Last night, a trade broke that should make Leafs fans pause for a second.
Martin Hanzal and Ryan White netted Arizona a first round pick, a second, and a conditional fourth that has a chance to become a second, as well as a minor leaguer.
That is a big draft pick return, even in a weak draft year, for decent-but-not-great veterans. By all accounts, this looks like a sellers’ market. There are a lot of teams that view themselves as serious Cup threats, or at least playoff threats, and very few teams that are putting good players up for sale.
Suddenly, you can’t help but ask: What would JVR bring back? He’s on pace for over 60 points, he’s turning 28 this year, and he’s signed for another season at a very affordable $4.25 million.
If they straight up sold him, you would have to think they can get at least a first round pick and high-end prospect for a player that is most likely going to price himself out of Toronto by the end of next season. In a hockey trade that keeps them competitive now, to some degree, moving JVR should be able to bring back some defensive help (hello, Anaheim).
Another winger in the same boat would be Leo Komarov. He is the type of player teams go gaga over at this time of season – a grinder with some scoring ability that can play in all situations. He’s signed at a very affordable $2.9 million through next season. He can slot in on any team and at a contract that isn’t very hard to digest.
And then there is Tyler Bozak, the mercurial center who is on pace for over 50 points, who is strong in the faceoff circle, and who is signed for another year at a $4.2 million cap hit. Hanzal is far superior defensively and brings size down the middle (which does matter to some people and drives the price up), but he’s also a rental and not very productive offensively. That said, the extra year on Bozak’s deal might actually work against him.
It’s tough to find a precedent for a Bozak comparable trade in recent memory. You don’t often see centers with term traded mid-season. The same would go for JVR and Komarov. The price is tough to pinpoint, which makes one think — if it happens — it seems more likely at the draft or the expansion draft when there is roster shuffling happening.
The expansion draft actually works against the Leafs here; both of those players are signed for an extra year, and that would mean most interested teams probably have to include a player to make available that they had not previously planned on due to the roster addition.
That really just leaves Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak as pending UFAs. Both are respected veterans around the league and have seen a tonne of penalty kill time on a solid unit this season. We have discussed throughout the season that the Leafs were able to get two second round picks by trading Polak along with Nick Spaling to San Jose.
Matt Hunwick should be able to net them a decent draft pick as well. Down the left side, Toronto has Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Martin Marincin; beyond that, they would have to dip into their AHL team.
On the right side, they have Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Carrick, Roman Polak, Alexey Marchenko, and Frank Corrado. The Leafs would have some depth there following a trade, and even if an injury were to occur after that.
If I were a betting man, I’d guess that the team does nothing this week and evaluates what the group does down the stretch before making decisions in the summer. But make no mistake, there’s an opportunity to cash in for the future here should they choose to go that route.
– In nine games since being re-inserted into the lineup, Josh Leivo has seven points and 21 shots on goal. His ice time has also risen and steadied itself out as he looks to be settling in. He even received a shift in overtime against the Rangers.
– In two games without Connor Carrick — who has been playing in the top four steadily the last few months — here is what they have done with ice time compared to the season averages: Jake Gardiner has seen his ice time go up around two minutes more to the 23+ mark, Hunwick has stayed in the 17-minute range, Rielly saw over 25 minutes the first game and under 20 against Montreal, Polak stayed roughly around his range of around the 18 minute mark, and Zaitsev stayed in the 21-22 minute range. Meanwhile, Carrick’s replacement, Alexey Marchenko, played 13:52 in the first game and went up to 17:40 in the second. So the big winner was actually Jake Gardiner, who lost his regular partner but saw his ice time go up.
– Against Montreal, Zach Hyman got pick-pocketed for the Habs first goal and beat down ice for the game-winner in overtime, while also finishing second on the forward group in ice time to Leo Komarov. With the Leafs knocking on the Habs’ door in the standings, are those the two forwards that should be playing the most? At some point, you’re overthinking it if that’s what the time on ice looks like at the top at the end of a big game at home.
– I haven’t seen it noted anywhere, but Toronto has given up the most goals of any team currently in a playoff spot. Their defense has been a sticking point throughout the season, and that is what sticks out down the stretch here.
– I have had a lot of people ask about why they struggle so much in their own zone, particularly on the breakout. Personnel aside, one thing worth noting is that Babcock wasn’t around much in training camp this season due to the World Cup of Hockey. With a young group in need of specific instruction and coaching, they weren’t getting it from the boss at the one time they are able to go through it in detail on the ice in practice. Don’t know how big of an impact that did or did not have, but it couldn’t have helped.
– The Marlies now sit eighth in the Eastern Conference, four points out of the division lead, and are on a 7-2-1 run in their last 10 with a +22 goal differential on the season. Seth Griffith has 21 points in 18 games for the Marlies, giving them a legitimate AHL star. Their rise has happened while Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen have been out injured. They have a legitimate chance to make a serious run in the AHL playoffs this year.
