Happy trade deadline day eve, everyone!
There’s a lot to unpack as the deadline approaches, so let’s get right to it.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Leafs were able to clear the contracts of Eric Fehr and Nikita Soshnikov, in exchange for 7th and 4th round picks, respectively. The first two notes are obvious here – they dropped from being at the maximum contract limit of 50 to 48, giving themselves some wiggle room in any potential future moves. They were also able to clear up additional cap space – according to CapFriendly, slightly over 1.7 million.
Fehr was acquired along with Steven Oleksy and a 4th round pick for Frank Corrado at the 2017 deadline. At the end of the day, the trade netted the Leafs a 4th and 7th round pick for a player that they were not going to play and who was vocal about wanting an opportunity. They paid for parts of his annual $2 million salary last season and this season to basically acquire two low draft picks. You can debate if it’s great business at that cost, but the Leafs can afford it.
Conversely, Soshnikov was signed with high hopes and rose up the ranks quickly, making his NHL debut in his first year and chipping in five points in 11 games on the checking line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov. Last season, he was primarily on the fourth line with Matt Martin and a revolving group of centers (Ben Smith and Frederik Gauthier primarily), and he had nine points in 56 games there, playing primarily on his off-wing, where he looked uncomfortable. He was hurt this season and never got on track, and his contract had a stipulation that allowed him to leave, which he wanted to do due to his lack of playing time.
The Blues did well to buy low on a player that has flashed promise, including 17 points in 19 AHL games this year, but he’s turning 25 in October and has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. He’s a physical player and good forechecker, which the Leafs do need, and they are a little weak on the left wing. It is a bit of a disappointing end to his Leafs career, but the Leafs did right by him to move him to a place where he’ll get an opportunity.
And that’s the final point in all of this: The Leafs could have buried these guys, but they accommodated Fehr in moving him to San Diego and they found him an NHL home when his career looked all but done. Soshnikov was not going to get into this lineup and the team could have buried him, but they’ve moved him to a team where he’ll get a real opportunity. Players take note of these type of actions. When the Leafs inevitably try to sign more undrafted free agents, they can use examples like this as to how they treat players, on top of them having first-class facilities and an AHL team in the same city.
I'd like to thank @MapleLeafs for the opportunity to play for such a storied franchise, it was an honor! I'd also like to thank them for helping me find another opportunity to keep playing. I'm very excited to be joining a great organization in the @SanJoseSharks!
— Eric Fehr (@EricFehr) February 22, 2018
The case of Josh Leivo is a little strange. He all but requested a trade, then the team made him available to answer media questions about his request, and then Lou Lamoriello came out and denied that he asked for a trade. My stance has always been that he signed a one-year extension with the Leafs, and with that, the organization has the power to do what they want with him. That is just the reality of the situation. Whether he asked for a trade or not, he is under contract for next season and it is really the Leafs call.
It only took one injury for him to be reinserted into the lineup. It’s not really worth it for the Leafs to trade a depth player unless a team steps up with a good offer — which is unlikely in this case because Leivo has barely played. So here we are. The Matthews injury just makes it even more unlikely that he gets moved unless it’s in some sort of package in a bigger move.
The Leafs are apparently in on Ryan McDonagh and it makes sense for them to be. He’s a legitimate top-pairing defenseman that is signed through the end of the next season at an affordable cap hit of $4.7 million. He’s turning 29 later this year, so in general, he fits the Leafs’ salary structure and needs.
McDonagh would obviously help the Leafs defense in that he is a legit top four, but he’s also not a perfect fit. He’s another lefty, which is where the Leafs actually have some strength in Morgan Rielly – Jake Gardiner – Travis Dermott. He’s also at his best as a puck-moving defenseman, not necessarily as a shutdown guy (he’s only had a positive corsi relative to his teammates once in eight seasons).
But defensemen this good, at that price, do not become available basically ever. Boston traded Dougie Hamilton as a restricted free agent and he signed a massive contract immediately for six years and $34.5 million (which is now a bargain, to be honest).
Kevin Shattenkirk, as a pending UFA, cost a good prospect in Zach Sanford, a 1st and a 2nd, along with some bit parts being exchanged.
PK Subban was swapped straight up for Shea Weber, while Seth Jones was moved in a one-for-one for Ryan Johansen. These are big moves that rarely happen. Alec speculated on the possible price and deal further, but the bottom line is he will be pricey. But he would add another legitimate top-four defenseman to this group. Look at the presence and impact Ron Hainsey has had with Rielly in particular. This can’t be understated.
The benefit for Toronto with this type of move is that they don’t have to necessarily go for it this season, but next season they would be all-in. Lamoriello has made sneaky big moves before – see Kovalchuk, Ilya; and Mogilny, Alex – so I wouldn’t put this one past him.
The Leafs have also expressed interest in Luke Glendening. He carries a $1.8 million annual average for three more seasons and turns 29 this season. He’s a 15-20 point player who would replace Dominic Moore at the fourth-line center position. Moore has played over 10 minutes only twice in the last 11 games and has clearly fallen out of favour with coach Babcock.
Glendening is obviously a Babcock player, one who he has played 16+ minutes 39 times. The worry there would be that he would be Leo Komarov-like in that he would play a lot at the expense of better players. The cost would presumably not be high (apparently the Leafs offered a 5th and Detroit countered with a 2nd; it would likely fall in between there), but he is signed with term and is not cheap for a fourth-line center.
This is a team that’s about to sign some substantial players long-term. The small dollars add up. Just ask the Blackhawks.
