On trade deadline day, it was revealed the Leafs and Red Wings were making a push to get a deal done that would send Dion Phaneuf to the Detroit Red Wings.
In the aftermath, the potential deal, or at least parts of it, was revealed. Here is what Elliotte Friedman wrote last week:
[quote_box_center]My guess is the pre-Coburn plan centred around Phaneuf, Stephen Weiss and Brendan Smith. The Maple Leafs understood they’d have to take Weiss’s contract to make it work. Smith makes sense because, like the Toronto captain, he’s a left-shot. He’s also due for a raise so adding salary means someone has to go.
There were reports the Maple Leafs asked for Anthony Mantha, but I’m not sure that was a major sticking point.[/quote_box_center]
Although the deal ultimately did not come to fruition, it would not be a surprise to see talks revisited in the summer as a lot of groundwork was laid. So, what should Leafs fans think of this return?
Phaneuf is turning 30 this year and is signed through the 2020-21 season with a $7M cap hit. Since his first full season in Toronto, he is 24th in points by a defenseman league wide and 20th in goals; for all the criticism he gets, he has been very productive. The rest of the story with Phaneuf is well documented. He gets saddled with extremely tough competition and zone starts, and rarely gets any help. His partners in Toronto have been: Francois Beauchemin, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Kostka, and Cody Franson. The centers he has had to team up with for checking assignments has not been much better: Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, David Steckel, Tim Connolly, Jay McClement, Dave Bolland, and now Nazem Kadri. That is not exactly a banner group, to put it nicely. To compound matters, the team did not start getting consistently solid goaltending until 2013.
However, his underlying numbers have been poor as he’s been unable to push play successfully. At least according to WOWYs, players have had better numbers without him than with him (although some of that is probably due to match-ups and role). The only season he has averaged less than 22min/game was his rookie season, so he’s been eating minutes pretty well his entire career.
It appears any deal between the two teams would require at least Stephen Weiss going back the other way in order to swap money and big deals.
Weiss is turning 32 this year and signed through the 2017-2018 season with a $4.9M cap hit per season. The next two years he’s making $6M in real dollars, so it would be very attractive to Detroit to move that away. He costs less than Phaneuf, and the Leafs would be getting out from Dion’s contract three years earlier, these are swaps we starting to see happen in the NHL and ones I wondered if they’d begin to happen. Weiss hasn’t had a healthy season since the 2011-12 campaign, this year he has managed to get into 41 games and has had a reasonably productive 19 points, but he’s doing it shooting nearly 17%. He has played primarily at wing this season, but there is reason to believe he can still be a productive top nine forward.
That is presumably why the Leafs would ask for Brendan Smith as well. Smith is 26 and has played only 178 NHL games, and last season was his first playing over 70 games. This year he is playing the 5th most overall and at even strength among the Red Wings’ defense group. His underlying numbers are strong (55CF%), as are his WOWYs. Last season was the same story when the Red Wings were healthy, although Smith did play in the top four quite a bit due to Jonathon Ericsson missing time and only playing 48 games. Smith is also an RFA and should command a reasonable raise on his $1.26M salary.
Without money being retained either way, the Leafs aren’t gaining cap space in the immediate future and they are trading away the best player in the deal. A productive top four defenseman for an overpaid top nine forward who has struggled to stay healthy, along with a prime-aged defenseman who has yet to prove he can play in the top four, is an immediate win for Detroit. The Leafs would win this deal down the road when Weiss’ deal expires (and they might even be able to trade him on the last year of his deal, who knows).
But it is not a great return considering Phaneuf would go to a contender, play heavy minutes—possibly with Kronwall — and be a big player for them as they try to win a Cup while Zetterberg and Datsyuk are still around. It makes sense that Friedman noted the parameters changed once the Braydon Coburn deal went down; Weiss and Smith are parts of a fine return, but the Leafs should be getting some sort of young asset with upside (be it a high pick or good prospect; don’t confuse that with that being their best prospect, though).
