Supposedly, Dave Nonis has been "actively shopping" most of the players on his roster. This sounds extreme, and I'm reluctant to believe that the Leafs' GM is aiming for such a drastic re-build at this point in his tenure with the team (he's probably, what, 6 months away from being fired?), but let's entertain the idea for a moment. If the Leafs really are looking to deal a few players, which ones should go?
Contract status, age (and the accompanying decline in production), trade market value, and value to the team are the main factors to consider, here. Instead of just saying a player is "untouchable" or... um... can we say "touchable"? Anyway, let's use those 4 factors to decide who should be shipped out.
1. Who has an ugly contract that the Leafs need to get rid of?
These are the toughest ones to trade, because although the player may still bring something important to the Leafs (or their hypothetical new team) their contract makes them more of a burden than an asset.
It's news to no one (especially around here) that his contract is atrocious and is going to be a problem for the Leafs for a long time, but I think that the Leafs might actually stand a better chance of moving Clarkson if they wait a year. No matter how overpaid he is, he'll likely produce at least a few more points next season when his 5.88 on-ice shooting percentage (again -- likely) rises and he puts a few more pucks in the net. At that point, maybe the Leafs could pawn him off on some team who doesn't know anything about salary caps. Maybe the New York Yankees.
The problem is that Clarkson's bonus structure effectively makes him untradable. He might as well have got a NMC/NTC. In fact, I wish he had one instead of what he got.
I don't think he's a bad captain per se, but he's going to be earning BIG money for a LONG time, and without a real stalwart of a partner (no offense to Carl Gunnarsson) Dion is unlikely to live up to most of his deal. Fortunately, Phaneuf is still nowhere near as useless as David Clarkson, and some teams are likely to have some serious interest if the Leafs do decide to trade their captain, but similar to Clarkson, letting a year or two come off the books might be the best chance the Leafs have of dealing Phaneuf. Again, let's wait to deal the big man. Besides, who is going to replace him?
Who are we kidding? No one is taking that contract on without a serious prospect/pick going the other way.
2. You're not getting any younger
Lupul could perhaps also be placed in the 'bad contract' category, but at least he's still producing enough to generate some trade interest. He's had a couple of lucky shooting seasons recently, and given his age he's unlikely to get any better than that. Moreover, his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, so if he's not scoring, he's a real burden on the team. Trade him yesterday for a younger player.
As much as we rag on Bozak for not being good enough to be a 1C, it's really not his fault that Randy Carlyle keeps playing him that way. No one says 'no' to more ice time. Brian Burke signed Bozak as a UFA out of the NCAA for nothing but his cap hit, and he's become something of a point producer, piggy-backing on Phil Kessel's success ever since. That makes him at least a marginal 'win' in terms of asset management.
Sometimes when we discuss trading a player, we joke that it's be fun to play them a lot for a little while, inflate their numbers, and then deal them while they're hot. Bozak has been doing this for FIVE YEARS NOW. It's time to cash in on his inflated production before age and injuries cripple him and the Leafs can't get rid of him. For now, you just know some team would take him as a second or third line C.
Look, Franson has some value. His quick whip of a shot from the point is great. He puts up points on the power play. The thing is, he's second-last among Leafs defencemen, ahead of only Tim Gleason in P/60 at 5v5 last season, which suggests that he needs very favourable circumstances to produce points.
The down side to Franson is that his defensive zone awareness leaves a lot to be desired and he's never been quick enough on his feet or quick enough with his puck decisions to clear the zone efficiently. As he ages, these are problems that are only going to be exacerbated, and when his power play production falters, he'll be nothing but a liability.
Franson has done some good work for the Leafs, but now might be the best time to trade him in terms of buy low, sell high.
3. Trade Market value
A bit of explanation first: the players in this section are chosen not because they SHOULD be traded. In fact, they probably shouldn't be. It's just that sometimes a return could be too good to pass up. The Leafs desperately need a top-tier centreman, and these guys might help get it done.
James van Riemsdyk
JvR is an incredibly important piece for the Leafs. A young, cost-controlled 30-goal scorer? Yes, please. The only reason to trade JvR is if it brings in a SUBSTANTIAL return, probably a 1C as a part of a package.
As much as I hate to say it, if Kadri (as a part of a package) could bring in a superstar, the Leafs should consider it. Kadri is my favourite current Leaf and I would be sad to see him go. In fact, given the Leafs' need at C, trading him for anything less than the moon would be creating one hole to fill another.
4. Value to the Leafs
These, I should stress, are players that the Leafs really can't afford to lose, especially because their value on the market wouldn't replace their value to the team.
Look, mark my words: Jonathan Bernier's save percentage is going to regress next season, and when it does, we'll all wish that Carlyle & Co. hadn't run Reimer out of town. The Leafs will get next to nothing for him, particularly since he's currently unsigned, so why not keep him?
Where are Earth are the Leafs going to find another defenceman of this calibre at that age? Trading Gardiner when the team so clearly needs defence is foolhardy.