At the intermission of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, the panel had a few interesting notes regarding the trade deadline and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Of particular interest is that the Leafs have apparently not had any contract negotiations with pending free agents JVR, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. The panel also noted that a few teams have inquired about JVR but have been turned away. Further, Nick Kypreos threw out the idea of JVR possibly being open to the type of deal TJ Oshie signed over the summer, which was for eight years and $46 million; essentially, the Leafs might be able to keep him at a low annual average salary, but it will cost them in term.
JVR turns 29 this year in May and is second on the team in goals. Last season, he had a career-high 62 points and he has generally managed to stay healthy in his career, having only missed significant time in two of his eight full seasons, not including this current one. He has a career .64 points per game, which is a 52-point pace per 82 games.
He’s a good player – just one that Mike Babcock does not play that much. JVR is ninth among forwards in even strength ice time per game, and 10th in average time on per game. He has never broken 19 minutes in a single game this season. Last season, he was seventh in even strength ice time per game and ninth in total ice time per game among forwards. In the playoffs, that dropped to eighth in even strength time, and he remained at ninth in total ice time per game.
With his production being what it is, JVR will be able to look at contracts like Kyle Okposo’s (7 years, $42 million), Loui Eriksson’s (6 years, $36 million), Andrew Ladd’s (7 years, $38.5 million) and ask for that kind of range. Now, all of those deals already look terrible, so maybe the market simmers on a player Babcock views and deploys as a one-dimensional scorer, but all it takes is one. Teams always want scoring.
The Leafs are projected to have a little over $25 million in cap space, with William Nylander being the only notable player that needs a new deal. But after the 2018-19 season, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will need to be locked in, too. Between the Oshie deal and the ones outlined above, there’s a general range for the type of contract offer it will take to keep JVR, but it’s unclear if the Leafs have any interest.
I don’t think they want to weaken themselves in the very short term by trading pending UFAs like Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, or Leo Komarov. I guess it’s possible. Dave Poulin told me that he’s had some calls from people asking – other teams – about Leo Komarov. Maybe they do move one of these guys; they could, but I’d be really surprised.
If these guys walk as free agents at the end of the year, so be it. I think the Leafs have young players in the organization who can come behind them and replace them. But maybe not yet to the full extent.
I won’t get into Komarov or Bozak – I don’t think they net particularly strong returns, so I can understand keeping veterans like that around for the playoffs versus a relatively low return like a third and/or middling prospect. But JVR is a different story if he can get you a first-round pick and decent prospect.
Last season, the St. Louis Blues found themselves in a similar situation and traded Kevin Shattenkirk for a first round pick and a good prospect in Zach Sanford. If the Leafs can get that type of return for a player they, A) Barely play, and B) Are most likely not going to re-sign, it is tough to justify hanging onto him.
Toronto is poised to play one of Boston or Tampa in the playoffs this year. If they beat one, they most likely play the other in the second round. Boston and Tampa are the second- and first-placed teams in the league right now in points. Hey, anything is possible in the playoffs, but that is not exactly an “anything can happen” toss-up as far as post-season matchups.
If the team is going to re-sign JVR – which seemed unlikely after the Patrick Marleau contract to begin with – then it is a bit of a different story. Or maybe he can’t bring back that much value without agreeing to an extension first (which would seem unlikely). But if the team can bring in a good pick and solid prospect for a player they are bound to lose, while looking down the barrel of playing the top two teams right away in the playoffs, at some point, prudence and asset management comes into play.
At this point, though, it seems more likely they will stand pat.
– Don’t look now, but Mitch Marner and William Nylander are suddenly both on pace for 60 points, which is one point off their totals from last season. There was a lot of sophomore slump talk and head scratching on both of them early on, but they are both primed to surpass their strong rookie seasons production-wise. Marner, in particular, is in a bigger role now with the Kadri line in a tough matchup situation while Matthews and Nylander have faced tougher checking from the start of the season this year. Nylander had almost half of his production on the PP last season (42.6%) when he’s not even putting up a one fifth of his production on the PP this season (16.6%).
