NHL Trade Deadline: Toronto Maple Leafs Should Be Sellers
While Nonis’ team looks to be on-pace to make the playoffs, the Maple Leafs have a ton of question marks heading into the big dance. The Maple Leafs biggest concern continues to be their inadequate defense which continually gives up far too many shots, rarely exhibits good on-ice decisions and fails to clear the net play after play.
To put it mildly, the Maple Leafs defense resembles a brick of Swiss Cheese on more nights than not, culminating in a league-worst 36.1 shots against per game, the 26th ranked goals against per game (3.01) and the 28th ranked penalty kill (77.5 percent success rate).
While the defensemen should not be shackled with all of the blame, the likes of Cody Franson (who leads all defensemen with 59 giveaways), Morgan Rielly (who sits at 57 giveaways), Carl Gunnarsson (who sits at 53 giveaways) and Jake Gardiner (who sits at 49 giveaways) are key cogs in the Maple Leafs defensive issues. Throw in captain Dion Phaneuf’s penchant for giving the puck away at what always seems to be the worst of times, and you have a recipe for disaster on the backend.
Up front, Phil Kessel (70 giveaways) and Nazem Kadri (46 giveaways) lead the way. Both players bring tremendous offensive upside, so the team must cut them both a measure of slack, especially Kessel who has been nothing short of awesome offensively this season.
Of course, giveaways are not the only concern.
Poor positional play (especially on the penalty kill), a lack of support from the forwards and the constant inability to clear the puck out of the zone have conspired to make Toronto one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL.
Head Coach Randy Carlyle has long tried to get his troops to buy into the cycle game for two seasons. Thus far, his troops have been unable to grasp this concept— especially on the backend.
Truth be told, Carlyle simply does not have the talent to succeed with that style of play.
Up front, players like, Nikolai Kulemin, David Clarkson and Mason Raymond are not really suited to play the cycle game, while Toronto’s third and fourth lines continually lack depth and fall short of expectations night-in and night-out. Raymond is more of a speedster. Clarkson has been all but invisible all season long. Jay McClement (another disappointing player this season and a feel good story last season) has regressed measurably. Kulemin makes a decent amount of hits (107- fourth amongst forwards) but he is not an impact player and his play on the penalty kill is questionable at best.
Seemingly healed from his injury, David Bolland is expected to be back in the lineup soon. Many fans of the Blue and White point to his return as a God send for this club. Given how long Bolland has been out and the severity (severed ankle tendon) of his injury, I question just how effective he will be down the stretch. I mean, are we not asking a lot of a player who has been out of the lineup since early November? Does anyone really think Bolland will be the Maple Leafs’ Messiah?
Bolland is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Bolland will be joined in free agency by Kulemin, McClement, Mason and bit players Paul Ranger (D), Troy Brodie (F) and Trevor Smith (F).
There will be significant interest in Bolland and Mason, while McClement and Kulemin will also get a look from multiple NHL clubs.
Truth be told, Nonis will not be able to re-sign all of them (Bolland, Mason, Kulemin, McClement), and given the way some of them have played, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
A snapshot of the Maple Leafs team statistics reveals a team in disarray defensively. The Maple Leafs own the 26th ranked goals against per game (3.01) and the 28th ranked penalty kill (77.5 percent success rate).
Any fan that watches the Maple Leafs with any regularity knows this team gives up far too many quality scoring chances and, giving up 36.1 shots per game does not help matters either.
There has been a lot of talk about the Maple Leafs acquiring an impact player for the playoffs. While every fan would love to see the Maple Leafs acquire the likes of Ryan Kessler or Matt Moulson, one player cannot, will not, cure what ails the Blue and White.
Besides, in order to bring in a player of Kessler’s talents you would have to give up a kings ransom. The Pittsburgh Penguins are said to be hot on the trail of Kessler. Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported a proposed deal that would see Kessler go to the Pittsburgh Penguins in return for forward Brandon Sutter, defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin and two 2014 draft picks— likely a first and a third round draft choice.
Ask yourself this— if this is the asking price for Kessler, what would the Maple Leafs have to give up in order to land him? In my mind, that spells giving up Nazem Kadri, maybe Jake Gardiner and at least one pick— probably a first rounder. All that, for Kessler, who has been injury prone the past two seasons? No thanks!
With so many teams fighting for playoff spots and so little impact players expected to be moved, it appears as if this is a sellers market.
With that in mind, why not switch gears and get in on the madness that is the NHL Trade Deadline and become a seller?
Kulemin and Bolland could bring back some excellent assets, while depth players like McClement and defenseman Paul Ranger could bring in valuable draft picks in return. And, then there is Raymond— his contract ($1 million) is exceptionally affordable and his performance this season would have many teams interested in his services for a stretch run.
As we all know, resigning any or all of Bolland, Raymond, Kulemin and McClement will be tough— why not be proactive and get something in return for players that many believe will sign elsewhere in the off-season? Bolland is said to be looking for upwards of $5 million per season on a long term deal— can the Maple Leafs afford him with Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, David Clarkson, James van Riemsdyk and capatin Dion Phaneuf already making top dollar?
Kulemin does not seem to fit into Carlyle’s mold, while Raymond will be in line for a big raise (somewhere in the $3-$3.5 million range) this summer. Kadri will need a big raise in two years, so will Jake Gardiner, so will Cody Franson. Simply put, you cannot have it all, so why not look at your options, why not see what some of these assets can bring in return?
With just 23 regulation/overtime wins, the Maple Leafs rank 11th in the East, 22nd overall. Comparatively, Toronto owns a record of 9-4 in the shootout— which is the best in the NHL.
Smoke and mirrors— that is how Toronto has been winning. And, an exceptional effort from their first line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
Given Toronto’s paltry defense, there is little chance of the Maple Leafs making a run in the playoffs. Heck, at the rate they are going, the Leafs will be lucky to make the playoffs, let alone win a series or two.
Try as we might to sugar coat the Maple Leafs current standing (they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference Standings) this is a team that has been getting it done by the skin of their teeth all season long. With that in mind, it says here Nonis should be a seller, not a buyer.