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If the Leafs need to get better (and they do), who gets moved?

At this time of year, people are busy, stressed and moving about visiting family and friends.  So you may well have missed some recent stories here that might be of interest.  Here are some links:

-Bozak’s ongoing maturation

-Jake Gardiner’s progress

-Thoughts on the Wilson extension

-The language issue in Montreal

-Todd Bertuzzi and hockey hypocrisy

-The only “Christmas” Leaf in history

-Who are the Leafs really fighting with for a playoff spot?


After the OT loss in Carolina, we’re soon going to reach the half-way mark in the NHL schedule.  That is usually a reasonable time to make an assessment as to how any given NHL team is doing—and what they might need to consider to get a bit better (or a lot better) down the stretch.

But we’re not at the 41-game mark just yet, so my thought today is not about a full-scale assessment of the Leaf squad.  It is simply this:  if we accept the reality that a) the team needs to get better to ensure itself a playoff spot and b) getting better will necessitate adding players from outside the Leaf system (i.e. the “answer” is not right in front of us already)—then, who do we actually move, when push comes to shove?

And here’s my point.  Leaf fans—while often harshly critical and impatient during actual Leaf games—also love their players.  No one (including Burke) would consider dealing the obvious “stars”, like Lupul, Kessel, Phaneuf and Reimer, of course.  They are Leaf cornerstones and not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

After stealing him from Anaheim, Burke would never move the young phenom in the making, Jake Gardiner.  And on a team that is still very young and struggles at the back end at times, I think it would be foolhardy to move Gunnarsson, who remains one of their smartest and steadiest overall performers despite his occasional miscues.

People love Grabovski (who was so good last season and seems to be playing well of late) and the heart that a player like Boyce shows when he gets a chance.

Are you going to move Bozak, who is not even in his prime yet?

My point simply is, in most cases, you have to give something to get something.  You’re not going to move a third or fourth-line guy that Leaf fans don’t like to get a second-line pivot, eh?  It doesn’t work that way.

So what is your thought—is there a piece (Schenn?) that Burke has to deal to make the overall team puzzle even better?

Or does the improvement come from within, with an infusion of skill from someone like Kadri, who is showing the brass something these days?

We all understand that the Leafs have depth on the blueline, though they are being stretched right now with the injuries to Komisarek and Liles.  But I’m one of those old-timers who hates to give up defensemen—especially promising young defenseman.

No one thinks Burke will sell the future just to, as he has put it in the past, squeak into the playoffs only to get swept.  But he’s a competitive guy, as is Wilson, and they absolutely want—and I would argue really need—to make the playoffs this coming spring.

I’ve said here before, in this weak Eastern Conference, I think they should—and can.  But for me, that is as much a function of how middlish the opposition is in the East (outside of three or four teams) than how outstanding the Leafs are just yet.  They are better than they were, for sure.  And they are entertaining most nights and downright exciting at times.

But like most teams nowadays, they aren’t perfect.  And like most Leaf fans, while I like the guys on this squad, is this team, as they are presently constituted, good enough to not just squeak into the playoffs, but have an impact once they get there?

If not, what’s your solution?  Improvement from within, or do we need to make moves?  And if so, who goes?

Send your thoughts along.


  1. Perhaps things would be different if the team were more healthy(Colby Armstong is out and Steckel is still hurting) but the Leafs currently lack size and the ability to bang with their forwards, espeically at the higher lines.

    In a month when people return from injuries perhaps a combination of Lombardi and Frattin for a single player gets you someone to bang on a line with Kadri and Conolly and MaCarthur goes back with Grabovski and Kulemin.

    Forget all the accollades on Frattin's two-way play...he's missing too many goals and points. Kadri has 4 points in 7 games and is plus 4.

    Frattin should be doing better or send him down to regain his scoring touch. If not that, consider trading him and others (including Lombardi or someone else) for the player the Leafs need now.

    The Leafs can't miss the playoffs again...and Burke knows it.

  2. Schenn plus a pick for a big centre ala Getzlaf or Lecavalier. Schenn's only value at this point is what he could bring in a trade; he is not helping them to win games. It's either trade him or send him to the minors to learn how to shoot the puck around the boards in both zones in such a manner that his team gets possession.

