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Here’s hoping the trading chip is not….Gunnarsson

It’s always easier to talk hopefully after a win, and the Leafs have to be feeling better on the heels of their offensive outburst against the Lightning at the ACC Tuesday night.

The Eastern Conference standings are tight and will likely remain so until the middle of April, so every two-point night is huge for the blue and white.

Tampa Bay has struggled this season, though they had been performing better in recent times.  That, though, was not in evidence against the Leafs, who took advantage of some sloppy play by the Lightning (much like the last time the Leafs took on Tampa earlier in the season.) Without Ohlund and Hedman, Tampa Bay is not very good along the blueline.  I’m not sure they would be great even with those guys, but those are big losses.

And after the “Big 3” up front, they lack much forward depth.  (So much for putting most of your cap money into three—albeit very talented—guys…)  Nonetheless, Tampa had been putting up some points before the Toronto encounter.

Nonetheless, Grabovski has now put together successive impressive outings, which may be telling us he is ready to spring from a near season-long semi-slumber.  With Kulemin also finding his legs (if not always the net) these last few weeks, we may finally be able to expect some semblance of consistent production from more than one line going forward.

It was nice to see Kadri and Frattin on the scoreboard, as well, and a penalty kill that allowed no goals.  Blocked passing lanes, blocked shots and the presence of Boyce and Lombardi seemed to help, at least against the Lightning.

One thing I will put out there:  as much as I’ve never been a Downie guy (at all), and as annoying an opponent as he can be, I wonder if Leaf fans would like to have a guy like that? He’s a minus player, though he brings energy and physicality, I’ll say that.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting it.  He’s not a player I like.  But is there something in the way he plays that could make a player like him fit?


It’s entirely possible the Leafs will decide that they can be good enough with their present roster as it is to not only make the playoffs but do some damage once there.

Yet I can’t help but continue to believe something of substance will transpire between now and the trade deadline, something beyond the exchange of AHL players.  I’m not in the business of forecasting specifics, so I have no idea “who” the Leafs might be after, but an impact forward, for lack of a better term, keeps springing to mind.  (A true ‘shutdown’ defenseman, too, though we have loads of defenders already and Phaneuf or Schenn, in theory, could fill that role…)  And to acquire a player who will score goals and play a tough, grinding style would require the Leafs to give up something of value in return.

Who could that be?

In the past, I’ve opined that Kadri has been on the table, and I believe that has been true—though I’m not certain he still is.  But if not the promising young forward—who has showed some spark in his return to the big club—who could be made available?  They wouldn’t likely trade a forward to get a forward, and while they have a number of young forwards who may be stellar NHL’ers some day, they don’t exactly have a ton of fully proven high-end guys up front just yet.

Given that their goalies are all young and also “unproven” by traditional NHL standards, I can’t see that’s the move, either.  So it has to be someone from the 10-deep defense corps, someone who doesn’t have a ridiculous contract and who would provide instant short-term (and longer-term) results for their new team.

I can only see one guy on the Leaf blueline who fits that description. And that’s Carl Gunnarsson.

I’ve posted previously that for me, Gunnarsson (who logged more than 25 minutes Tuesday night, leading the team) should stay right here.  But if I can appreciate the guy’s value, I’m quite certain NHL GM’s much more perceptive than I are noticing the same thing.  That is, that this Leaf defenseman plays an under-the-radar game and makes often difficult plays very simple.  He takes very few penalties and is actually a smart offensive defenseman though he doesn’t pile up points.

In short, he is s solid, smart, nice-skating defenseman.  Not overly physical, but pretty darn good.

All things being equal, he should be a keeper in Toronto— at least in the foreseeable future.  I never like the idea of trading a  young defenseman with a high ceiling.  But I go back to my earlier thought: if the Leafs do make a move, someone of quality has to go.  And I say again, if not Gunner, then who?

It’s a bit of a dilemma for me—and a much bigger one for the Leafs.


  1. Downie was one of a long line of Peterborough Petes with "issues", Kaleta and Kassian another 2. I always have a hard time writing him off completely though, as having your father killed while you're in the passenger seat right beside him at 9 years old (and on the way to hockey practice no less) is something I can't begin to comprehend.
    My brother and I have always felt that he needed the right coach to move him past his constantly seeking out conflict and hair-trigger temper into a place where his obvious hockey skills can shine by themselves. I highly doubt Guy Boucher is that coach.
    I would like to say that maybe the Leafs should go to a "win and you're in" posture with goaltending. I know it's not the biggest sample size, but a perfect PK and Gustavsson's faster reaction time should give him the nod. Sadly, I think Michael is right and "Reimer's the guy" come hell, high water, or missing the playoffs.

