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Maple Leafs’ trade deadline clearly about the future, not the present…

While the Maple Leafs, given their modest roster, have over-achieved at times this season, I’m not sure there has been a period in recent years when the expectations bar has been quite so low.  (It’s been low in recent years at times, but not this low.) That being the case, it’s difficult to assess what this season really means, other than it is a transition year leading, presumably, to something a fair bit better in the years to come.

Whereas we once (weeks ago) spoke about the playoffs as a possible unexpected surprise for Leaf fans this season, that is now not at all likely. With a record well below five hundred and only the occasional one-off upset of a better team to provide a glimpse of short-term cheer, fans have now fully turned the attention to the longer term future. We all knew going in that this year was intended, by management design, to be a season where effort would be the Leafs’ only consistent calling card. So now, we are left to think about the draft this summer, and next season and the year after that, when the Leafs will perhaps turn a corner of sorts.

In truth, I much more enjoyed the days when the Leafs were a contender at the deadline (in the early 2000s, for example) and were one of those teams looking to get better right now, so they could make a run at a championship. But the only thing to focus on these days is the upcoming trade deadline, specifically as it relates to the future.  

Dion Phaneuf is already an ex-Leaf; he is yet another in a long line of solid NHL’ers who came to the Leafs with lofty (unfair?) expectations, and who, in the minds of many, did not quite meet them.  This year’s trade deadline is not about the present but about assets—and accumulating yet more building blocks for the future. The current management team (led by Shanahan and Lamoriello) have a plan, it seems. And that is to be patient and build with youth. Management long ago set this year aside at the NHL level. It’s all about developing the kids on the current roster—and those on the way.

So recognizing that the current roster does not inspire us, beyond the aforementioned effort aspect (which, in truth, is the very least we should always be able to expect from this franchise), what can the Leafs do to get better for the future between now and the deadline?

The process continued in earnest with the Dion deal.  But it’s almost a certainty that more moves are planned by the Leaf brain trust.  The question, however, may be: do the Leafs have players who will really bring much value in return?

Maybe Komarov (now suspended) is at the top of that list. While he is absolutely the type of player that the Leafs will need when they are a playoff team—and he certainly wears the Leaf crest with pride—he may be at his peak right now. Is he worth more in terms of what he can bring in return for the future, than he is if he stays?  He is an edgy, useful player, for sure.  But will he be as effective in three years, when the Leafs believe they’ll be competitive?

Polak is another who fits that category. Hard working and tough. He will be 30 soon, plays more minutes than we thought he would at the beginning of the season and is a plus 8 on a roster that doesn’t have many (any?) guys at that level. It would seem some playoff-bound team, especially one with Stanley Cup aspirations, would have an eye on Polak.  Cup hopeful teams know you have to be 8-10 deep on defense to get through four grueling playoff rounds. Polak would be a good fit somewhere.

What to do with Reimer?  I’ve long been a Reimer guy.  Yet I still don’t know if he is a bona fide number-one NHL goaltender. And if we do try to deal him, do we get much more than a mid-round pick, if that?

Is Gardiner a keeper? What about Holland, another young player with “potential”? Are these players that will get better and better, or is what we’re seeing now what they will ultimately be?

I’m assuming Kadri and van Riemsdyk stay, as two of the few ‘skill’ players on the current roster. I don’t know about Bozak.

The Leafs have a roster otherwise filled with useful but replaceable parts—Boyes, Parenteau, Matthias, Grabner, etc.  Will they be moved?

One question for your consideration:  we always talk about all the good young players in the Leaf organizational pipeline, either in the AHL, Europe or the junior/college ranks. I know there is much more analysis and focus on previously drafted players than ever before.  More and more scouts, bloggers, and everyday fans see these prospects in action and develop strong opinions about their potential.

But how many of the kids in our pipeline are actually going to be elite players at the NHL level?  How many will be legitimate difference-makers? How many will simply remain players with “potential”?

I honestly don’t know if we have a better group of young players than most other organizations.  Hey, maybe we do. 

Regardless, this trade deadline, as I mentioned above, that is all about what the Leafs can acquire (prospects and draft picks) for the future.

Who stays?  Who goes?


  1. Well, it didn't take long for the first answer, Michael! Matthias is gone for an underachieving minor leaguer and a fourth round pick. All about the future indeed! The problem I see is that if we trade away Leo and Polak, we have no one else who plays the "hard" game Babcock likes and keeps referencing. No one! Watching the team these days - a team just good/bad enough to almost always lose by a goal or two - I feel we've hit a low which far surpasses any previous low-bar Leafs team. And, as you point out, every team thinks they have "potential" in their pipeline, don't they? No one has any idea if the Shanaplan will work!

    Having said that, I expect they'll be trying to move many of the players who are currently "injured" (or is that "protected from injury until the trade deadline"?) I don't think we'll get much back, barring a major move (which, for me, would mean JvR or Gardiner.) I expect Rielly stays, and may be the only true untouchable on the team. I'll be surprised if Parenteau stays. It should be quite a final few weeks, without one scorer!

    I hate the talk of tanking for Matthews. As we've noted in years past, getting the top draft pick guarantees nothing. Ask an Oilers' fan! And I'm tired of the Stamkos talk, as well. Who would he play with on the Leafs? Look at the teammates he has in Tampa, and they haven't won it all yet.

    To be honest, I've stopped caring to a surprisingly large extent - and this from a life-long fan, like yourself! I don't pay much attention to the games, and usually just catch the so-called highlights the next day. I don't know if the new management will succeed or not, but they talk a good game. There's no question the Leafs play with more structure than in previous years, but compared to the Sundin/Roberts teams, they don't compare. And they're boring.