– Don’t know how you stop the Auston Matthews goal against Ottawa. Even without the partial screen in front, Matthews is coming in full speed, pulls the puck out wide with his reach, and then all the way into his body before snapping it far side and in. Tracking that puck as a goalie is extremely difficult as he’s able to move the goalie around just with his reach and the threat of his release. The only other player in the league I can think of that has that type of shot with that type of height is Evgeny Malkin.
– In three big games against good opponents that were all close games, Dominic Moore played 8:33, 8:10, and 9:21. Don’t think Babcock is the biggest fan of his. The unnecessary two-minute penalty he took against Nashville — cross-checking a guy from behind when he was skating to the puck — is not the type of thing that will help his cause, either.
– Doesn’t get much credit for it anymore, or maybe it’s just taken for granted at this point, but Nazem Kadri is quietly tied for 11th in the league in penalties drawn. Conversely, JVR is 11th among all forwards league-wide with a -8 penalty differential. Most of the other players at the top in this category are guys that face tough matchups (Mikael Backlund, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Getzlaf, etc.), but JVR is loaded with offensive zone starts and his penalties are often of the lazy variety and taken in the offensive zone.
– Andreas Borgman and Matt Martin are the top two minor penalty takers on the team and both have negative penalty differentials at -10 and -4, respectively. With both now out of the line-up, there’s some extra penalties there off the board.
– Elliotte Friedman mentioned that Kasperi Kapanen in over Josh Leivo might have been the last straw for him. I was wondering the same thing. Babcock has generally stayed loyal to players that have been up with the team all year, so that had to be a tough pill to swallow. By comparison, Justin Holl came in and played well and scored twice, but when defensemen started returning, Connor Carrick stayed in and he sat.
– Kasperi Kapanen has settled into his role now. Over the last six games, he’s played between 11:04 and 13:40, putting up three points and 11 shots on net in the process. He gets penalty killing time to go with that and Babcock has been mixing in Matthews with Komarov and Kapanen on the fourth line each game. His assist against Anaheim was a nice development in his game over past years – he used his speed to back off the defenseman, then stopped up to give himself space before making a pass to Matthews for a tap-in. In past years, he was prone to skating himself into the corner or out of scoring positions when he couldn’t beat players clean with his speed.
– Against Ottawa, Babcock also moved Leo Komarov beside Tyler Bozak and Connor Brown for a bit in the third period when the Leafs started protecting the lead. Despite playing on the fourth line, Komarov has only played less than 14 minutes (13:10) once in the last seven games. He’s generally getting third-line ice time still.
– Can’t remember the last time Babcock started the Tyler Bozak line at the beginning of the game – it might’ve been the Rangers game right before Christmas. I thought that was interesting. He started the season with the Kadri unit and shifted to the Matthews line recently (particularly big against Boston, in Boston). Most coaches think of that first shift as a tone setter, so it’s something I tend to keep an eye on. Brown picked off a bad pass and sent JVR on a mini-breakaway that shift.
– Chalk up another shootout win for the Leafs, making them 5-1 this season after a league-worst 1-8 record there last season. Only Marner and Matthews were able to score last year in the event; combined with the six other players that shot, the team was a combined 5/28 (18%). This season, they have six shooters with at least one goal and have gone a combined 10/27 (37%). Of note in there – Marner is 1/6 and Marleau is 1/5. At this point, it looks like Matthews (3/6) and Bozak (3/4) should be locks for every shootout, while the other shooter is a take-your-pick depending on who played well. At the other end, Andersen has .778% of the shootout shots he’s faced this year, compared to .522 last year.
“We’ve been really happy with Lily and how he’s progressed. I think he’s learning as time goes on here just how to use his hockey sense and his mobility and his skating — all of those kinds of things — to make him a good defensive player. A lot of young players, especially gifted offensive guys, think about offense and creating offense. That’s how they take over hockey games. He certainly has those abilities, but the area that usually needs to be developed most is how to use a lot of those things that make you great offensively in order to be a good defender.
We’ve talked about Dermott and we’ve talked about Holl — those are two of the assets that those guys have: They use their skating and their instincts offensively to be great defenders, to close early, and take away space and defend in the offensive zone as much as possible. Lily has done a really good job of progressing in that area. We pair that now with the offensive skills that he has, and he’s spending more time on offense as he gets better defensively. It’s been nice to watch that.”
