With the 2018 NHL trade deadline approaching, the Leafs have a playoff position all but locked down. Last year, we spent weeks leading up to the last week of the season thinking it could go wrong. Now, it’s February and most of the reliable prediction models have the Leafs at well over 90% chance of making the playoffs.
This is a whole new world we live in. But stuck around the margins of the Leafs are remnants of the pre-rebuild team —some expiring UFAs, some old free agent signings and a seeming excess of prospects at the borderline of the AHL and NHL. The Leafs aren’t trading a big star or stars like the hapless New York Rangers, but they are rumoured to have a few smaller names on offer.
From Sportsnet’s Eliotte Friedman in 31 thoughts, comes this on Josh Leivo and Nikita Soshnikov, two obvious names for the trade lists, as well as another name we should have expected to see before now.
Teams have said in the past Toronto has asked a higher-than-expected price for both players. I also think the Maple Leafs would keep money to help Matt Martin find a new home. No doubt they have checked with the Islanders.
He’s got other trade news, and I hope you check out the whole story.
It makes sense to me for the Leafs to not want to be seen to be anxious to move Soshnikov and Leivo. They may be at the 50 SPC limit, but negotiating when the other side thinks you’re desperate is foolish. There’s no really pressing reason not to wait until the deadline sharpens other GMs’ appetites for some depth wingers.
Bob McKenzie discussed the Leivo situation, and if you’re mystified by why he’s not playing, listen to this. McKenzie is, like I am, confused as to why Leivo ever signed his contract extension, but he’s very clear that Leivo cannot crack that top nine without the proverbial bus crash. This discussion covers the UFA situation a little as well and lays out his view of the choice the Leafs have to make.
As far as Martin goes, the Leafs could retain some salary, or they could just sit and wait until after Martin’s signing bonus is paid in the summer and trade his much more attractive contract at that time. If they’re looking to move him now, it’s because they respect him and want to find him a team he fits on, now that the Leafs have outgrown him, perhaps faster than anticipated.
Which brings me to Leo Komarov. He looks very useful taking Martin’s spot on the fourth line. And I haven’t seen credible rumours he’s on the block, and now I’d say it’s likely he won’t be moved.
But a different UFA came up in conversation:
Dreger: There's a considerable amount of interest in Bozak https://t.co/1z5yvmnvun— TSN 1050 Toronto (@TSN1050Radio) February 6, 2018
The radio discussion linked above covers the whole gamut from the idea of keeping the full set of UFAs or possibly trying to trade Tyler Bozak. Dreger is very firm that there is a lot of interest in him. I don’t have any trouble believing that. You only hate defensively weak players when you’ve had years to imagine their deficiencies outweigh their offence on a bad team. He fits on the Leafs right now in a lot of ways, and yet the team could be improved with a different sort of centre in that spot.
Eventually the Leafs need a younger third centre. So this deal would only happen, I think, if they have a firm plan right now on who that younger third centre is and if they think he’s ready right now. The way the Matthews’ line is playing defensively lately, it’s really hard to imagine that Mike Babcock thinks William Nylander is ready now.
I don’t think Nylander is ready now. I don’t see how the return on a Bozak trade is worth it to dump Nylander into that role now with the playoffs just over the horizon.
It all adds up to not much moving out from the Leafs. Yes, they want to shave a couple of contracts off that number of SPCs right now, but it’s not an emergency if they don’t. They might want to deal an excess goalie out of the AHL (there’s three remember), but it’s also likely a smart play to wait on that for the summer or even training camp.
The Leafs are not going to gain a lot in the way of picks out of this sale. This is a yard sale of the stuff laying around in the garage, not an auction of the valuable artworks inside the house. And not even Lou Lamoriello can get rich off a yard sale.