For a few weeks in a row, the Hockey Night in Canada panel has mentioned the Leafs and Patrick Maroon. He had 27 goals and 42 points last season and currently has 14 goals and 30 points in 57 games, to go along with being 6’3 and providing a physical presence, which is where he’d interest the Leafs. He’s also great on the cycle and can control the puck down low and grind away at games, as evidenced by his career 57.7 corsi percentage to go along with his career +8.5 corsi relative to his teammates. He’s a good player and he’s sure to have suitors.
But a healthy Leafs team currently deploys Zach Hyman – Patrick Marleau – JVR – Leo Komarov down the left. I’m not sure how he fits into that. The right side is also deep. He seems like a nice to have more than a need to have, but if the cost isn’t too high and the Leafs can move other pieces around, he could help.
Overall, I expect the Leafs to make a depth move or two to bolster their lineup — a Glendening, and perhaps a depth defenseman. McDonagh makes sense to a degree, but the price might be too high. The team obviously won’t be selling at this point, although losing JVR for free shortly is a little tough to swallow. Exciting times ahead as the Leafs gear up for the playoffs (yet again)!
– It is difficult to overstate how good Frederik Andersen has been this season. He leads the league in shots against by nearly 200, leads in minutes played by nearly 100, has a .922 save percentage, and is third in the league in shutouts. He is a legitimate Vezina candidate at this point and the team’s MVP. This is the second straight year Andersen has been a horse for the team at a $5 million cap hit. It has to be recognized. What a season.
– I wasn’t sure about bringing back Curtis McElhinney, but he has made me look bad. He has a 7-4-0 record while basically only playing the second half of back-to-backs and has a .932 save percentage to go with it. It isn’t always pretty, but he’s getting the results. Wins like the Detroit game after a tough loss to Pittsburgh help to steer the ship straight after a little turbulence. He’s signed for another season and he’s doing a great job as the backup.
– Travis Dermott got victimized against Columbus by stepping up on Alex Wennberg and getting beat. He often steps up at the blue line and runs good gaps, and once and awhile he is going to get beat and look bad in the process. Generally speaking, he has been strong at making those plays and preventing entries. Unless it becomes a regular problem, you have to live with the odd mistake; they’re going to happen.
– Can’t believe it, but Nazem Kadri is on pace for 30 goals now. The power play goal against the Bruins was a bit of a new look with a one-timer in the high slot – the Leafs like the high tip there, but almost never use that high slot one-timer. That’s a different look and something to keep an eye on.
– Mitch Marner is now on pace for 65 points. Remember when people were wondering what was wrong with him in the first half of the season?
– It hasn’t received much attention, but Leo Komarov is a career 10.5 percent shooter shooting 5.1 percent this season. He’s on pace for 126 shots on goal, which would be the second most of his career since shooting 130 on net and scoring 19 the season he made the All-Star game. Lately, he’s fanned on a few pucks in the slot; while he’s not a true goal scorer, he’s better than that.
“Polie and [Carrick] are different players. One is a great big man and an elite penalty killer. The other is more of a puck mover. So they both have their strengths. When we play the teams with elite power plays, we’ll often put Polie in.”
– Mike Babcock on the sixth defenseman spot
I think Polak will draw in more often than not, basically.
“I think there’ll be some good karma my way. Hopefully, I can get a couple good bounces early and get the legs under me.”
– Josh Leivo before drawing into his first game since December 31, 2017
He looked like a player that hadn’t played since December 31, 2017. He didn’t even play nine minutes.
“We’re here to win. We don’t want to get bounced in the 1st or 2nd round. We’re here to make a push … it’s not going to be easy. A lot of great teams to go through, but we keep playing like we are and good things are going to come out of that.”
– Nazem Kadri after beating the Bruins
I’d agree with this. They are legit contenders, although the road to the Cup is probably ridiculous. At this point, it could very well be Bruins – Lightning – Penguins – Predators. That’s insane.
Video Tidbit of the Week
Toronto seems to like this Hainsey – Zaitsev pairing at the end of the games. They used them at the end of the Bruins game and also for the majority of the end of the Columbus game (though they came off at the end there for Rielly – Polak).
The team ran a 1-2-2 in the neutral zone with the goalie pulled to force a dump in and jammed the slot with the two wingers up top (in this case, it was Marleau and Komarov). It’s safe to assume this is generally their final minute defensive unit, although at times they have used Hyman instead of Marleau, or even Matthews over Kadri.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. I think this is a good opportunity to see William Nylander at center. Obviously, he had a great play to set up Mitch Marner for a goal, but the bigger note is him handling center duties up and down the ice. He did not give up much defensively and was able to produce against an elite team. This will give the Leafs an idea of if they can move Nylander to center full-time next season.
2. I think this is now or never time for Josh Leivo. Can’t say it any simpler than that.
3. I also think Travis Dermott is clearly here to stay. If the team acquires a top-four defenseman and that pushes him out of the line-up, so be it. But that’s the only reasonable excuse for him to not be playing. A depth acquisition that pushes him out is not acceptable.
4. I think the Auston Matthews injury is a good chance to shake up the PP units by having one run through Nylander and seeing what it looks like. That means when Matthews returns, you can possibly split them up instead of always keeping them together. The PP is ranked 28th in the league since the turn of the new year and needs a reboot. Use this injury to shake it up.
5. I think I would generally stand pat this trade deadline unless the return on a veteran depth player or top-four defenseman was too fair to say no to. This is a good team that is humming along and they seem to have the Bruins number. I’d ultimately like to sell on JVR, but that seems unlikely. At this point, I’d just keep it together and see what happens.