This from Bob McKenzie on the radio today:

As a capped-out bottom-10 team that has not been drafting enough in recent years (particularly the 2nd and 3rd rounds) and is headed nowhere fast, the last thing the Maple Leafs can afford to do is not maximize returns on every expendable asset on an expiring deal. No more losing a trio of productive top 9 forwards for literally less than nothing (negative one compliance buyout) in MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin, or giving up picks for Bolland and letting him walk, or getting a found wallet in Mason Raymond and not cashing it in.

A big part of those situations was bad timing, with management not wanting to give up on a team that had gotten itself into a playoff position (a year after making the playoffs and nearly ousting the Bruins, to boot) at the deadline (that said, this is where analytics can be the sober second thought). The nice part about the Leafs getting their terrible collapse underway with more than half a season left is that there is zero question as to where this team sits and what management needs to do before the deadline.

What can Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli garner the Leafs via trade? Paul Gaustad trade aside (exception, not the rule), likely you’re hoping for a couple of 3rd/4th rounders. Maybe Santorelli squeezes a late 2nd out of a contender, but teams are cherishing top 60 picks more than ever, and ultimately Santorelli’s a depth piece on a good team and probably will test the UFA waters. He also has obviously dried up production wise lately along with the rest of the team. Both are nice utility players in their own right, but they were signed for nothing 1 year deals relatively late in the off-season and are ultimately replacement level.

If Cody Franson qualifies as expendable is a tough question. The answer appears to be a screaming “no.” There’s no doubting this is the best season of his career to date, he’s probably been the Leafs best defenceman, he’s big, he’s productive, he can play against good competition with good possession numbers, and he’s right handed. That certainly doesn’t sound like an expendable individual, but the Leafs do have to ask themselves where he slots in on an actual good team with a contention-worthy blueline corps and pin down what that’s worth exactly. Dave Nonis was in a tough spot with the team in the playoff picture and no obvious replacement lying around, but the Leafs overpaid Dion Phaneuf because he played the biggest role on a bad defence group; they may not have asked the tough questions in that situation about whether he deserved that role and that money if the blueline were that of an actual contender (which is the goal).

Franson’s not old but he’s not young, and he’s going to want to get his term finally, which is always something a team should be careful with when the player isn’t the most fundamentally sound of skaters. We don’t know the pricetag that’s getting batted around in preliminary negotiations, and it could be very ugly — Franson has a very strong case statistically and he’s been a very patient man awaiting his payday. It’s possible this is for the best anyway – only time will tell — but unfortunately the Leafs’ cap situation appears to have made the decision for them, which is never good.

The market for a highly-productive right-handed defenceman who is big, physical and can play tough minutes is undoubtedly going to be the most lucrative for Shanahan, Nonis and co. as the Leafs head toward an important deadline looking to kick start the rebuild.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosts "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covers the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at alec.brownscombe@mapleleafshotstove.com.