Toronto Maple Leafs: Will They Be Active At The Trade Deadline?

February 25th, 2014 1 Comment

1aleafsAfter an incredible victory by Team Canada over Sweden at the Olympics, the NHL regular season is just a few hours away from commencing when the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes drop the puck Tuesday evening.

While every hockey fan enjoyed the Olympics, NHL fans from coast-to-coast are chomping at the bit to get back to their favorite teams.

A quick look at the NHL standings reveals some excellent playoff races. A total of three points separates the eighth place Detroit Red Wings and the 13th placed New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference, while a measly four points separates the eighth place Dallas Stars from the 12th placed Nashville Predators in the Western Conference.

To say the playoff race is tight would be an understatement. Historically, when the playoff races are this tight many NHL teams hold off on making any meaningful deals until the trade deadline (March 5th this year). Given the way this season has worked itself out thus far, it appears as if asking prices for meaningful players will be high. Also complicating matters will be the ever present salary cap, which has handcuffed a number of key teams from making significant moves this year.

Suffice to say, just about every team heading to the playoffs has a hole or two to fill. Some teams are stacked up front, but lack defense. Others, are stacked on the backend, but weak up front. Others are in need of a netminder, while some teams appear to need a tweak in every position.

With demand for talent expected to be high, but little cap space to get deals done, it appears as if most of the deals made at or near the trade deadline will have to be “hockey deals”, which means trading equal salaries each way. Don’t get me wrong, there are teams out there that have plenty of cap room, but many of them are looking to build for the future and, in all likelihood, picking up a big money contract is not in the cards for those teams.

Some of the big names being bandied about as possible trade bait include Buffalo Sabres’ netminder Ryan Miller (who has a limited no-trade clause in which he can name eight teams he will not accept a trade to), New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek (Pending UFA), Buffalo Sabres’ pesky forward Steven Ott (Pending UFA), Buffalo Sabres’ forward Matt Moulson (Pending UFA), Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri (Pending UFA), Colorado Avalanche Forward Paul Stastny (Pending UFA) and New York Ranger captain and power forward Ryan Callahan (Pending UFA).

Of those players, few, if any, would seem like a good fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maple Leafs’ general manager Dave Nonis appears to be very happy with his 1-2 punch of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer (Pending RFA) between the pipes. On the wing, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Mason Raymond (Pending UFA) have all done a great job, while Nikolai Kulemin (Pending UFA) and David Clarkson continue to evolve their games.

Down the middle, Tyler Bozak has been hot since coming back from an early season injury, Nazem Kadri continues to show glimpses of excellence and, with Dave Bolland (Pending UFA) expected to be back in the lineup soon, it would appear as if Nonis will resist making a big move to solidify the centre position.

On the backend, captain Dion Phaneuf is having his best season as a Maple Leaf, Carl Gunnarsson has been steady, Cody Franson (Pending RFA) has been better in the second half, Tim Gleason has been a welcome addition since coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes, while youngsters Jake Gardiner (Pending RFA) and Morgan Rielly look to be on the right track towards becoming top-four defensemen in the near future.

Like his predecessor Brian Burke before him, Nonis is weary of trade deadline deals. Like many NHL general managers, Nonis feels prices are inflated at the deadline, which should make Nonis a tad gun-shy come March 5th.

Could a deal for Paul Stastny come to fruition? Perhaps, but the asking price would likely be rising star Jake Gardiner and, as good as Stastny is, given his recent inconsistencies, I am not sure Stastny is worth that kind of return.

kules123Steven Ott would be a nice addition, but Dave Bolland plays a similar game and has more offensive upside than Ott. Is Ott better than Kulemin? If not, why add Ott, to bury him on the fourth line where he would not be very effective.

Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun recently interviewed Nonis, who responded to Zeisberger’s questions about the deadline and where Nonis stood on the topic.

“I don’t anticipate us making any major moves,” Nonis said. “And I definitely don’t see us getting involved in a rent-a-player transaction that sees us move resources for someone we only have for a handful of weeks.”

“You’re always looking to get better,” Nonis said. “But it has to be a hockey deal. It has to make sense long term while helping us now as well.”

Sounds like a man who is hell-bent on seeing what his full roster can do, rather than a man intent on making wholesale (if any) changes.

From the outside looking in, a healthy roster and the return of Dave Bolland to the lineup should give the Maple Leafs a huge shot in the arm come playoff time.

That said, the playoffs are a marathon. With that in mind, Nonis would be smart to consider a tweak or two, with an emphasis on adding another shutdown forward to help Toronto’s horrific Penalty Kill, which ranked a paltry 28th overall (78 percent) heading into the Olympic break.

The addition of another hard-nosed defenseman wouldn’t hurt either— look at the impact Gleason had on this team!

According to the Maple Leafs will have $3,065,833 in cap space at the deadline. While not a huge amount, it should be enough for Nonis to pull off a move or two should he deem the asking price to be appropriate.

As the deadline quickly approaches, don’t expect a big trade from Nonis and don’t expect him to sell high end players like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly. Nonis strikes me as a man who makes his moves in the summer, not at the deadline when the prices are high and the returns often turn out to fall short of expectations.

With cap issues looming, Nonis cannot sign everyone. Serious decisions will need to be made, including the futures of Cody Franson (who they signed on the cheap), James Reimer (who could earn a starters job elsewhere), Dave Bolland (who will command upwards of $5 million per season on the open market), Nazem Kadri (who soon will be in need of a raise after signing his bridge contract), Mason Raymond (who is grossly underpaid at $1 million per season), Nikolai Kulemnin (who may be your best two-way forward), Jay McClement (who is a pending UFA and anchors your penalty kill)…Clearly, some very big decisions loom. Nonis may not be “busy”, but he will have to be three steps ahead where his future roster is concerned.

1 Comment

  1. Shawn says:

    No trades!
    Let’s see how the current team is tested in the playoffs.

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