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Should the Leafs stand pat at number 8, or make a move at the draft?

The Leafs seem caught in a situation where management has to determine whether the roster, as presently constructed, is close to being a factor in the Eastern Conference.

If so, I suppose Nonis and Shanahan will stay the patient course, continue to build around the edges of the roster, and hope (as with the baseball Blue Jays) that much same roster as the year before can make significant headway and be more consistent in the upcoming NHL season.

If not, it may mean more dramatic moves are in play—as in, a fundamental shake-up of the roster is at hand because Shanahan has determined that we don’t have the required experience, leadership or “will” to compete with the NHL’s best.  That’s not the way Shanahan has talked publicly, but if his ongoing analysis suggests the Leafs lack certain traits, that could mean re-making the roster, and moving out players (names like Phaneuf, Kadri—who I do think was in trade talks two years ago, not sure about now—and Gardiner have been bandied about) for a return that would no doubt be debated for some time in Leafworld.

But do the Leafs really want to deal their best defenseman, or youngsters with skill who have been developed here for years already?

I raise this in connection with the NHL entry draft, now only days away—though an outstanding and entertaining NHL playoff year is still just wrapping up. If the Leafs decide they need and want some veteran help right now, might they deal their first-round pick for immediate assistance? 

Of course, they could do something a bit less radical and trade down.  If they believe the player they want will still be available, they could deal their own pick to acquire a pick later in the first round and  also a player that could help on the third or fourth line.

There is always the option of moving up in the draft as well, but I don’t have the sense that there is a surefire superstar waiting in the first round this year, though there are always youngsters who end up surpassing what was projected for them in terms of their development.  So you never know.

Leaf supporters here at VLM have long identified our roster “needs”.  They include the aforementioned leadership, a dose of grit, another top-line forward, depth on defense and improvement on the third and fourth lines.

My question for today is: as you review the Leaf roster and try to read between the lines around what Nonis and Shanahan are thinking and saying, would you stay with the status quo and just pick at number 8, or would you try to get creative and make a move?


  1. As a life long die hard fan I am a little worried because I have seen how all the big shake-ups have worked out in the past. I watched the Leafs win 4 Cups as a kid and thought this is great the best team ever and little did I know that that was it. 47 years later and still waiting for the best team ever to win another Cup. I've always been an optimist thinking the Leafs were better than they were like when they got Jason Blake I thought he would get 40 or close to it like he did for the Islanders. I also thought getting Owen Nolan would give the Leafs an actual shot at the Cup. So looking back now it is pretty clear I was totally wrong so I guess maybe I am totally wrong now but I don't think the Leafs should make any changes as history has shown every time they try to rush things it totally backfires.

    I think they should sit back for a second and look at where the team was before the Olympic break. The Leafs were on an 11-2-1 streak and there were articles in the Star and TSN talking about how Phaneuf was playing the best hockey of his career. Hard to say what happened but the Leafs were not the same after the break and part of it may have been Kessel and JVR running out of gas. It could also be partly because Carlyle was not using a 4th line. Obviously Reimer not getting the job done did not help the situation but there were other factors including a lot of bad puck luck and some officiating that really cost the Leafs several games like giving Bernier a delay of game penalty in OT for freezing the puck?

    I think the Leafs right now are the team that went 11-2-1 before the Olympic break and they did that without Dave Bolland and I think that is the team we could have next season. So that is why I am worried because of all the rumours that players like Phaneuf, Kadri and Gardiner are on the block to be moved. It would just be more young players moved out before getting a chance to show what they can do for old players past their prime. It happens pretty much every time they get a veteran. Now the talk is Joe Thornton. Sure he is a good player but he is past his prime. Kadri had 50 points last season and Thornton had 76 but in two years it could easily be reversed. Phaneuf was playing amazing hockey this season and then his game fell off as the team nose dived. I think it was because he was trying too hard to change the teams fortune but he is still a very capable defenceman.

    So to answer your question since there are no superstar elite players in this draft there is no way I would move up if it means giving up Kadri and Phaneuf. I really just want to se them playing like they did for the two months before the Olympic break and of course continuing with slow progress.

    1. I can appreciate your reference to seeing the Leafs win those Cups (I did as well), and the drought since that time. I've also been hopeful many times since, and the Leafs have had some nice runs, for sure, Alton.

      As for Thornton, as much as he has been a wonderful player, and he has, this may be a case of the Leafs acquiring a guy who would have been a great addition five years ago, but maybe not now.