Phaneuf is a lightning rod and that makes it tough to cut through the nonsense and see his real value. On a team like Detroit, they have a defense with Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathon Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and now Marek Zidlicky (along with some decent young players); he would be going to go there and play a prime role on a perennial contender. To get some secondary pieces with zero futures would be an underwhelming return.
- Thought this was a good point on twitter about Mats Sundin and how old he was when the Leafs finally succeeded with him. Kessel is turning 28 this year and, while the team might not be a season away from being successful, he is still an extremely productive player and not nearly old enough to think they still can’t win with him down the road. There have been, in my opinion, legitimate concerns raised over whether or not Kessel will age well due to his workout habits, but it can’t be denied that he can roll out of bed and contribute, as his shot is simply that good. Some will say it’s time to move on and start fresh, and maybe it is, but I don’t think age is relevant with Kessel yet. He’s young enough to remain productive and obviously still is.
- As a complete aside, it’s funny that we hear a lot about “if only Clark or Gilmour were on the team,” but never Sundin. Sundin was a 6’5, right handed center who could play in all situations against anyone, and the only player between the three to have a career wherein he scored over a point per game. Doesn’t mean much or help the team now, but it’s funny how players are remembered in this city. Safe to say Kessel will be remembered in the same light Sundin is, which isn’t really a compliment.
- I suggested last week that the team should have traded Roman Polak due to the acquisitions of Tim Erixon and Eric Brewer. Later in the week, Erixon was scratched against Tampa Bay so Brewer could make his debut, which seemed confusing considering Erixon is the type of young player they should want to give every opportunity. A week later, Stephane Robidas and Polak have been shut down for the year. Don’t mind admitting I’m wrong, but there are a lot of moving parts here. Apparently Polak has been playing with a hernia problem for most of the year, but there were teams interested in Polak at the deadline, including his former squad. Could the Leafs have moved a player who is done for the rest of the year anyway for value? Were the rumours simply that and GMs across the league knew he was hurt? Quite a few interesting scenarios to consider here.
- Now Leafs management has a decision to make. The Marlies are 7-3-0 in their last ten and knocking on the door of a playoff spot sitting only one point out but having three teams to pass. They acquired TJ Brennan at the deadline and Stuart Percy still isn’t back, so how are they going to fill the hole on defense? On one hand it would be nice to get a look at players on the Leafs to get ready for next season, but more players would benefit from the Marlies making the playoffs on the whole. The team is also trying to tank. Who they call-up might not be indicative of the team viewing that player as a long-term piece.
- Interesting observation from David Johnson on Twitter. The JvR – Bozak – Kessel line has shot under 2% under Horachek, and in general has played some pretty defeated hockey with the season going down the drain. One thing worth exploring is this—Via War-on-ice, under Horachek Kessel has started over 60% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone this season, but under Carlyle he was starting a little over 43%. Logically, that sounds like it would increase production and it certainly has a play in the lines increased CF%. However, this line scores almost all of their goals off the rush, so in a weird way they might be better served in the defensive zone where they can break out and use their speed and skill through the neutral zone to create mismatches and score goals. Of course, the bigger question to that is whether or not that is conducive to winning, because all three players are poor defensively.
[quote_box_center]“The guys have tendencies when things go well, they like to go read stuff about themselves. They get in this cycle that they have to read about themselves all the time. But one [piece of] advice for the players that play in a Canadian market, or any market: At the end of the day, all that matters is what the coaches say, management says and your teammates. That’s it. And your wife. I think that’s all you need to do. I think here with the players, they pay too much attention what the people outside say because, at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter. You guys know better than any of us how it goes here. One game you score two, you’re a hero. Next game you’re minus-2 — things are not that good. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy enough. I kind of liked that style because you as a player, you want to be in a place that hockey matters, and at the same time, you want to be part of the good teams, too. Hopefully, they can fix things here because I think the city of Toronto deserves to have a good team, a winning team. It would be unbelievable for the league and for the sport.”
