The youth movement in Toronto is well underway. While the team is exciting, it is a development year and the organization has to be focusing on the future more than anything.

In a few years time, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner will all require big second contracts. This summer already, the team will have to sign Nikita Zaitsev (an RFA) to an extension. They already locked in Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri, Matt Martin and Frederik Andersen. Suddenly, the money could get rather tight.

At the same time, sitting tied for fourth on the team in scoring and eighth among forwards in time on ice is James van Riemsdyk. After next season, he’ll be able to hit the UFA market and rake in a big contract after playing on a bargain deal for years.

Since the 2013 shortened season, JVR has played 265 games, scored 93 goals, and put up 189 points. He’s a legitimate top six scoring winger with size in a league where just about everyone covets scoring and size, and he’ll be 29 when he hits the open market.

Yeah, he’s going to get paid.

How much, exactly, is the question.

Andrew Ladd (30) signed for seven years at a $5.5 million cap hit this past summer. Milan Lucic (29) got seven years at a $6 million cap hit. Loui Eriksson (31) signed for six years and $6 million per year. Kyle Okposo (28) got seven years at $6 million. Troy Brouwer (31) got four years at $4.5 million.

It’s safe to say JVR will, at a minimum, receive upwards of $5 million on the open market. If he plays well over the next two years, somewhere around the $6 million range isn’t out of the question given his production to date.

Nylander will also be getting paid that summer, while Matthews and Marner will be due up the following summer.

That is a lot of money for someone playing the eighth most at forward on what is effectively the team’s third line this season.

If JVR is going to price himself out of Toronto, the time to trade him is now. An extra year on a contract is a big deal for potential suitors. The Keith Yandle to the Rangers trade is a great example, although that type of return shouldn’t be expected here. Just this summer, Taylor Hall netted Adam Larsson straight up; Hall is much better than JVR, younger, and signed to a great long-term deal.

Last season, the Jets were able to net a first round pick and a decent prospect (Marko Dano) at the deadline. The season before, TJ Oshie brought back Troy Brouwer, a prospect, and a third rounder. Milan Lucic was also traded for a first, Martin Jones and Colin Miller in June of 2015.

JVR is a good player who can consistently produce. He’s also used in a sheltered scoring role and is not trustworthy defensively. And, as mentioned, he is going to get paid soon.

Is this the player the Leafs can trade straight up for a significant piece on the blue line? Probably not. Is it a player they can trade to stockpile more assets/picks to then, in turn, address their defense? Absolutely.


Notes

– It didn’t get much attention, but Frederik Andersen made a big save on a 2v1 late in the first period of Friday night’s win over Philadelphia. Moments after, the Leafs drew a powerplay followed by a 5v3, where Rielly scored to tie the game. When he struggled early, Babcock never wavered in his support for his number one guy and went out of his way to regularly compliment him publicly. So far this month, Andersen has played six games and sports a .924 save percentage.

– As the Leafs played Andersen back-to-back over the weekend, here’s a reminder of this great article on rested vs. tired goalies by Eric Tulsky, who now works for the Carolina Hurricanes:

“With the larger sample size, we can say with reasonable confidence that a rested goalie stops about 1 percent more shots than a tired goalie, even when both of them are playing in front of a team that played on the previous day. It’s not quite the difference between Thomas and Leighton, but it is still quite significant — the difference between Lundqvist and Theodore or between Price and Garon.”

– Andersen was not the reason they lost Saturday by any means, but the decision-making process needs to come into question. 15 games into the season, Jhonas Enroth has played two games (lost both) and has an .866 save percentage. The Leafs‘ next back-to-back is next week, and it might be an important early game for Enroth as he looks to earn some confidence and trust from the coaching staff. His games played to date have been a far cry from the “minimum 20, 22, 24 games,” Lou Lamoriello mentioned this summer. Meanwhile, Karri Ramo has been practicing with the Leafs and has a nameplate on a stall in the dressing room.

– In the summer, I tried a little experiment, taking Andersen’s and Enroth’s average save percentages and applying them to the Leafs shots against from last season to see how many more goals they would’ve hypothetically prevented. After looking at the numbers, I noted:

“Last season, in the same amount of shots, the Leafs gave up 160 5v5 goals (third worse in the league), so it’s only a difference of 12, which would result in a few more wins if averages held up. It also doesn’t move the needle much on their 29thranked goal differential of -48.”

– So far this year, the Leafs goaltending has not been good (Andersen still has a .901 save percentage on the season, even if it is correcting itself). That said, they are also allowing the most shots against per game in the league, and those two things combined have the Leafs ranked fourth worst in goal differential at -11. On the whole, it’s all bad defensively. The goaltending is starting to even out. The defense? Not so much.