  2. I completely agree, Michael. Gunner is conspicuous by his absence when roll call for defensive miscues has taken place lately. I want to see him stay, and having him finding the back of the net with a couple goals lately - both of which were pretty impressive for ANY player, let alone a D man not depended on to score - is only making us all hope he sticks around longer.

    I don't know who goes instead. I'll say the younger contributers like Crabb and Boyce have looked great, and Aulie is a part of that to a certain degree. But Aulie would be a part of a package, not a centerpiece, and I don't see how we give him up for anything worthwhile in return if we're talking about moving defensemen out. Comes back to Gunner, like you said. Which is a depressing thought.

    It's looking more and more like, if Burke does something, it's going to involve young talent (I don't think Kadri's off the table quite yet) and picks. Maybe Kulemin too.

    Anyway, I know yours isn't a site given to trade rumours, but food for thought. Here's to a good old-fashioned butt kicking by the Leafs tonight! Feels great. Heave away!

  3. KidK, your point about Downie and what he has gone through is important. It provides a more "whole" context when we assess him as a hockey player.

    It's hard not to be drawn to somebody who plays with such an edge. If that could be meshed with what (sometimes) only experience in the game can bring, it could be a formidable combination.

    As for Reimer/Monster, well, it looks like they will now alternate more. We'll see. As much as I like Gustavsson, I'd have no problem with Reimer running away with the job as he did last season.

    SteveW...thanks for your post. It's a head-spinner, for sure. We think, "Oh maybe that guy could go" but would it draw what the Leafs need in return?

    You may be right about Kadri, but I'm guessing he gets a very long "audition" now, if we can call it that.

    Maybe nothing happens. We'll see.

  4. Downie: I'd be afraid of someone with a short fuse, at least until we fix our penalty kill. I like him as a player, but I have to wonder how much of his success is a product of Stamkos/St. Louis, because we can't insulate him like that in Toronto unless he moves to the first line, or if he has good chemistry with Grabbo.
    As for Gunner, I am thinking Schenn has a lot more name recognition and might actually be expendable, but only for a monster return. I don't really see it in the cards though, I think Burke is a big Schenn fan. If it saved us dealing Kadri I would be willing to trade Schenn for sure.

  5. My take on a trade scenario would be not to force anything. I cannot remember who or where now, but I think it was a sports journalist who commented that Brian Burke would make an excellent “house flipper”. Where most managers see a money pit or mortgage payments that do not add up, or fit the existing budget, the Burke team sees value. Joffrey Lupul is, of course, the best example. Almost a throw in, almost certainly a salary dump, he has become in less than one year all-star material. There are other examples as well, including Lombardi and Franson, and should I include Phaneuf on that list? I am sure that I am forgetting other good examples. What is it that the coaches say? Let the play come to you …, don’t try to do too much … I am leery of trying to force a trade because it interrupts the natural flow of things, and most importantly, negotiation from a position of strength. For the most part, Burke has kept to this value approach with good success, albeit with a couple of exceptions, such as possibly overpaying for Kessel, an irrational exuberance that cost us Dougie Hamilton, and forcing Kris Versteeg out of town, a head scratcher to say the least, but more importantly a player who would have been a great fit on the current squad and within the evolution of the game. At this time I do not think that they have to do anything but express to other managers a willingness to deal. When the other managers feel the need to deal then discussions can begin. That would be negotiating from a position of strength.

  6. Chris C...You make a good point on Downie. He seems to still be a bit un-predictable and perhaps a bit too explosive. Probably not a fit for the Leafs, no.

    As for Gunner/Schenn, I sense you are right that Burke likes Schenn a lot. Whether he would ever deal Schenn, or Gunner, I don't know. He hasn't given up much off the roster in the deals he had made to this point.

    Bobby C...You hit the nail on the head, I think, when it comes to Burke and how he tries to work things. He would much rather the market come to him than ever trade out of pure necessity.

  7. I'm still hopeful I predict correctly in a Connolly and Franson for Stastny trade. We can dream right and Gunnarsson wouldn't have to be moved.

    Today I've read rumours, rather thoughts, on what Anaheim could do seeing how they are soo far back. Salenne's name has been tossed around but he isn't what the Leafs need and I doubt he will even be moved, regardless of their season conclusion standing. Getzlaf seems like a stretch to be seriously moved and Ryan would cost a ransom.

    I also read an article today on whether the Leafs should keep or move Grabovski. The run down of points were basically keep him if the Leafs stand a chance of making the playoffs. Move if if not because he is a UFA. Based on his play he could be the best UFA centre and command between 4-6 million based off his stats and comparable players. He is currently 3rd centre and, $5M I'll use, is a overpaid third liner. We have already paid for Connolly and Bozak plus Lombardi is top 6 calibre playing in the bottom 6, Steckel being an ideal 4th.