    2. The Leafs have been guilty in the past of making trades as if they were one player away from being a Cup contender. You know, getting Brian Leetch for a couple of weeks while the guy they gave up, Anton Stralman, is still starting for the Rangers. Let's take it slow this time. BTW, I also watched the Leafs win Cups and never expected this drought. Maybe before I die.....

    3. In a sense, Paul, we fans are a bit like the players. I remember Dave Keon (and many players since that time) being quoted as saying that when they won championships early in their career, they just thought this was the way it was always going to be. And of course it isn't.

      Same with us fans, I suppose. Those of us who were around back in the '60s Leaf hey-day probably thought we'd certainly see more Cups along the way. But not yet!

  2. Perhaps the significant changes may come precisely because the approach is patient... what I mean is that (like the Jays) a trade (or trades) may materialize out of patience and then grow into something far more significant than originally conceived.

    If the right mix can be found amongst trading partners, where timing and mutual needs are met, then we could see some major changes, though I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the patience 'kicks in' and is revisited in-season after much of the groundwork has been laid. A specific injury could quickly change the needs of others, allowing 'our' desires to come to fruition just because the right situation arises down the road somewhat. Perhaps some of that groundwork was already laid last season and the coming days might just consolidate everyone's wishes.

    I'm entirely open to all possibilities that could 'play out' and will watch to see the fruit of management's efforts to tweak or seriously adjust for perceived and actual team weaknesses, I just don't have any expected timetable on the matter!

    I also think that other teams compliance buyouts could provide some opportunity for a potentially cap-strapped team like the Leafs... is there a Mike or Brad Richards to be had for less than previous salary iterations have demanded? Or another, out in the cold Clark MacArthur/Mason Raymond-type unsigned and available late in the summer? There are some unusual scenarios that could play out for our entertainment over the coming weeks, eh?

    1. There are some roster adjustments that could be made, absolutely, InTimeFor62, that don't "cost" that much because they don't require moving assets. I don't doubt Nonis has thought this all through.

      Fans will need to see a playoff move this coming season, however.

  3. PS I didn't really answer your question directly, however, the 8th pick is really just a chip in all the possibilities that could play out as described in my post. Depending on what else is happening on the trade front, I could see standing pat or moving up/down as possibilities.

  4. Hi Michael,

    Right now I just don't feel too excited about the players available on draft day. No doubt some solid prospects, but certainly no once-in-a-decade type players stand out. I don't see any reason to jump up in this draft for a prospect that may or may not be a cornerstone player. The only way I would be agreeable to doing so is if another team actually covets one of our difficult contracts, plus maybe a James Reimer, but I don't see that happening. I am quite optimistic about the Leafs' youth, and I don't want to see it thrown away for a risk. Names like Kadri and Gardiner keep coming up, and it just doesn't make sense to me to trade assets that we already know are good players who are still getting better, for a crapshoot that really won't make a big impact in the next two years.
    I say hold on to number eight barring an offer that they can't refuse, and be patient. I know, patience is wearing thin among all of us, but patience with Kadri is beginning to pay off, and I think continued patience and development with other prospects such as Rielly and Finn will be rewarded in the next few years as well.

    1. I think many fans could adopt a patient approach if they really believed this team was on the verge of something, Pete. Time will tell!

  5. This is an interesting one. But I don't see it worthwhile for any of the centres. This is not a "man that guy is light years ahead of the pack" draft. Not that Reinhart and Bennett will not be good players but from everything I know/read/seen of them they certainly are not Nathan McKinnon types so why give up what is certainly going to be a fairly steep price for them.

    Ekblad could very well be a 1 in 5 year or even 1 in 10 year defenseman. He has the whole bag of tools and is going to be a stud dman in the NHL for a long time. Normally I always advocate taking a centre over a dman that early in the draft as you build teams through the centre and most dmen really don't hit their prime until 24ish. I think Ekblad is the exception to that rule.

    For me IF they can move up to get Ekblad I am ok with them attempting a move. Otherwise stand pat. There are should be some decent pieces available at 8th as well.

    1. Interesting, Pep, in that you've identified the one guy you'd be OK with the Leafs taking a shot at.

  6. I think they have to try and move up and grab one of the two centers (Bennett or Reinhart) available. They have too many young players projected to fill in the bottom of their roster, it's now time to try and get some talent that projects to be top 6 players. The franchise has taken some big steps in terms of finally acknowledging the value of player development so it's time to give the system some talent to work with. They need help down the middle and another solid defence prospect couldn't hurt either. They probably won't get a chance to move up in next year's draft until the lottery is done so this is a very good opportunity.