– Sheldon Keefe on the development of Timothy LiljegreN
Liljegren is quietly developing nicely for the organization. With the top four locked in next season and with Dermott starting to nail down a spot, it should be interesting to see how the Leafs manage their defense for next season. My guess is they make the path difficult for Liljegren to lock in a spot.
“I thought we did a good job right until we turned the puck over and they got one. And then I thought they upped the ante. They won, when you look at the 50-50 battles in tonight’s game, in the faceoff circle, they dominated us. It’s a good team competing at a high level. As the game went on, we got quicker and quicker and we watched them more and more, and [Frederik Andersen] had to be good. Good for Freddy and good for us. We got the points. It just goes to show we’ve got a ways to go.”
– Mike Babcock after the Nashville game
The Leafs four centres are all above 50% in the faceoff dot and this quote is one of many where Babcock has mentioned faceoffs and competing. The team makes lots of contact on faceoffs with their wingers and drive right through, creating lots of “winger wins.” In an interview a while back, Bill Peters, who coached with Babcock, talked about faceoffs as a measuring stick for how ready his team is to battle. Can bet he got that off of Babcock.
“It seemed like Marner never had to actually stop the entire game. He was moving the whole time, his feet were moving and when you give guys like that ice, him and Marleau, I mean, God, those guys are tough to defend.”
– Mark Borowiecki on Mitch Marner’s performance against the Senators
If the Kadri line keeps producing like they are, teams are going to have to start choosing between that line and the Matthews line for matchups. Either way, it’s a win-win for the Leafs.
Video Tidbit of the Week
You almost don’t know where to start with this shift. Of course, Andersen should have just smothered the puck to begin with, but against good teams, you also can’t rim the puck around the wall for no reason. Nylander, after losing his stick, should cut his losses here and get to the bench, too.
Nashville obviously dominates the entire time, but what really stood out is Matthews in the defensive zone – he looked lost the entire time. This is part of the reason Kadri is so important to the team. Matthews has struggled in this regard against the top teams and was recently dominated by Patrice Bergeron in Boston, and for a good chunk of the Chicago game against Jonathan Toews, too. The biggest thing is how many times he stood in front without covering anyone, losing his man, or simply doing nothing. This is part of taking the next step in his game.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. If the goal is to roll four lines – which Babcock indicated after the Ottawa game – I think the 12 forwards being played are who should be used at this point. They’d like to upgrade at 4C clearly, and it would be nice to get Josh Leivo in, but they don’t have the options to do otherwise right now unless they move Marleau or Nylander to center. Both of those guys are playing good hockey on their lines right now.
2. I think that Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev are a poor fit and have been for quite some time. Gardiner’s best hockey of the season came when Hainsey was his partner. I’d like to see Carrick back with Gardiner and Zaitsev with Dermott to maybe round out the pairings a little better.
3. With nine games coming up in 16 days leading up to the deadline and two back-to-backs, I think Curtis McElhinney should get in at least three games. The team should really prioritize resting Frederik Andersen to get him ready for the playoffs. They’re going to make the playoffs at this point and more than likely finish third (although I do think Boston is prime to regress at some point here).
4. If you’re going to make an addition at the deadline, for me, it’s top-four defenseman or nothing at all. There’s no point in trading draft picks or prospects for bottom of the roster depth – it doesn’t move the needle enough. The forwards as a group are beginning to roll offensively, but the defense clearly needs work. If they are going to buy, then go big and add a top four defenseman that will have a big impact on the team. If they want to remake the forwards, wait until the summer, when a bunch of opportunities are going to open up with pending free agents.
5. With #BellLetsTalk passing a few weeks ago, this is a good time to say that hopefully that was just the beginning of the conversation, and absolutely not the end or a one-off day. Mental health impacts all of us in one way or another, myself included, so please seek assistance if you need it. We have tried very hard to create an open, supportive and understanding community here at MLHS. Know that we are always here for those that would like help. Let’s make sure to be kind to each other.