  3. It seems to me that when you are building a team, you need to be patient with the building blocks you have assembled. Any player not counted on for the longer term is then available but as Michael pointed out is unlikely to get you a building block (unless Burke makes another steal deal).
    If a trade of one of your building blocks is to be made, it has to be for another building block with a different skill set that is needed by the team .
    Having said that, I think almost all of the Leaf players are then available for trade. Some would require a heftier return than others but I really don't see any untouchables. In that regard, Kessel, Phaneuf & Lupul may be untradable because the asking price would necessarily be high and is likely unavailable as well.
    In summary, I don't have any "must keeps" on my list but it certainly depends on who you can get for them and what they would bring to the team that is different and needed . Also, the skill set you lose in the trade better be one you can afford to reduce or lose.
    As the team stands now it is pretty decent and entertaining but exasperating when they become undisciplined. I don't think a wholesale change is required and I'm prepared to be patient.

  4. Such a wide open question, and so many possible ways to go.

    First I'm not sure sure I would put Reimer up on a pedestal and say he is a number 1 goaltender. His last two starts have been less than stellar. I hope he returns to the form of last year, but as of right now he is an inexperienced goalie who wouldn't be a #1 goalie on many other clubs.

    Lets start with the forwards. Kessel, Lupul and Connelly are all quality top 6 forewards, so who are the other 3 worthy of top 6. The Grabovski - Kulemin - MacArthur line last year was the most productive line, but those were all career years for those three. The only one who may be worthy of second line minutes is MacArthur. Grabovski is getting older, and is a UFA next year. If I was Brian Burke, I would think about packaging him with one or two other players and see if he can get a power forward. Kulemin is decent defensively but if he is not putting up points he doesn't deserve second line minutes.

    The team has invested in some youth, and those prospects, when given a chance, have shown their worth. For example, Bozak, Frattin, Kadri, and Colborne. These 4 are certainly worthy of third line minutes, and potentially second line minutes.

    Guys like Lombardi are speedy, but small, and he's yet to do much offensively. He'd be worth packaging up and trading. Guys like Brown, Boyce, Steckel, and Crabb are worthy 4th liners and worth keeping around. Dupuis has been a bust and should be waived. Armstrong is a third line guy, although his injuries are getting to be a concern.

    On defence, I would certainly hold onto Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Schenn, Komisarek, Gardiner and Franson, though if the right deal was there and a quality D-man came back, we could consider trading a couple of these guys. Liles is a UFA and I'm torn as to what to do with him. He's excellent puck mover, but makes some defensive blunders.

    Biggest need is a quality top 6 foreward who has speed, size and plays a good 2-way game. As for pieces willing to give up.... Grabovski, Kulemin, Lombardi, Aulie(?), Franson, and maybe some 2nd round picks.

    I don;t envy Brian Burke, but something has to move.

  5. I wonder what it would take to get R.J Umberger out of Columbus?

    He's 6' 2" 220 pounds good for 45-55 points.

    Is he what the Leafs need?

    Let's start proposing some possible trades.

    Try to stick to teams that are unlikely to make the playoffs.

  6. DP...Umberger is an interesting thought. To your earlier point, it's fair, for sure, to point out the Leafs are hurting. I would only say, though, that many teams are. I'm not sure the most of the guys the Leafs are missing are huge impact guys. Armstrong plays hard but hasn't played enough the last two seasons to fully establish his relative worth to the team, in my mind. Liles they miss, but we'll have to see how long he is out. That's what the much-discussed depth is supposed to be for, eh? Thanks for the post DP, good stuff.

    Anon raises Schenn's name as trade bait, and I suspect that discussion has been had- and will be had- in the days to come involving the Leafs.

    Ed, you raise a good point: Is anyone truly "untouchable" with the blue and white? Yes, contract realities may preclude some things, but we're not talking about a team that has proven anything just yet. You quite rightly stress that patience will be key, as they are entertaining us most nights.

    TML_fan...great post. Well thought-out. Thanks for contributing here. I'm maybe not as keen as you on McArthur but I love your overall breakdown.

  7. As fans it is often hard to look past the current performances of players and the club and think about the player/club as a whole long-term.