    1. I guess we (and Nonis) need to see what the cost is to move up and get one of those top picks, Dave. Would the Leafs deal their pick and a veteran defenseman? If the cost was Kadri or Gardiner, I tend to think Nonis would not make the move.

  7. At first I was intrigued but I don't think moving up this year will be worth the asking price. They are still so young and not many are standing out.

    Gus Katsaros touched on the fact that the bigger players that thrive at this level often struggle as others catch up, get taller and stronger. Detroit, who have always had good prospects, often pick smaller more skilled 200 foot players who are expected to hit a growth spurt later on. Parentage is a good indication and some of their smaller Swedish picks are still growing well into their 20's. Whatever the formula is for predicting the future success of these smaller players, Detroit knows it and it has worked out very well for them, especially with later picks. They always look ahead to the future. CN

    1. You raise a good point, Colleen. As important as first-round picks are, teams are often built based on late-round selections that turn into really good players- Detroit being an example, as you mentioned.

  8. It's not a great draft year. Ekblad looks good, but there is always some risk involved and quality of prospects drops quickly after that.

    This is the reason why teams are making noise about being willing to trade their's not 1979 when you could get: Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Glenn Anderson, Dale Hunter, Michel Goulet, Brian Propp, Neal Broten, Rick Vaive, Guy Carbonneau, Kevin Lowe and the list goes on.

    It's not 2003 when you could get Shea Weber, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Nathan Horton, Jeff Carter, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Ryan Kesler or Dion Phaneuf.

    Don't trade for a top pick in a weak that move for a stellar year.

    Ponder this thought: Corey Perry, Zach Parise and Jeff Carter were taken in 2003 with other team's picks. I'm sure Edmonton, Dallas and Phoenix regret those moves.

    1. Good points, DP. As you said and as I mentioned earlier on, there is indeed a reason clubs with top picks some years talk about being interested in trade offers- the guys they will pick are not likely to be franchise players.

  9. Unless one can be certain that the player they are moving up to grab is a bona fide, slam-dunk star the conversation should not even begin. Over the past 10 years the draft has become deeper. Still there are so many can't miss guys picked in slots 3 thru 5 that litter the roadsides of pro hockey that I would only be comfortable trading for the 1 or 2 pick.

    Keep in mind, when the Pens selected Mario they went a further five years without making the playoffs (16 of 21 teams qualified at that time to boot!) There is no Mario, not close this year.

    Point is even if you have the greatest player ever depth, quality depth , is also needed. One does not realize quality depth trading a handful of good assets for one promising quality player. I love Kessel but we traded three assets for him and have made the playoffs but once in his tenure. Not saying we would have made the playoffs had that trade not happened but Seguin, Hamilton et al are quality players covering offense and defense and between them they put in 40+ minutes a game . We are too far away from having difference making depth to be playing the three pieces for one game.

    Our need for three solid quality players covering the back end and the front end who between them contribute 60 minutes a night is greater than our need for a young quality prospect who plays only forward or defense and contributes just 20 minutes per night.

    This is a team with many needs.We have a few star players and a few quality guys . The Leafs don't need ONE GUY. If we could only dream it so.......

    1. Well said, Bmaximus- the Leafs are more than one player away...

  10. The draft choices are not as important as bringing in mentally tough players that can play now in the NHL.
    The Leafs need mental toughness in the face of pressure from the Toronto media, and also to overcome adversity and bounce back after losses. A perfect example would be Mariano Rivera that blew the 2001 World Series but bounced back to be the best again.

    1. I agree that mental toughness is key, Eli. The Leafs need that and what I call "team toughness" as well, along with leadership and players with winning playoff experience to go with the talent they already have.

  11. This is an interesting question. On one hand, you've got draft without (truly) elite level talent at the top, but one where many see above-average talent in the 5-12 range. That says, keep the pick. On the other hand, moving $7m off the books would solve a lot of cap problems for the Leafs.

    For me, I suppose it comes down to management's evaluation of Phaneuf -- everything he brings on the ice, everything he needs to bring as captain of this team. If all the chatter about his poor leadership is true (remember, this is the Toronto media after all), then he should be moved. But if the Leafs believe that Dion can lead this team to a Cup, then we should stay the course. I'd strongly oppose trading anyone young, however. Most of my adult life has been spent watching the Leafs trade young talent for quick fixes, and never truly emerging as an elite team as a result. And unlike you and Alton, I 'woke up' to the Leafs as a young boy in 1971. I missed all the childhood glory, instead only experiencing the 40+ year walk in the desert ever since.

