The NHL is officially a week away from the NHL trade deadline. Leafs fans in seller mode rejoice.

I’ve written before about selling high and selling low, and I thought this would be a good time to revisit that framework due to an expected flurry of trades to happen at some point in the next seven days. I’m not going to write about obvious players on the move like pending UFA Daniel Winnik, but let’s take a look at some players under the Leafs control who are on the block:

Phil Kessel

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: Kessel had 214 points in his last 212 regular season games before this season, but is set to finish well below the point per game mark this year. He’s also pushed for 40 goals the last two full seasons but this year will just be trying to hit 30. He’s making $10M in actual dollars this year and next, then makes $9M the following two seasons. So, he’s under producing and is going to be one of the highest paid players in the league for the foreseeable future.

Tyler Bozak

Sell Status: High
Thoughts: Bozak is on pace for a career season in both goals and points, and he is turning 29 this year. Next year he is making $5M in actual dollars, the most expensive year of his deal, and then his money starts to decline. Last summer was the optimal time to sell high based on his PPG, but he’s still producing solid point totals now; you just wonder how much longer he is going to play with Kessel and rack up the points on PP1 like he currently is.  Bozak has also started showing some ability to tilt shot attempt totals to his side under Horachek lately, which might be an added benefit to some teams.

James van Riemsdyk

Sell Status: High
Thoughts: On pace to approach last season’s total of 61 points and 30 goals again, so he’s going to roughly repeat his career best season back-to-back. He’s also only turning 26 and is signed for three more seasons with a measly $4.25M cap hit. All the numbers are good, but if you have watched him play this year or dig deeper, you know all is not well here. He’s arguably the worse defensive player on the team and he struggles to break out cleanly or back check consistently. If they can get a good center or defenseman for JVR, you have to think they pull the trigger.

Nazem Kadri

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: His game has taken a step forward defensively this year, but his offense is roughly the same as last year which is what most will look at. To make matters worse, he’s also an RFA this summer and that promises to be a lengthy negotiation; teams tend to avoid getting themselves into these situations. He’s turning 25 this year and has firmly established himself as a top 6 C, but he has another level offensively he can hit considering he’s primarily been a second power play option this season.

Joffrey Lupul

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: He’s been okay when he’s played (47 point, 22 goal pace), but he’s missed nearly half the season. The book on Lupul is out there and everyone knows it: He’s weak defensively, dynamic offensively, and he gets hurt every season at least once. This year he turns 32 and he has three more years left on his deal.

Dion Phaneuf

Sell Status: Flat
Thoughts: Was having a decent year before getting injured; among the leaders in defensemen for power play and overall production. Still logs heavy minutes (23:05TOI/game this year) against tough competition, although the Leafs did try to shelter his zone starts whenever possible. The real crux of the status is his contract though; there is a lot of term and money left on it which means unless he has elite numbers it’s tough to ignore.

Roman Polak

Sell Status: High
Thoughts: Playing over 21 minutes a night this year, which would be the second time in his career he has done so. Polak is having a pretty ordinary season for him, but the Toronto effect seems to be raising his profile as a big, heavy, grind it out penalty killing defenseman. He’s a third pairing defenseman playing high in the line-up because the Leafs defense is so weak, but teams are always looking for solid, right handed defensemen, so that serves Toronto well when it comes to the possibility of trading him.

Jake Gardiner

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: Just started a big contract extension and is on pace for a career-worst season of 20 points even though he is supposed to be a point producing defenseman. His game has rebounded a bit under Horachek and he is beginning to make better reads again, but it’s doubtful a short span of good games resurrects his value considering how poor he was in the first half of the season. Gardiner is turning 25 this year and has four more years left on his deal.

Stephane Robidas

Sell Status: Low
Thoughts: Robidas has had a rough first season in Toronto. He had surgery in the summer and was red shirted for most of training camp and preseason.  He finally got into some games on the final weekend of preseason, then stepped onto the top pairing with Phaneuf and got torched at the start of the regular season. When he got pushed down the line-up and got some games under his belt, he started playing better. He got hurt and tried playing through it, for which his on-ice play suffered. He’s back now but this looks like a lost season. He’s 38 in a few weeks and has two more years left on his contract.


