter Holland doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Moving beyond the players moved for draft picks, there were some guys traded that would have just made no sense for the Leafs to acquire. A guy like Tuomo Ruutu, with his bad contract, serves no purpose in Toronto. Matt Moulson would be nice to have in Toronto, but the Leafs don’t have their second round pick this year or next year, and two of those is what it took to get him out of Buffalo. Do you trade a 1st for Moulson instead? No way. In the same boat, the Kings traded a 2nd and a conditional 3rd (along with Matt Frattin) for a player in Marian Gaborik who flat out hasn’t been very good. Gaborik could turn it around and there’s no question he’s a great player when he’s on his game, but given what we know right now and his price tag that’s another move that would have been a head scratcher for the Leafs. Getting David Legwand for a good prospect, reasonable pick and a roster player would have made even less sense, and let’s not even talk about Martin Erat.
If there’s one guy the Leafs probably missed out on it is Thomas Vanek just on account of the dirt cheap price paid for him by Montreal relative to how good he is. Ultimately, though, that’s the result of being right up against the cap and in part counting on Bolland returning to play this season. If the Leafs brought in Vanek, it would have required a series of moves to fit him under the cap and, at this stage, it doesn’t appear the management group thought that was worth it considering where this team is situated in their development. While the Leafs don’t get a pass for not having cap space, living in the moment of the deadline, it was apparent their hands were tied. Other than Vanek, it didn’t make sense to add a piece for one pick and trade one of their own for a pick to make space just for the sake of change.
There were good players that moved the last two days, but the Leafs are relatively full up. Is JVR-Bozak-Kessel, Lupul-Kadri-Kulemin, Raymond-Holland-Clarkson, a contending top nine? Probably not. But there wasn’t one player that was moved the last few days that would have changed that save for maybe Vanek (St. Louis doesn’t count because he was only going to the Rangers) in a wide-open East.
It’s also important to remember that, most importantly, the Leafs are in a playoff spot right now and in good shape. They need to play .500 hockey down the stretch here to clinch and young talent like Holland, Gardiner, Rielly and Kadri (we forget how young he is) are going to play prime roles and get opportunities to learn and grow down the stretch. The other positive, as far as I can see, is that Vancouver wasn’t picked apart yet as some had thought. Kesler and Edler are still there for the taking come draft day, and even a rumoured potential seller in Carolina didn’t move out any big names like a Skinner or a Staal. With trading chips such as Reimer, Franson and more in Nonis’ pocket, the Leafs are going to go into the summer with cap space and will be primed to make a move to add a big piece (hopefully a top-four defenseman).
For now, though, let’s see what this team can do. They didn’t need to make a move to help boost them into a playoff spot; they’re already there. They are set in net and they have their top defenseman locked up long term, with two promising kids in Gardiner and Rielly getting opportunity and ice time (and how about the great play of Paul Ranger lately?). Peter Holland is getting a chance here to make a statement for next season and the top line is rolling. Whenever the second line is Lupul-Kadri-Kulemin it does well and provides a nice balance, so hopefully that sticks. If Bolland can return and contribute, and Clarkson can ever contribute something, this team is in pretty good shape. There isn’t one team in the East they should fear like a Chicago, St. Louis or LA out West. Before we look that far ahead, however, this group still has to clinch the playoffs.
The Leafs are a young team that is getting better and in a good spot for a successful offseason considering their expendable assets and cap space. It makes a lot more sense for this team to make a big move at the draft or in the summer and legitimately fix a problem (again, particularly on defense) than it does to trade a pick for a band-aid and subsequently move one of their own to make it fit. It’s frustrating that every team around the Leafs at least appear to have gotten better, but there’s nothing the Leafs can do about that. They have 18 games left now to make the playoffs, with an upcoming five-game road trip that will probably swing their fate for the better or worse. It’s the most exciting time of the season, and Nonis has put his faith in this group to get the job done. It’s up to them now.