From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle
Dion Phaneuf’s tenure with the Ottawa Senators began in Detroit on Wednesday night. On the second defence pair with youngster Cody Ceci, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain had a different jersey, with a different number (2) and no letter on his chest.
After 423 games as a Leaf – the Senators’ most bitter rival – it was an odd visual.
And the Phaneuf trade is only the beginning. More Leafs are likely to follow him out the door, with the majority of roster spots up for grabs in the 18 days left before the NHL’s trade deadline.
It’s expected Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be one of the NHL’s busiest executives the rest of the way. He has nine pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on the current roster, and it makes no sense to hold onto any of them if prospects and/or draft picks can be had in return.
The Leafs have also discussed moving winger Dan Winnik and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who both have one year on their deals beyond this season, in talks with other teams.
Add in the veterans left from the former management’s core – Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak – and the three hefty contracts the Leafs just added from Ottawa on Tuesday and that is 16 players off the current 27-man roster (including injured reserve) who are undeniably available.
That’s a lot of trade calls.
Realistically, how many will be traded? And what can Toronto expect to get?
The unrestricted free agents
There are two groups of rental players the Leafs have to offer teams. The first – namely P.A. Parenteau and goaltender James Reimer – are players that have had good seasons and will be easy to move for something of value.
Reimer is a special case in that he is the only pending UFA who the team is still trying to re-sign. But he could be a valuable short-term option for a team such as Nashville, which is on the postseason bubble and having issues in goal. At the very least, Parenteau and Reimer should be able to garner second-round picks or solid prospects if they’re moved.
The second group comprises players with more limited value. Defenceman Roman Polak could be an exception given how many teams want big, physical-depth defencemen, but even then it’s hard to imagine he’d fetch much more than a third-round pick.
The Leafs other pending UFAs – Michael Grabner, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Rich Clune – have had marginal production this year (or spent time in the minors) so they’ll be a tougher sell.
It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the Leafs somehow found takers for players such as Olli Jokinen (sixth-round pick from St. Louis) and Korbinian Holzer (fifth-round pick from Anaheim) at last year’s deadline. Anything is possible. Especially if Toronto takes back bad money in a deal, as they did in accepting Eric Brewer in the Holzer trade.
The trade bait and vets with big contracts
After moving Phaneuf, the Leafs don’t have many “big” contracts left. Lupul is the team’s highest-paid player at $5.25-million a season, followed by James van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Bernier in the $4.2-million range. The only player on the team signed beyond 2017-18 is defenceman Jake Gardiner, who is 25 years old.
It’s difficult to imagine they could find a taker for Lupul, as he has only 14 points in 46 games and is again on injured reserve. Bozak and Bernier, however, should have some value and could possibly be moved for second- or third-round picks simply to shed more salary.
The Leafs moved Winnik to Pittsburgh before last year’s deadline for a second- and fourth-rounder, which isn’t going to happen again given the season he’s had. A mid-round pick would be a reasonable return this time. It’s also possible the Leafs move Ottawa transplants Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Jared Cowen, who all have one year left on their deals. Cowen, in particular, could be intriguing for a contending team, as he can be bought out at a low cost in the summer in a transaction that will grant extra cap space in 2016-17.
Who is safe?
It’s unlikely the Leafs trade van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly or Gardiner, who will form the nucleus of a roster that is going to get even younger with an influx of a half-dozen or so players from the AHL’s Marlies next season.
Everyone else is an option.
That said, someone has to play with the kids next season. The Leafs have to be careful not to go too scorched-earth by putting young players in over their heads – the way Edmonton did – and ending up mired in the NHL’s basement for several more years.
They’ll get a close-up view of that on Thursday against the Oilers, with something of note on the line: The losing team will claim last place in the NHL standings.