    I'm surprised Schenn's name has popped up as trade-bait. Just 22 and in his fourth season, and first "poor" one. He is a kid playing a man's game and mistakes will happen. He had some solid years prior to this one and that counts for something. He is leading the league in hits and that means he is involved in the game and engaging, regardless of points. His value is higher to the Leafs as a member of the team and not in what his return would be.

    Taking the time to think, I would say MacArthur, Franson, Connolly, Lombardi, and Armstrong are expandable. It is hard to add Armstrong because he is a great leader and the team has proven to do be better with him, when he plays.

    Before the start of the season I envisioned a Connolly and Franson for Stastny trade at the end of the season. How it works - Stastny is a $6.6M 2nd line centre in Colorado, a budget team. Colorado's main intention would be getting Franson. I must remind I had this thought first before the season started and Franson was a underrated gold from Nashville and has a cannon to lead Colorado's PP and in the Top 4. Connolly is very talented and would fill the #2 void behind Duchene.

    I doubt Connolly is/was expected to play beyond his 2 years in Toronto and is simply a consolation prize signing, thats why he is expandable and Franson is the price of doing business. Toronto gets their #1 centre and both teams would be happy.

    Frattin/Colborne/Kadri make MacArthur expandable next season. Lombardi has been out most of the season and Armstrong has been out just as much as he has played, both could be moved, prefer to keep Army of the two. 4th liners are a dime a dozen and can be interchanged around the league. Brown and Boyce seem to be favourites with Wilson on the 4th and Rosehill takes over Orr's role, all good in my eyes.

    Anyone I didn't mention has played well enough to charge with the Blue and White into the playoffs.....even Komisarek who I was torch and pitchfork for in the offseason.

  8. Well articulated, raise a fair point about Schenn . As I've posted here many times, I loathe the idea of giving up promising young defensemen- it always seems to back you later on. But I sense he is one of the few "chips" the Leafs have that may bring other GM's to the table who have something the Leafs want. Thanks for posting here.

  9. Interesting posts. I really think that only Phaneuf, Kessel and Lupul are "untouchable". With the guys we have and the guys coming up there are options at every posistion as well as questions.

    One thing that bugs me is this perception that the Leafs have decimated by injuries but really the only two signifigant guys to miss time are Reimer and Connoly (maybe Komisarek here as well). You could add Liles but he has only missed two games so far. The rest of the injured are all third, fourth line guys. Ottawa has as many man games lost I believe and they aren't blaming thier posistion on injuries.

    I realy believe the Leafs are one number one centerman away from being a legitamte playoff team. To get that guy is going to cost Kadri, one of Schenn/Gunnarsson/Franson and a pick. With the play of Jesse Blacker on the Marlies they can probably afford to move one of those guys. With Komisarek coming back in a week or two I think this move could be possible. To be clear this trade is not going to be for a 30 year or older player, it is going to be for a young guy in the 25-27 year range who is just hitting his prime.

    I also think Grabovski plus a pick, maybe a package could go for a guy like Umberger (good call DP). My personal trade would be Grabovski and a late 4-5 round pick for P.A Parenteau from the Islanders. I would also check into the availabilty of Curtis Glencross from the Flames.

    The trade of Kadri, Schenn and a first rounder for me is for a guy like Getzlaf, Stall maybe a Bobby Ryan. Depending on who it is for the pick could move up or down maybe add a second rounder. Obviously it would cost more to get Getzlaf than Stall who would cost more than Ryan. I might also investigate the possibility of prying Schenn out of Philly although I have no idea what that might cost maybe Kadri and Franson or Kadri and a pick, maybe Gunnarsson and a pick?

    In summary the Leafs are better but still have a ways to go. I am starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel though. I just hope it isn't the train coming down the track again.

  10. Great post Wilbur. Your point about injuries rings true...and you are right on when it comes to options/questions. As for the trade possibilities, I'm not too good at foretelling specifics, but you raise some intriguing potential exchanges...

  11. I cringe at the attention Umberger is getting from people. Sure the guy gives 100% every shift, every night but we already have a guy by the name of Armstrong that plays equally as well. The problem I have with adding Umberger is realistically in Toronto he is a 3rd liner (refer to Armstrong being a 1st/2nd liner in Atlanta) and his stats are a little inflated because he plays in Columbus. Umberger is 29 and has a new contract that kicks in next season, $4.6Mper 5 years. Hard to pay a 3rd liner that much money, tell Kadri to play 3rd line, and/or give up Grabovski and a pick to get him as Wilbur suggested. Grabovski would easily duplicate Umberger's numbers in Columbus if not surpass them, he is much more skilled.