– The ice time allocation has been all over the place defensively. Rielly is the number one guy and Zaitsev is the number two guy, without question. The rest of the top four has included Gardiner, Marincin and Hunwick, depending on the night. Carrick has mixed in the odd appearance there, but not consistently as of yet. Roman Polak is a third-pairing guy who specializes on the PK.

 Cap HitTOI/GameESTOI/GamePPTOI/gamePKTOI/game
Morgan Rielly5.0M22:4619:19:492:38
Jake Gardiner4.05M19:0216:402:17:04
Roman Polak2.25M17:5514:45:003:09
Nikita Zaitsev1.775M21:3918:282:14:56
Martin Marincin1.25M19:5616:25:033:27
Matt Hunwick1.2M20:0216:41:023:17
Connor Carrick750K18:0515:251:45:54

Quotes

I guess I would say if I liked anything I did in the game, then we might’ve done it again. But when we were like we were, I didn’t like it very much. The other thing is the combinations have stayed together longer, probably, this year than they ever have before just because I think guys are suited for certain spots better. We don’t have enough other pieces to interchange.

  • Mike Babcock, on changing the lines after the blowout against LA.

That’s an interesting take on lines. The one thing the Leafs do lack in terms of shuffling forwards around is an abundance of players good enough to match-up against top lines. That said, I wouldn’t consider it a group of players that can’t be mixed and matched.

We definitely play completely different than they do, but I like the way our team plays. I like playing the physical, strong, defensive game rather than just the speed, fast game, that’s just what our team is made for. I don’t know which is the better way to go, but we have to outplay them physically to beat them. That’s the only way we can beat this team.

  • Drew Doughty, prior to the Kings spanking the Leafs 7-0.

LA ground them down, challenged them physically, and won handily.

He loved [the Hall of Fame]. He was a historian. He loved the game. He thought it was extremely important to preserve the heritage of the game. Without this place we wouldn’t be able to understand where we came from, to set a direction of where hockey wanted to go.

  • Kalli Quinn, the daughter of the late Pat Quinn, on what the Hall of Fame meant to her father.

Rest in Peace, Pat. Thanks for everything.


Video Tidbit of the Week

 

Even though the Leafs struggled last season, they were well structured and disciplined, for the most part. To some degree, I enjoyed watching them play hockey (minus their lack of talent). While they are much more talented this season, they have also been a lot more careless with the puck. On this offensive zone faceoff, it highlights something that has happened a few times so far this season: There’s a clean draw win, the defenseman retrieves it with a bit of time, and his partner is open in the far corner. Instead, it’s a far side rim around the boards — on his backhand of all things — and the puck weakly arrives at the far wall before getting chipped out. Pittsburgh easily regroups and goes right back up ice. A clean faceoff win results in a turnover in mere seconds.


5 Things I Think I’d Do

1. I think Rielly-Zaitsev, Gardiner-Carrick and Marincin-Polak/Corrado makes the most sense on defense at this point. That top pairing looks like it will stick together for most of the year, while Gardiner-Carrick has been good in stretches this season and last. I’d keep going back to them. Marincin has struggled this season, but he did the same thing to begin last season. I’d ride it out for now given the options. Corrado is better with the puck (Marincin struggles with his handles), so he’d get the first look there for me.

2. I think I’d be playing Peter Holland at 4C and also giving him a look on the PK. He played some PK a few years ago under Randy Carlyle when he was fighting for ice-time and he was decent in that situation. He also adds scoring, size, skill, and the ability to maintain an offensive zone cycle over Ben Smith.

3. I think I’m still trying to understand Nylander and Matthews on their strong sides on the PP. The Marlies had Nylander there last year, so it’s not exactly a surprise, but you take away Nylander’s (and Matthews’) shooting ability to a degree by giving them both worse angles to shoot from — to say nothing of completely negating one-timers for both players. They’ve scored some goals on the seam pass, but the opposition has clued in on it and it’s one of the easier things for a PK to negate.

4. I think I’d mix in some shifts for Auston Matthews on the wing. He’s in a bit of funk, but he’s getting chances nightly and is going to work through it — without question. To help make it easier on him, I’d throw him on the wing on occasion (just a shift here and there). It’s easier to play wing; you don’t have nearly as much responsibility defensively, and you can focus primarily on offense. Just a little tweak to help him break through offensively at times.

5. I think it’s time to take Matt Hunwick away from the coaching staff.