– There is a lot of talk around Toronto about trading Kessel and then in separate breaths, hoping to get Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the draft. There’s very little talk about what happens after you hypothetically draft one of those two.  It would be nice to have an elite scoring winger to play with one of those two players, perhaps someone like Phil Kessel. The irony of finally getting a center for Kessel, and then not having Kessel to play with one of the two prospects, would really be something. It’s all hypothetical at the moment, of course, but amazing how almost nobody is bringing up this thought.

– It was interesting to see all the praise Tyler Myers was getting during the Leafs-Jets game on Saturday night. Leafs fans should be completely aware of Myers, since he played on a division rival. Needless to say, he wasn’t getting anywhere near that level of praise while playing on Buffalo in the last two years. It was a good showing of how quickly the story changes around a good player who once played on a bad team, that suddenly got traded to a decent team and was no longer asked to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. Toronto has a good handful of players that fit that bill and that is why the team needs to be very careful about who they trade, and what they get in return. There are some really good players whom, if they trade, are going to go elsewhere and rip it up.

– Dion Phaneuf has missed 12 games now, and in those 12 games Morgan Rielly has eight points and a 52.85CF% while averaging 23:24 TOI and just over 2SOG per game.  Elite defensemen drafted high are now coming into the NHL and finding success relatively quickly, and now we are starting to see Morgan Rielly handle the same workload. At the start of the season the talk around Rielly was that him having the same year as his rookie one would be a success, but he’s clearly taken a step forward.

Tweeted about Phaneuf’s PP production Saturday but thought it was worth re-posting here:

– Rielly has produced and played well in Dion’s absence, but when it comes to the power play Kessel is getting a lot more pressure on the half-wall because there is no shot up top from Dion Phaneuf that teams have to respect. Cody Franson was another strong PP contributor, and losing two guys that were both going to push for 40+ points would hurt any top power play unit, but even when Franson was playing without Dion, teams sagged on Kessel and cut the middle pass, leaving the top wide open because they don’t need to respect Gardiner or Rielly’s shot. Phaneuf only has two goals this season, but even as a decoy he brings a lot of value to that power play unit. The power play is 5/36 since Phaneuf has been out, a shade under 14%. That would be the third worst PP in the league right now.


[pull_quote_center]”If you’re saying something good about a player, he’s a rock star, and if a guy has a tough night and you want to deal with the media honestly, you’ve got to be careful about how hard you go at his play because then the next day or maybe even that day, it’s a drive-by shooting. They’ll find something that’s not going and it’s 40 people in the stall figuring out whether they should trade him, play him more or execute him.[/pull_quote_center] Paul Maurice, on coaching in Toronto.

One thing Randy Carlyle did well, generally speaking, was that he simply didn’t say a heck of a lot during his press conferences and he was very friendly with the media members. Pat Quinn has the reputation for the last Leafs coach to be really great with the media, and he was, but I wonder how much of that was due to having a really good team to fall-back on. This is a tough market that will beat down on just about anyone, the secret is either not saying interesting and thus not getting yourself into trouble, or simply not caring what others think.

[pull_quote_center]“The Leafs also have some interest in Alexander Burmistrov, the troubled high draft pick playing in the KHL, whose rights are owned by Winnipeg.”[/pull_quote_center] Steve Simmons, on the Leafs interest in the checking center the Jets own that is currently playing in the KHL

Not to turn this into a rumour blog, but we know the Jets have had interest in Daniel Winnik, and just recently we found out the Jets have made Burmistrov available. I’m sure the Leafs are pushing for this move and would love to do it, but would Winnipeg? It’s a long-term win for the Leafs if they can get him to come over.

[pull_quote_center]“My heart is here and I’d like to stay here, but if I’m not in the plans then you show other teams that you can certainly be someone that fits in. When you’re not going to the playoffs, there’s going to be rumours.”[/pull_quote_center] Joffrey Lupul, on where he stands with the team.