    The idea of Grabovski and a pick for Parenteau is much tougher to take seriously. Parenteau has done nothing thus far to suggest he is a legit 2nd liner in the NHL on a good team. NYI is hardly oozing with talent or competition for roster spots. My suggestion, at the very least, look at a player past stats and where he has played to better determine their potential and worth.

    Other than those hiccups, good assessment Wilbur. I like the idea of adding Glencross but I doubt Calgary wants to do anymore business with Toronto anytime soon. Looking at the roster, MacArthur comes to mind as the guy that would have to be going the other way for me to like the line-up.

    Kadri I'm indifferent on about moving. Seems too soon but I could accept him being a bargaining chip if it meant getting that missing piece centre.

    I would agree Schenn's name would be mentioned along with Kadri if Staal, Getzlaf, or Ryan were seriously on the table. Getzlaf being my first choice due to age, Stanley Cup pedigree, style of play, natural position, and salary cap hit. Staal's cap hit is high once we start looking at future contracts and Ryan is better suited at wing.

    Thank You Michael for your reply and I'm glad to see an active and engaging writer. I look forward to my new and continued interaction on this site.

  12. Skill2Envy....I'm of a similar view that Calgary may pass on a future deal with the Leafs, though Feaster is a shrewd guy. The Kadri situation should be interesting- will he stay and become a cornerstone piece, or be moved for other elements of the puzzle?

    I'm glad you've connected here. I really appreciate everyone who comments here at VLM. The posters here are thoughtful hockey fans who bring a wonderful dimension to the site.

  13. Good points S2E (easier to type). The reason I mention Parenteu is because he is on pace for 65-70 points this year and plays a much grittier game than most of the other point producing guys we have on either the second or third line. His point totals are going up for the third straight year (since his rookie year at 25) and his plus minus is relatively decent for such a bad team and has been his whole career. At 28 he is just entering the good years and could really solidfy the third line possibly second line at a cheaper cost (1.25m). I do agree Grabovski and a pick would be too much, but MacAuthur or Grabovski straight up might do the trick. My reasoning, probably not much of a drop off in points but more grit, something we are sorely lacking.

    Your right about Umberger, and I was looking for that type of player more than Umberger specifically. In my personal opinion there is no comparison between Umberger and Armstrong. Umberger is a much more offensively gifted player than Armstrong, who has been a complete waste of a signing by Brian Burke.

    I also think Calgary won't trade but the last trade was under a different GM so you never know.

    One thing I do know is the Leafs are way to soft to play against and I'm not talking goon tough but team tough. There just aren't enough skilled guys who also bang and we desperataly need some skilled sandpaper (curiously enough something Kadri does bring to the table).

    I would think long and hard before giving up on Kadri or any of the young d but with the talent on the Marlies I think for the right package it would be a done deal. I think Blacker or Holzer will replace the Dman and Colbourne will be better than Kadri.

  14. One last comment. If I were Leaf management I would seriously look at Spezza. For Spezza I give up a Kadri/Franson kinda package as a starting point.

  15. I like what you've added here, Wilbur. I am also one of those, who, as I've posted here many times before, still feels the Leafs lack the overall "team toughness" you mention.

    Yes, there are ways they can improve "from within", but to really be at an elite level, I'm guessing they may have to give up something they'd rather not give up to get seriously better within the next 3-15 months...

  16. "One thing that bugs me is this perception that the Leafs have decimated by injuries but really the only two signifigant guys to miss time are Reimer and Connoly (maybe Komisarek here as well)."

    It's not so much that the injuries have been to important guys. Rather the injuries have been to a number of guys with size and/or grit.

    Add in Mike Brown, Colby Armstrong, Komisarek and with Steckel fully healed and the Leafs are bigger and the Leafs play a bigger and grittier game and better balance their smaller skilled forwards.

    Right now they seem to be playing polite, small and too much on the perimeter.

    We need some more size, grit and the occasional goal from a big guy crashing the net.