    Two things are clear - next year won't be much better, and ticket prices and merch prices won't go down. I'm keeping my parade gear in mothballs.

    1. Hi Gerund- I'm with you on "tanking", for sure. And I sense you're far from alone in terms of not paying as close attention as we typically would in years past, when the team had serious playoff aspirations.

      Matthias, yes, and now we hear Polak is headed to San Jose. No surprise there. Two second-round picks seems to be a nice return.

    2. Yes. On the glass half-full side, we're stockpiling a bunch of picks which could become more prospects or trading chips. On the glass half-empty side, management is certainly talking as if it'll be another couple of years before we can expect to see a team that can start to contend.
      I'm giving my nephew instructions on where to find the parade gear. It looks like he'll be the one to wear it!

    3. gerund, i can certain relate to your sentiments. i have cared very little about this season, and i've been a life-long fan as well! least periods of hockey watched... ever!

      you mention the draft not always working-out for teams... another example team is my home-town team, the sabres! they've finished 30th the past two seasons and haven't won the draft either time!!!! (although no one in buffalo is disappointed with picking up reinhart or eichel).

  2. Hi Michael,

    I wonder where the Leafs would be this season if not for struggling goalies and injuries to so many of our top six. (JVR since early January, Bozak, Lupul, Kadri (back now), Komorov with a suspension...) I don't think such an aggressive "tank" was planned and the expectation for the draft pick was 4-8.

    Gardiner is the veteran presence on defense tonight now that Polak and Phaneuf are gone, Hunwick still out. I'm not expecting anything more than mistakes and youthful enthusiasm. (Poor Reimer!) Still, I do enjoy seeing the youngsters.

    1. Hi Colleen- injuries have certainly been a factor this season, no question. The next while may give us a glimpse into the future!

  3. I'm trying to stay positive, Michael. A very disappointing year for all Canadian teams. Though I expected Montreal to drop after they're amazing start, I didn't see the Habs and Jets challenging us for last place. And we beat Vancouver! It's very odd to have your team sitting in last place and have posters from other teams say, "It must be nice to be a Leafs fan right now." I hope they're right.

  4. Lots of our speculations are 'clearing up' since your post, Michael! I do believe Komarov will remain as a solid, exemplary model of honest work effort for those around him. Polak brought a nice return from SJ and may even return as a UFA, but I've been ruminating on our substantial cap space and the possibility of taking on a Bickell ($4M for one more year) in order to improve the 'return', when it struck me that we might target a young RHD (Trevor) TVR who is a little further along in his development.

    I just noticed that James Reimer has been sent to the Sharks (for a seemingly small return - a 2018 Conditional 4th rounder for Hunter to play with) there may be an even stronger/ more mutually beneficial reason for the trade. Clearly, James was having a rather strong season before the injuries (his, Bozak's, JVR's, etc.) and has seemed a little 'off his game' with the influx of new players in the lineup.

    It appears to me as though the systems that had bolstered his focus and decision-making (regarding setting himself for the most likely play), have taken a substantial hit and 'broken down' leaving James seemingly 'over committed' and out of position. It seems more likely to me that the problem was symptomatic of others' failings not 'causative' (because of Reimer)... and, ever the classy individual, we never heard it from him. My observation is that he started to change his game to 'make up for' systems failures, all of which contributed to his current downward trend.

    It may be that Lou was finding a potential win-win-win scenario (for the teams in the trade and James) that is: giving James a chance to play with an NHL roster; an opportunity for some playoff experiences; the chance to experience life away from Toronto, and; the opportunity to come back as a free agent. Reimer gains a bit from the break from losing and systems failings and with 'absence making the heart grow fonder' the door may open to a mutually beneficial future.

    Perhaps this also provides the chance to decide on Bernier's future as well, by the draft, so that there is a clear(er) picture on the situation before the UFA's become available. Lou can also see how James fares down the stretch and gets a better idea if he really has a future with the Leafs and picks up the draft pick in the process.

    It's hard to say I'm not just in denial, but I think there may be something to such a scenario that is plausible and could see Reimer back in the fold sometime this summer. In the meantime, I hope he has a nice break and finds the level that will provide him the future he richly deserves.

    1. Hi InTimeFor62- I just heard about the Reimer deal a bit ago...still sinking in!

  5. With Reimer traded today for only a 4th round pick today (I was hoping for a 2nd) which is really nothing given all the draft picks the Leafs already have, they are now going all out for the draft pick this year - an all out tank. So they should get another good player to go along with Marner, Nylander and Kapanen. These are all young skilled players so bad as it is now the future is looking better every day. And those two 2nd round picks from San Jose could be good ones with the Sharks and Thornton long past their prime.

    I liked Reimer and it is kind of sad to see how things worked out. But I guess Lamorello did not see him fitting into the long term plan - and Lou is a goalie GM and knows what he is doing, Brodeur won him Cups and when Brodeur was done he went out and got Schneider. I think I will trust Lou's judgement and after Boston I guess Reimer would not be my pick to win the Leafs a Cup.

    Tonite is the Habs so I will be pulling for the Leafs - but then again a loss tonight will not be really upset me all that much.

    1. Good to hear from you, Alton. Yes, I wasn't sure what Reimer might attract in return. A fourth pick pick must be fair value in the current market.

  6. Interesting that Lamoriello's rationale was that he needs to see how Sparks and Bibeau do playing at the NHL level, so he can more accurately assess what the team has.