    Any return for Grabovski would be very good. He has the talent, work ethic, age, and always improving play on his side. Remember when Grabovski was first acquired - Greedy (held the puck too long), Selfish (tried to do everything himself), was afraid to shoot. Everything has changed and he even wears an A.

    The article also mentioned Kadri and Colborne being full-time NHL ready next season, it really makes me believe that sadly Grabovski could be expendable. He has heart and has become a favourite.

    Now thinking and putting both articles together, influenced by talk of we need better goaltending and the quiet Hiller rumours - I've found a trade.

    The least spoken about "big name trade rumour" from Anaheim would be Hiller and Grabovski could go the other way, with Monster or Reimer. No secret Anaheim is terrible this year, Blake and Koivu most likely unsigned, and Salenne retiring. Grabovski is an instant #2 behind Getzlaf without a question. Anaheim would just need to add replacements for Blake/Salenne in the top 6 and back-up plan to Reimer/Monster @ less than Hiller's $4.5M.

  8. Skill2Envy....Why Anaheim would deal with the Leafs again I'm not fully sure but Murray knows his job and what he needs. As for Stastny, I just keep wondering, sometimes we hear about Burke's intentions ahead of time (Kessel) and sometimes not (Phaneuf). There is so much talk between GM's and media people these days that I don't doubt that the names that are out there and on the trade table are often accurate. But I can't help but sense that when and if the Leafs make a trade, we won't have any advance warning...I could be wrong, obviously.

  9. With their often successful efforts to control information, Leaf management is hard to read lately regarding trades. There may be one coming or maybe not, it is hard to say. I have the sense that there is something in the air with the recent salary/personnel moves (Dupuis and sadly, Orr). Leaf Nation on the whole seems to be sensing something coming as well. On the surface it looks like they could be preparing to take on some salary, suggesting an unequal salary exchange. Then again, it might be pure coincidence, or whatever might be in the works could fall apart. There may have been some effort to do something bigger and the Luca Caputi-Nicolas Deschamps deal transpired instead. We seem to be expecting the other shoe to fall. The thing is, the guy in the apartment above could have a wooden leg.

  10. Exactly Bobby C.....While it's fun to read the tea leaves, we don't know what is really join on. Something, I'm sure, because I can't believe Burke is fully satisfied with his team- most GM's never are.

    But whether talk (and as you put it, what Leaf Nation is "sensing") leads to anything is anyone's guess. Burke always says he likes to make his deals well ahead of the deadline. We'll see if that holds true this year.

  11. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 4, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    Speculation is truly for dreamers,especially when it comes to trades. And I'm not so sure that Paul Stastny would meet the Leafs entire needs as a number one center in the grueling east. Yes, he is a extremely gifted and intelligent play maker, however, his foot speed is a little on the slow side. What I believe the Leafs need is a big strong center in the middle of Kessel and Lupul...aka Mat Sundin mode than a play maker. Someone who will be able to match up well against that mountain in Beantown, and be able to take the heat off Kessel. And the beast I'm hearing who could be just the one, and Burkie truly covets is Ryan Getzlaf. Not sure what it would take to pry Getzalf from the Ducks, but I'm sure it will cost the Leafs Schenn, Kadri and two high picks. Your thoughts Mike.

  12. This is usually a hot topic debate among me and my Leaf friends. I think we all agree that we like Carl for the reasons you pointed out above. I trust Carl when he is out there more so than say Cody Franson. Not knocking Cody, I just trust Carl more than him. But if we can trade Carl for say a number 1 centre or a proven high end forward I always thought we should go with that and maybe Holzer or even a Blacker could get thrown in on the back end. As you said, its a big dilemma, but not necessarily a bad one, as always, Go Leafs go

  13. Long Suffering...I just can't really believe that Ducks would move one of the premier players in the game. I mean, I know they have been awful this season and need to re-build, (and I know you're not the one suggesting they deal him; we're thinking from the Leaf perspective here...) but surely they won't re-build by trading away their best player, when he is still in his prime?

    I'm probably missing some contractual thing, but that seems a peculiar way to run a business. Maybe ship out some other guys (Beauchemin, et al) and bring in young players to build around Gettzlaff.

    Now, as for the Leafs being able to acquire Getzlaff, if that was a serious possibility (and I have no idea...). If I were Bob Murray, I would insist on Colborne, Kadri, Gunner and a first-rounder. Heck, I might even insist on getting Gardiner back instead of Gunner.