    As for the players, I'd go with Reinhart. Phil makes everyone around him better -- he'd only accelerate Sam's learning curve. Ekblad may become great, but the Leafs need a first-line center more than another blue liner. Even if Dion is moved. Changing over from the Swarm will improve our defensive play, and we've got guys in the minors. But there's no one that projects as a first-line center anywhere in the system. And that's always the toughest piece to add.

    This is a puzzling offseason. Perhaps, especially, because it's last offseason all over again. We still need a #1 center and a #2 defenseman.

    Ground Hog Day, again. Oh, well. Go Leafs Go!

  12. Forget about the aging first line centers past their prime!

    Shanahan has already stated the desire for a ‘mobile D corps’. He should start by trading Pha9, Gunnerson and Franson’s rights.

    Sign Boyle to $6m x 2 yrs to tutor their future D, Gardner and Reilly.

    Sign Willie Mitchell

    Ranger, Gleason, Brennan, Granberg, McWilliam, Percy, Holzer can battle for the last 3 spots.

    Up front:
    Trade Lupul, and with other D trades attempt to move up to the #3 spot to pick Draistl.

    Thereafter, sign FA’s Matt Moulson, Steve Ott, and Shawn Thornton.

    Bring Back Kulemin and Raymond if they are ok with reasonable contracts, and let some of the young Marlie forwards like Holland, Leivo, D’Amigo, Ryan, and Devane vie for open spots.

    1. Willie Mitchell has certainly been a useful player, Anon. If Boyle becomes a free-agent, he's a player the Leafs could look at.

      The Leafs could be better right away, I think, if they gave opportunities to Holland, Ashton and D'Amigo. They could be a solid energy line.

  13. Really good post, Anon. ("71 was a great time to become a Leaf follower- Keon, Ullman, Ellis, Henderson, Parent, Plante, a really young defense along with Bobby Baun...) My sense is Nonis wants to preserve the youth on this roster and won't easily give them up.

    And yes, we've seen this movie before!

  14. The Leafs need a shake-up but not at the cost of a fire-sale.
    Phaneuf is a great #3 defenseman on a good team. He's overpaid and miscast as the #1 D and captain of the Leafs. He needs to go because you can't strip the C, demote him and then expect him to be happy about it.
    The Leafs should have stayed captainless as they still don't have the right guy for the job.

    Get the best you can for Phaneuf. JVR, Bernier and Reilly the only ones I'd make "untouchable".
    Any chance to dump salary like Clarkson and Gleason, take it.
    Don't sign Raymond unless it's another cheap contract at $1m. He's a third line scoring on a team that needs a checking line.
    Don't overpay anyone! Poor cap management is crippling the Leafs ability to improve.
    Other than that, be patient and don't trade anyone else unless it provides a definite improvement.

  15. Hi Michael,

    the Leafs lost 12 of their last 14 games. If they played 500 hockey they would have made the playoffs. Can not be that far away from being a factor in the east.

    From all I hear from Shannahan and what I know about Nonis they will stay patient.
    They will not blow up the roster by trading Phaneuf, Gardiner and Kadri.
    Although Gardiner and Kadri have to turn into something this coming year.

    There are so many open spots on that roster that it should be possible to make a significant change without blowing up the good pieces that are in place.

    I talked about our D before, so you know how I think about it. And there are six open spots on lines 3 and 4 plus additional players.

    There are some rumours out there that the Leafs desperately tried to move Phaneuf at the last draft. That they really want to get rid of him. I find it hard to believe they would have signed him to that deal if they don't want him on that team at all.

    Concearning the draft pick: I'm fine with staying at number 8. If they really think one of the top guys is the real deal they can try to move up, but I agree with Gus' suggestion that they should not pay more than their first round pick and Franson for a player that could not help immediately. But be careful with a view on the 2012 draft (Yakupov,Galchenyuk).
    I believe we should trade the pick if it is possible to land a top 6 forward or a strong defenseman.

    I would like Willie Mitchel very much on our team ( like someone else suggested in these comments),
    but he could be very expensive if he hits UFA Status on July 1st.

    I really believe Shannahan will be patient and make some decissions that will help and not hurt our long term future.

    1. As you suggest, it's so difficult to try and determine if these "rumours" are remotely accurate, Marcus. It's possible that Phaneuf was in play last summer, but do we really know?