– Olli Jokinen on the Leafs and the media.[/quote_box_center]
In the social media age it is honestly impossible to avoid the media here in Toronto. The major, national sports stations are here, as well as the newspapers, the city is Leafs obsessed no matter what anyone tells you, and the ratings on the team are massive given the opportunity. It would be foolish to think that this doesn’t affect the players one bit, no matter how many media members want to pat each other on the back on Twitter and say it’s not their fault the team is bad. It isn’t their fault, they didn’t build the team, but the attention and constant pressure over any little thing would beat down on any human, especially when the team is poor like they are this year and people still feel the need to kick them while they are down. The rest of the season is a formality; they are rightfully tanking to get a high pick in a potentially elite draft. It is clear, though, that the team needs to do a better job of shielding the players from the media, at least with this current group. Kessel is clearly rattled by everything going on, for example. As much as it is on the players to deal with everything better, and it will be easier when the team itself is actually good, management/PR/whoever needs to help, too. The relationship between the team and media has been shockingly toxic this year. I’ve never seen it this bad. The media isn’t changing or shrinking in Toronto, so it’s up to the team to figure out a solution internally because it has been an awful year to follow the team.
[quote_box_center]”I like playing here. It’s close to home & my family can watch the games.”
– David Booth, pending UFA on the possibility of returning.[/quote_box_center]
Booth is turning 31 this year and has four goals and nine points in 44 games, along with 63 SOG, and a 48.8CF%. He takes a lot of shots from the outside, which appears to artificially inflate his possession numbers, but he’s also played a large chunk of the year on the fourth line and hasn’t gotten any power play time. Down the stretch he’s getting an opportunity to play with some of the Leafs scorers and steady minutes to along with regular PK time. For a good portion of the season he looked like a player that was on his way out of the league, but lately he’s shown better with the increased role. He has 15 games left to show what he can do.
[quote_box_center]“Did I talk to Naz? Yep. We talked about his past, and I talked about today, that he wasn’t playing.”
-Peter Horachek, on benching Nazem Kadri for sleeping in and missing a team meeting. [/quote_box_center]
He made a mistake, he owned it, and the Leafs rightfully sat him. Not much else to say here, really. They disciplined him and rightfully so. Hopefully he learns and everyone moves forward. There was talk about the why the Leafs would even tell the media, but what is the alternative here? Healthy scratch him without reason and say it’s a team issue? As if some media member in Toronto wouldn’t dig up the reason? I think it was a pretty honest mistake and unfortunate situation, but the team and player handled it pretty well all around.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
- I think, for the defense, I would either keep up Petter Granberg or call-up Andrew MacWilliam. For me the focus should be on AHL playoffs and getting guys like William Nylander more professional hockey games under pressure. It sucks for Brennan, but just because he is in the AHL now doesn’t mean they can’t give him a real look next season. Focus on the Marlies and the playoffs, and, again, keep the kids away from the NHL mess.
- I think I get why the team is playing Holland on the point of the power play (to get him PP time however they can because of all their forwards), but I’d rather see Tim Erixon there. His last stint in the AHL he had 38 points in 40 games, and he was known to have some offense when he was drafted. Erixon should get a prime opportunity now to show what he can do in the NHL. The team can still put Holland on the power play for a guy like Panik and cycle in forwards when necessary. It’s not like the team has six forwards who deserve PP time.
- I think shutting Robidas and Polak down was the right move, and if there are other players in the same boat of needing surgery soon it should be done with them, too. Tanking stuff aside, if you’re an established veteran there is nothing left to gain by playing out the season. Get fixed, get healthy, get ready for next year.
- I think the goalie situation down the stretch is a tough one to figure out. Do you split starts or heavily favour one guy over the other? Reimer seems like he needs out, but Bernier is an RFA and apparently wants to get paid. The smart money is on hedging your bets at this point and pretty well just splitting them the rest of the way. I don’t think either goalie’s value is swaying one way or another based on the end of the season at this point.
- I think there has been an insinuation that there are players who are unhappy they did not get traded at the deadline. If that is true, they should be accommodated out of the city at one point or another in the near future. It doesn’t mean you should sell a guy for pennies on the dollar, but if you don’t want to be part of the solution, you are part of the problem.