“I said: Do you want to be a fun guy who (lives a hedonistic lifestyle)? Because that’s fine. That’s just a choice. Or do you want to be this guy that people rely on and count on and look up to? I said: Just come in the gym tomorrow and let me know.”
“Freddie shows up the next day with a haircut, all Lululemon-ed out, ready to work,” he said. “And I thought, okay, this kid’s serious.’ ”
– Scot Prohaska, a southern California-based strength-and-conditioning coach on training Frederik Andersen
Andersen has come a long way throughout his career, and in this season as well. Only three starts behind his career high with 21 games to go, the Leafs look set to see how far they can push him this season. We’ll see how much he can handle.
“You know, they’re used to winning. The only guys that aren’t used to winning are the guys who have been here for a while. So, we always talk about the kids, but that’s not the group we have to worry about. We’ve got to worry about the group that’s been here for a while. They’ve got to get used to winning every night.”
– Mike Babcock on the playoff race
I kind of felt this was a bit of a shot at the veterans, or at the very least it was geared to take the attention off the rookies. A few times this season Babcock has called out JVR and Bozak, and throughout the season he has noted that Marner ‘drives’ the line. Read into that what you will.
“What will happen is A.J. will change the [defence], Sheldon will run the penalty kill. We’re very fortunate here in Toronto to have some great resources with our player development staff. We’ve got Scott Pellerin who was a big part of the Los Angeles Kings, developing their defensive use of Manchester [Monarchs], and you look at L.A. now and a lot of those guys came from Scott. We’ll rotate between him and Stephane Robidas in practice and in support as basically your eye in the sky during games.”
– Kyle Dubas on the shuffling on the Marlies bench after parting ways with long-time assistant Gord Dineen
Not long after trading what was once considered a decent prospect in Viktor Loov, the Marlies let go of their defense coach and look to be changing directions. The tidbit on Pellerin and Robidas working with the defense in practice was particularly interesting. It’s no secret defense is the Leafs’ Achilles heel, and other than Andrew Nielsen and Travis Dermott (and expectations should be managed for both), there isn’t much in the pipeline.
Video Tidbit of the Week
I picked this clip for a few reasons. First off, Alexey Marchenko’s two solid plays: 1) boxing out Michael Grabner before getting his stick on the puck to push it up ice and exit the zone (on a defensive zone draw with the fourth line on, no less); 2) his good gap in the neutral zone helps win possession back. Marchenko kept it pretty simple in his first few games as a Leaf, but he was solid in the process. He’s not exactly a young kid, but you could still see why the Leafs like him.
The other reason I picked this clip is the move by Frederik Gauthier. His skills have really developed over the last few years as he walked around a pretty good player in Brady Skjei and drove the net hard. Assuming he goes back down to the Marlies to close out the season, I’ll be curious to see how he finishes out the season production wise.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. I think the Leafs’ interest in Riley Sheahan — as reported on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday — makes some sense. Under Mike Babcock in Detroit, he was a productive, play-driving forward that was used at both center and wing. In his rookie season, Sheahan put up 24 points in 42 games playing 14:27 a night with a 56.4 CF%. In his first full season under Babcock (79 games), he posted 36 points and a 55.2CF% in 15:39 per night. In the next two seasons without Babcock, he has 34 points total in 139 games, including not scoring a goal yet this season. In a buy-low scenario, he makes sense as a young depth center signed for another year (2.075M cap hit) with some size and success under Babcock (he’ll know him better than most). That said, at the price of a first rounder that Nick Kypreos suggested, it makes no sense.
2. I think I would be pretty pleased with Alexey Marchenko’s debut so far, and would have the confidence that he could help this team should they decide to trade Roman Polak. My guess is their only reservation is on the penalty kill, where the team heavily relies on Polak (and Hunwick) and has had a solid unit overall on the season. Marincin has been used on the penalty kill whenever he’s in the lineup; at minimum, I think it makes sense to test his market because there is some depth here now. Don’t forget, Frank Corrado is still in the organization as well.
3. I think I can understand not shifting everything around because Tyler Bozak missed one game, but it really makes sense to take an opportunity like that to play William Nylander at center and call up one of the Marlies wingers or even recent acquisition Sergey Kalinin to fill a fourth line spot. Montreal at home on a Saturday night with playoff implications in late February, and Ben Smith is the third line center?
4. I think another week has gone by and it’s getting harder to justify taking Josh Leivo off the Kadri line. He is good at working the walls, which is a good fit for Kadri and Komarov — two other players that like to cycle and wear opponents down. He’s also a good finisher with a shot that teams are realizing they need to respect. At this point, when the team gets healthy, it looks like he will be bumping Nikita Soshnikov out of a full-time spot.
5. I think that means, once Marner returns, one of Zach Hyman or Connor Brown will have to be bumped down to the fourth line. My guess is that Brown would be that guy as Hyman seems attached to the hip of Matthews and has played left wing this season while Brown hasn’t. Brown is more skilled while Hyman has more of a power game, which is why I think a Martin-Gauthier-Hyman fourth line would have a lot of potential as a cycle/energy/momentum changing unit.