      Right now, names like Phaneuf, Kadri and Gardiner are out there. Are the Leafs really intent on moving them, or are they, like any team, open to hearing what other clubs might offer?

      Patience does seem to be the key here for Shanahan. The Leafs have some good players in place. They need to make smart moves, add guys who have proven they help teams win and also develop their young prospects.

    2. I want to ask you one thing that comes to my mind. One thing I mentioned two days ago and you did not refer to in your answer. This is something that is important to me and I would like to know what you think.

      "There are some rumours out there that the Leafs desperately tried to move Phaneuf at the last draft. That they really want to get rid of him. I find it hard to believe they would have signed him to that deal if they don't want him on that team at all."

      This is what I wrote. You are right we don't know if it is true. But asuming it is true. And they now try to trade Phaneuf again, but signed him half a year ago to that contract. Do you think if they really want him out, they would have signed him to that deal? Or do you think they wanted him? And if they did behave like that and tried to trade him two years in a row do you think they are in their right mind? And if they are not able to move him ( asuming it is true) what would Dion think ? If he knew that really happened and he played his best year for the Leafs, I have to take my hat off.

      I think if that is the modus operandi for the Leafs. They will have big trouble signing and acquiering top Players in the future. I know it is a business but signing a guy you do not want at all and then try to get rid of him is as worse as Vancouver behaved to Luongo.

    3. Hi Marcus- my feeling is that the Leafs signed Phaneuf to a contract they believed he would get on the open market, or a little less. They may well have seen him as part of their short-term future, but were also thinking they could move him if necessary at that price. I'm just not sure how many teams can afford a 7-8 million dollar defenseman.

      I guess players are always aware that they could be traded. Phaneuf certainly did everything he could for the Leafs this past season, so whether he believed he had been in trade talks, he didn't let it affect his game.

    4. Thank you very much. You see it the same way I do.

  16. Hi Michael,

    I am concerned about Dave Nonis' comments that they do not know what to do with their UFA's.

    It could be one of these "we can trade anybody" answears, or he means what he said and that would be a disaster.

  17. Well written Michael, and a very timely and interesting question for all Leaf followers.

    Like many have said, it sounds like Nonis and Shanahan are going to be patient, and ultimately try to build this team without giving up its core players and its youth. Whatever moves (or lack thereof) they make, it all has to "make sense" going forward. That being said, at least they are open to considering ideas such as moving up (or down) in this draft, and trying to make a move that could improve this team.

    As you know, whatever decision they make (or chose not to make) will be scrutinized a million times over. Depending on the move, the success or failure might be evident almost immediately, or take several years to unfold.

    It truly is amazing how many rumours get perpetuated and discussed in this market, despite the lack of credible substance to many of them. As for which players the Leafs may be willing to trade, ultimately the price/return ratio has to make sense for them.

    About the only information we know to be true is that Nonis is considering moving up in this draft, staying pat at 8th, or moving down. Since most would agree there are no bona-fide future superstars in this draft, moving up (at a huge price) is probably unwise. I might make an exception for Ekblad, as this kid looks to be a very good prospect who should be at the very least a top-4 D-man, and potentially could be a top 2 guy in the future. But the price of moving up has to be reasonable. Switch picks and maybe throw in a roster player to move up, but only a roster player without sacrificing talented youth (maybe someone like Gunnarsson?). With the Leafs depth of young and offensively talented D-men, acquiring Ekblad might then allow them to trade the likes of Gardiner in another package to fill a more serious void (say a top line center?).

    Guess we just have to be patient and wait to see how things unfold. But oh how LeafNation wants to second guess every decision this team makes (or doesn't make).

    The only actions that truly infuriate me are when the Leafs foolishly trade away their future, or they sit on their hands and do little to improve the team. I can't see Shanahan or Nonis doing either of those things.

    Should be a very interesting summer, and especially the next few weeks (draft, free agency etc)!

    1. Hi Don (TML_fan)- I think most fans would acknowledge that while we, as Leaf supporters, may not always agree with particular moves the organization might make, we do appreciate that management is indeed trying to make the team better. Even during the mostly frustrating '80s, it wasn't that management didn't care (we can debate what Ballard's motivation was was, as owner). They did. And sometimes they drafted players that worked out well, and made trades that helped the club. But the outcome wasn't what they or fans hoped for- same as today.

      I do think Nonis will stay patient and keep the youth the Leafs have developed in recent years. And maybe that will work out. At the end of the day fans want to see a winner, but if they see genuine progress, that buys management some time.