Unlikely Leafs

Mar 30, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal (11) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Penguins beat the Sabres 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

With the 2012 NHL Entry Draft roughly 24 hours a way, it seems as though the trade rumor mill is working itself into an even greater frenzy. Entering the week, the biggest name on the market was Rick Nash. You can add Jordan Staal and Bobby Ryan to that list, as recent talk from TSN's Bob McKenzie suggests both could be available as well. Almost every one of you have entertained the thought of one of these three players in a blue and white jersey.

Unfortunately, it's not going to happen. Follow along after the jump for why...

In a vacuum, there isn't a team that wouldn't love to have one of these three guys, Toronto included. For most, it doesn't financially make sense. For others, the need doesn't exist (or there's a greater need at a different position). The Leafs don't fall into these categories. They have both the financial ability to take on a large contract as well as the need for more skill in a lineup that finished 26th in the league. But if you take a closer look at the Leafs current situation, taking on any of these three guys doesn't pass a logic test.

For Nash and Ryan, it's an issue of position and assets. First, the Leafs have a far greater need at center (specifically, between Lupul and Kessel) than on the wing. And while some media members love to fantasize about transitioning developed NHLers to a new position (Kaberle to center!), the truth is that these players have spent years specializing in a certain brand of hockey. You don't hear about players switching from defense to forward or vice-versa with any regularity because it would be a disaster.

So assuming the Leafs wouldn't plan on playing either Nash or Ryan at center, they still have a big hole on the roster. And this is where assets come into play. Do the Leafs want to give up the #5 overall pick and/or Jake Gardiner in a trade? No chance. At this point, they might be able to swing a deal for a big name player without relinquishing one (or both) of these assets. It's at least possible. Assuming that's the case, and the Leafs could trade for Nash or Ryan and retain #5 and Jake Gardiner, they're still facing a dilemma: how do they fill the #1 center hole? The only possible way is to start moving the assets you really don't want to relinquish. At that point, you're removing good, young talent that's cost controlled for established players who aren't. Good teams with Stanley Cup aspirations can make those deals. Teams that finish 26th overall should not. So it really comes down to an issue of need. The Leafs need a #1 center. Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan don't play center. There's not enough assets to acquire everything without clearing out the top end of the prospect pool. Thus, the Leafs attention this summer will likely be focused elsewhere.

It's a different issue for Jordan Staal. He just turned down a massive 10 year, $60 million contract with Pittsburgh: the team that drafted, played, and then paid him. He won a Cup with them. They have one of the NHL's most popular coaches and he's guaranteed a chance at the Cup every year. With all of that in mind, it sure sounds like Staal is intent on testing free agency next summer. Brian Burke would have to be out of his fucking mind to trade for Jordan Staal without having a contract extension in place. The cost to acquire him would be massive; another one of those trades where your prospect pool takes a significant hit. Could you imagine the backlash in Toronto if the Leafs traded Jake Gardiner or the #5 overall pick to Pittsburgh only to have Jordan Staal walk to another team on July 1st, 2013? Brian Burke and his staff would have to go into witness protection. I don't think Brian Burke is a risk taker of that magnitude, at least at this stage of his tenure in Toronto.

Please don't get me wrong - these guys are all very good hockey players and they'd be strong additions to the Leafs. But if you go into tomorrow thinking these guys are destined for blue & white, you might go to bed very, very disappointed..

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