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Trade him or keep him: Leo Komarov

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It’s trade season again, and you get to be the judge. Vote your feelings on Leo Komarov in the poll.

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Leo Komarov

Leo Komarov is a great guy. This makes it hard to even discuss him in a dispassionate, asset-value way. He is very much a core part of the team, and he has proved invaluable in helping Russian players get settled into the team by giving them a leg up over the language barrier. He wears the A for a reason.

He just turned 30, and he is on a $2,950,000 AAV contract that runs for one more year. At the deadline, that contract requires approximately $1 million in cap space, but a team needs space for next year.

His Season So Far

Coming off of a career year no one should have expected him to repeat, Komarov was given the same assignment Nazem Kadri was given: shut down the league’s best lines until Auston Matthews is ready for it.

He has eight goals and eight assists in 47 games so far playing almost all of the time as the left wing on Kadri’s line.

And as Matthews and the other rookies have grown in experience and shown their ability, Komarov’s usage has changed.

Ice time charts from Datarink.com show this change:

Five-on-five ice time, Leo Komarov 2016-2017 season to January 31

You can see that his five-on-five minutes have dropped.

Power play ice time, Leo Komarov 2016-2017 season to January 31

His power play ice time has also dropped, while his penalty kill usage has increased.

Short handed ice time, Leo Komarov 2016-2017 season to January 31

The overall result is a fairly constant all-situations ice time.

His season so far at a glance also shows that his points on the power play don’t warrant his use on a regular basis. More worrying, is that his Corsi Against is so poor. All of the Leafs trend poorly at this, it’s baked into the way the team plays, but Komarov is not scoring and is not doing anything to mitigate the shots against.

He has three linemates he has played with a lot—Kadri, William Nylander and Connor Brown—and all of them have a better Corsi For percentage without him. When those players are away from Komarov, however, they are often playing a very different sort of game with very good linemantes, usually Matthews.

Komarov is said to be good defensively, and using Corsica Hockey’s expected goals for and against as a way of accounting for the quality of play in each zone. His entire line looks good there and they are just behind the fourth line in ability at defending well. They are followed by Matthews’ line and then Bozak’s.

But the differences are small, and if you extrapolate Komarov’s current expected goals against into a rough approximation of 82 games, you get less than 5 goals against difference between him and Tyler Bozak. By contrast, Bozak projects to have around 8 more expected goals for on the season, making Bozak a net improvement over Komarov at even strength. Of course, Bozak’s usage is dramatically different.

Komarov’s results so far this year look like a player about to slide down the depth chart. And that’s only to be expected at his age. Players who are 30 are not improving, but the decline is not a leap off a cliff usually, nor is it precisely predictable.

The Leafs are in a position to weigh Komarov’s future performance against his cost. They also need to factor in his value both in what he brings to the team outside of his on-ice performance and what he would bring in trade.

The Case to Trade Him

Almost three million in cap hit is a lot of money for a man who looks like he should be fighting for the fourth line wing spot with Matt Martin.

Martin, by the way, is better at limiting shots against and does contribute the occasional offensive point. At 27, he is younger than Komarov, and his contract might have term, but it is cheaper than Komarov’s by almost $500,000. He also brings all of the off-ice value Komarov adds—minus the Russian and the piano playing.

If Komarov is no longer enough on the wing with Kadri, and he already isn’t if Kadri’s line is supposed to be producing some goals to go with their excellent shut-down performance, then he is in competition with Martin for a job now. And the Leafs have shown no indication they don’t want Martin on the team through the term of his contract.

Trading Komarov now at the deadline to a playoff team that can accommodate his salary next year is a no-brainer if the deal is a good one. The complicated business of finding expansion draft protection spots for forwards becomes easier, and a spot opens up for promotion.

The case would be stronger if Kasperi Kapanen were not injured, but if the Leafs want to know if Kerby Rychel has a future on the team, maybe now is the time to find out.

The Case to Keep Him

The Leafs have a strong chance to grab a playoff spot. Trading Komarov now is foolish. If there were someone better right on the team to slot into his spot, or if they could magic up a replacement, fine, but now is not the time.

The time is coming though. Filling that spot with a better quality player has to be on the Leafs to-do list. It’s a long list though, and finding a better fourth line centre, finding better depth defenders, and stocking the below-roster depth with better future options are all on the list too.

There is no good reason to move Komarov out until the Leafs are certain they have a better player to replace him with. That better man might be on the Marlies right now, but that is far from a sure thing.

The idea that the Leafs could wind up playing Matt Martin on Kadri’s wing with Colin Greening on the fourth line as they enter the playoffs just so they could get another draft pick from a deadline deal is not a good one.

Komarov also plays a valuable role on the penalty kill, and like Roman Polak, you need to have a replacement for those minutes if you remove him from the lineup.

You Decide

My real feelings are more in the keep him now, beef up the roster in the summer and move him out then camp. But in writing this, I nearly talked myself into the trade. He is a great guy, but he’s not adding more to the team than Martin is right now.

I am reminded of the choice the Leafs made in letting Micheal Grabner go, and why they made it. Sometimes, you let good ones go while they are still good.

But what do you think? Say goodbye with regrets now? Or stand pat and see what happens for the rest of the season?