Saturday was a nice reminder of how effective a healthy and playing Joffrey Lupul is. It’s easy to forget because he is hurt all the time.  It is also a good look at how little secondary scoring the Leafs have. Other than the first line, not one player on the team is on pace to crack the 50 point plateau which was partly why I was so confused in the utter lack of interest in Evander Kane. Lupul has three years left on his deal and next season he’s making almost $7M in real dollars, which will be tough to move, but after that his salary starts to decrease. Contenders generally look for two things at the deadline—depth defensemen, and goal scorers. The question with Lupul is do you simply cut bait because he can’t stay healthy, or keep him and hope his value spikes up a year or two from now? A lot of teams would want a healthy Lupul for a Cup run, and you don’t want to give him away for free only to watch him score big goals pushing a Cup run in May for some other team.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think, when it comes to a possible Roman Polak trade, if you can get a 2nd or legitimate prospect it is worth it, but if teams are offering 3rds or 4ths the Leafs should hold onto him. He has another year left on his deal, and he’ll have value next season as a rental, so there is no pressure to trade him now. The value is at a 2nd or good prospect because the Leafs don’t have a 2nd this year and that’s a high pick for a third pairing defenseman (keep in mind the Leafs traded a 2nd for a point producing #4 D-man in Liles just a few years ago). Alternatively, a good prospect is cost controlled young talent and helps build up a team. Polak has done his job in Toronto and if they can’t get the value now he’d be more than fine to keep, but if the value is there it’s a simple decision to bite the bullet on the current roster and keep building for the future.
  2. I think one thing I’d like to see this year is Morgan Rielly paired with Dion Phaneuf. In the summer I thought the team would play Phaneuf with one of the two puck movers, but when they decided to switch Dion from RD to LD it nixed that idea. Now with Dion out Rielly is getting more responsibility and he is showing he is able to handle it, but also (and maybe more importantly) he is showing that when he does make mistakes he is able to rebound from them. And he’s doing this playing with guys like Roman Polak. Phaneuf would give Rielly a veteran to lean on, and a legitimate top four defenseman as a partner. For Phaneuf, it would move him back to the side he has played on his entire professional career, and gives him a guy that can actually wheel when, you know, he yells wheel.
  3. I think the Leafs need to sit Petter Granberg for at least a game, because the play is moving much too fast for him. Through six games he’s averaging 10:58 of ice time, with one SOG, and 3 minor penalties stemming from holding onto players or tripping them as he’s getting taken wide. Granberg is turning 23 this year, so he’s really not that young, but he is inexperienced and looks way out of his element at the moment. It doesn’t help either that they have been playing the right handed Granberg with other right handed defensemen. When I ran the numbers last season, under 35% of D-men that played a game last year were right handed; they are in such high demand that they hardly ever playing the left side save for the PP, but the Leafs have been running righties on the left and they are really struggling. Between Granberg not being ready and the players he’s partnered with playing out of position, it’s been a disaster.
  4. I think I would be really pushing to make some depth deals between now and Thursday (the date of the Leafs next game) if I were management. Guys like Holzer and Booth, if you can move them now do it. You’re not getting a great return either way, but what moving them now does is give you a few extra days to freely call-up players and figure out who you want up after the deadline. Don’t forget, teams only have a limited number of call-ups they can use after the trade deadline and the Leafs have to prepare for that now. The rule is there to try and help prevent tanking, which is somewhat understandable, but if you’re the Leafs you have to plan for that now because there are more than a few players on the Marlies worth seeing up with the team before the season ends.
  5. I think, if the Leafs are trying to build this thing right, they have to keep players accountable now. Against the Jets, the best line of the night was clearly Winnik-Kadri-Lupul, who went head to head against Winnipeg’s top line and scored twice, yet it was not Kadri and Lupul starting the power play in overtime, it was the top line. It took them over a minute to gain the zone successfully in 4v3 hockey, and they never seriously threatened to score. There is going to be a much higher pay off down the road if you are playing the players who deserve it, not the players that have contracts or names that dictate they should be getting the ice time. When you have a high end team you throw out the guys who got you there all the time, without question, but the Leafs don’t have that team. Play the guys that deserve it. Make players earn their ice time.