    That would put an end to talks from Burke's end, I would suspect....

  14. Thanks Andrew from NL. Yes, some folks on Twitter were also messaging today, saying Blacker could step in for Gunner. Not to diminish that idea, I'm more of the school that I like what I have in front of me that is young (Gunner) and already proven as a solid, smart defenseman at the NHL level, versus a kid with "potential", be it Blacker or Holzer.

    That said, maybe either of those two does have the ability to play serious minutes in the league right now. I just don't know that.

    As I just talked about with Long Suffering, I have to believe that if the Leafs really do aspire to acquire a truly high-end centre, it will take a lot to pry that player away from whatever team they try to make the deal with. Gunner or Schenn and some solid young forwards or picks.

    It's probably good that Burke is making the call, not us!

  15. Michael, I would have to disagree with you on Anaheim rebuilding. I think they will just need a face lift - somewhere between Ottawa's tear down and Philly's face lift.

    My reasoning for this is the number of UFAs they have - Salenne, Koivu, Blake, Beauchmin, Parros, Hagman, Pelley, Ellis, and Brookbank.

    All of those players would be moved out in favour of new faces. Salenne probably won't be traded, or will be and resigned if he doesn't retire. Parros could be retained to maintain grit and protection for the young guys.

    I think Visnovsky is the most likely to be moved of players with term remaining beyond this season.

    Guys like Cumisky, MacMillan, Smith-Pelley, Palmeiri, and Sexton should get every chance to earn a spot (for) next season and a couple trade returns and UFAs will be added.

    I just don't see Anaheim tearing down the wall when they could just accept this season for what is is and replace the pending UFAs with new faces/internal youth.

  16. Skill2Envy....your analysis makes sense. I would agree that what they are facing a less radical make-over than what I suggested earlier. I do wonder, in the case of the Leafs, if they have they Anaheim needs. Maybe Gunner, maybe Colborne and/or Kadri and picks as I mentioned to Long Suffering and Andrew from NL....

  17. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 4, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    As I said before, speculation is for dreamers, but believe it or not, Mike, Getzlaf's name has been tied to the Leafs. The reason for this is the Ducks have dressing room issues somewhat like the Flyers had when they traded two premier players in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. And when you consider the Ducks have a solid core of players and yet are scrambling every year to make the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup, your suspicions would agree with the hockey experts. I agree if I were Bob Murray I would ask for a king's ransom...but then again, who thunk it that Burkie would attain Dion Phaneuf for basically third and fourth liners?

  18. Long Suffering...It's hard to know how accurate all this is- by that I mean can we believe that Murray is openly acknowledging that Getzlaf might be in play? If that's the case, wow. But I then have to believe that Murray (not that he wouldn't be in any event) is trying to hold a very public auction and sell the guy to the highest possible bidder.

    I still don't understand selling off your centrepiece players. I know the old "Gretzky got traded" theory but that was an owner in financial trouble. I agree that Richards and Carter were major surprises, and that Phaneuf came here for relatively little.

    But all those three guys had some perceptions around their "attitudes". Am I missing something about Getzlaff? Isn't he the true leader, a scorer, a physical player, etc.? And they are somehow going to replace him with as much skill and character?

    I'm just confused. I mean, hey, there's nothing like dreaming, as you said earlier Long S....and it's certainly fun to speculate once in a while but if it happens, well....I won't eat my hat, but I may take a bite....

  19. Always a great read Michael.
    I agree I would prefer Gunnarsson stay than be gone. But, just as we're all saying he's been among the best on the blueline this season, GMs see the same - he's among the best on our depth chart. Worse, he's got a very attractive contract, under $1.5M/season, signed for next year, and an RFA at the end.
    The trouble for Toronto will be determining if there is an adequate replacement. I do see Gunnar as having likely a trade higher value than Schenn and others due to his solid play and attractive contract. The question is can they replace what he does? Phaneuf, Schenn, Gardiner have been solid. Do they re-sign Liles? Aulie has looked terrible even at the AHL level, but is Holzer good enough to be the 6-7 guy? Blacker? Mikus? I hope Burke has a good handle on just what he has in the system.
    All things being equal, I would prefer he stay, for exactly the above reasons... affordable, steady, still can improve. But it's possible trading him may not leave as big a hole as we'd think. It's really going to depend on what the deal/return is.

  20. Very well said, Mark. Gunner poses a dilemma for a host of reasons. The guy can play, and others have noticed. He has, as you allude to, a "nice" contract. But what would he actually bring in a trade? Enough? And do we even want to let him go, for all the reasons many of us already really like him? I'd rather he stay a Leaf, but....