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Miscellaneous Leaf Thoughts: The Lull

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Thoughts about Gardiner, Engvall, the draft, and more.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s the offseason, if you’re a Leafs fan, and we don’t have a lot to do except gaze longingly at 2018 draft prospects. Well, that and speculate about trades. Here are some Leaf thoughts.

  1. Endowment bias runs wild. Speaking of speculating, it’s a wonderful season for fake trades. I have seen many of them, and they’re wild, and that’s all right. That’s what fake trades are about. They’re like pornography, you just have to be clear they’re a fantasy.

The Leafs are in an awkward spot for trades, though, because they don’t have any really good mid-level trade assets. The Big Three are untouchable; Kadri and Rielly are core pieces on good contracts whom we can’t easily replace. Andersen is our starter. And then, uh...

Kasperi Kapanen is an exciting young player. I would like to keep him unless the trade offer made for him is quite good, and I expect we will in fact keep him. He is about to turn 22 and has an impressive AHL track record, and he’s got great speed and improving hands. I like him very much.

But people are crazy over the prospect of trading him. This is a kid who had nine points in 38 games last year. “But he didn’t get opportu—” Yeah, yeah, we know! There are reasons! He’s not actually a 20-point player in ability, he’s better than that. Also, if you can put together a package for Dougie Hamilton, where the best piece you give up is Kasperi Kapanen, you should say yes to that in the bare minimum time your brain takes to send an order to your voicebox. (And if Calgary does that trade, their whole front office should be fired.)

It’s not fun to think about giving up a talented player of Kapanen’s age, and you shouldn’t do it for less than a very good deal. But if another fanbase were turning down trades for top-pairing defencemen to hang onto a potentially good middle-six F, well, we’d laugh at them. And we’d be right.

2. Don’t trade Jake Gardiner, or if you do, make it make sense. The Leafs should be trying to contend next year. The Leafs are thin on defence. The part of the fanbase that hates him is never going to get its head out of its ass on the topic, but Jake Gardiner is at least one of the best two defencemen on the team now.

If a team is acquiring Jake Gardiner as a defence rental, they are probably a team that is trying to win now, and that needs defencemen. Such a team is probably not giving up a defenceman who is currently quite good in the trade! Maybe you’re getting a really great prospect return in the bargain, but then, you’re making the team worse in the last year of Auston Matthews’ and Mitch Marner’s ELCs. It had better be a pretty great prospect. Are teams lining up to giveaway mint defence prospects for one year of Jake Gardiner? I doubt it.

The truth is, 95% of the trade proposals for Jake Gardiner you see are from people who scream “MINUS FIVE” when they hear his name and want him gone because he makes them frustrated. Talking yourself into giving away a player out of annoyance because the Leafs lost to a better team in seven games is the kind of thing Dave Nonis would do. Don’t be Dave Nonis, y’all.

This is not to say I can’t envision any trade for Jake Gardiner. Our commenter Petersversion had the idea of flipping him one for one for the Jets’ Tyler Myers (Myers is a RD in the last year of his deal and has a modestly higher cap hit, and the Jets have an unusually strong right side, so they might like some balance.) I don’t think the Jets would do it and I wouldn’t do it myself, but it’s not crazy and I respect that. Just let’s avoid the extremes where we’re somehow trading him for Oliver Ekman-Larsson or trading him for a sixth and a box of Skittles.

3. Dubas the Savior. I like Kyle! We all like Kyle, except for maybe Mark Hunter and people who resent Millennials for ruining the shopping mall industry or whatever. The idea that he lacks hockey experience is silly.

That said: Toronto is trying to go from a good team to a legit top-three team in the NHL, at the least—in other words, into that range where your shot at a Cup is at least as good as anyone else’s. That is very hard to do. It requires some skill and a lot of luck, both in opportunities and in outcomes. Maybe a team is going to get drunk and drop a top-pairing RD into Dubas’ lap, but I doubt it, and on the rare chance it does happen it will not likely be someone we recognize as such at the time. Or it will have cost one of the Big Three.

I’m not sure what else to say there. Unless there’s a sucker out there waiting to be swindled—and I do hope Dubas is calling Peter Chiarelli about Oscar Klefbom like, several times a week—the opportunity may not be there. To hit a home run, you need a pitcher to throw it over the middle of the plate for you. If the Leafs settle for a smart bunt single this summer, that may be the best thing available.

4. Pierre Engvall! Alright, that said, sometimes good things happen. I did not expect anything at all out of Pierre Engvall when he was drafted, because he was a 7th-rounder and as a rule you should never bet on a seventh-rounder to do much. And yet the Leafs have hit on three sevenths since 2006 (Leo Komarov, Carl Gunnarsson, and very probably Andreas Johnsson), and now Pierre Engvall has made it to the ELC stage. This is definitely one stage past where most of us expected (but credit where it’s due to not norm ullman, who was talking about him a couple of years back. Sometimes that rambling nut is onto something.)

This doesn’t guarantee that Engvall is going to sniff the NHL, of course, but he has been raising hell in the AHL since coming over from Sweden. He may just be running hot (15 points in 19 games, bridging the regular season and the playoffs) but gosh, let’s just watch the big boy shoot a bunch of goals in the net.

Whee!

It’s a long way to the NHL, but hey, there are worse ways to get there than by being 6’4” with a shot. Go Engvall go!

5. Steve Simmons interlude.

Jake Gardiner was +9 in the regular season to Brooks Orpik’s -9, but you can’t even expect Steve to use real samples of his dumb stats.

As an aside, the repeated use of ellipses between ideas that Steve employs in these columns is such an odd construction (I assume it’s to save column space, but still.) I have nothing against hodgepodge mixes of random thoughts (duh) but the format he uses makes him sound like he’s muttering furiously to himself on a street corner. This impression isn’t helped by the quality of the thoughts in between the dots, either.

“The nerds love to bash Brooks Orpik, but...[mutter mutter] JAKE GARDINER!...[mutter mutter] Marc Savard is a wimp [mutter]”

6. Draft stuff. I am in the process of learning about the draft, as are we all, and for the most part that involves me listening to better-informed people (like our own Kevin Papetti). Kevin convinced me of his wizardry by talking up Pettersson and Tolvanen before last draft, and now I view him with superstitious awe.

Anyway, the big name people seem to expect may “fall” this year is Ryan Merkley, an uber-talented RHD. If he’s still there at 25, well, the Leafs probably have to take the most talented player on the board—and even if they were drafting for need, the Leafs’ need happens to be RHD. His attitude worries me maybe more than attitude problems usually do, because they seem to be more of a being-a-dick variety than the “his face looks kind of fat” variety we’re used to from Phil Kessel. But since I haven’t heard anything criminal, I guess we just hope it’s a teenage phase. I liked it better when Liljegren fell due to mono, though. Love you, Timmy.

Beyond that, I had hopes for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, but he seems to be well out of range at this point. I do like Jett Woo if we trade down, although his stock is dropping hard enough lately that he might still be there even if we don’t. But also: the Leafs are at a mighty fine time in the franchise cycle to be shopping their first-round pick. Not just for a trade-down, but as part of a package. As said above I don’t know if any kind of big trade is in the cards, and the smart betting is probably not, but it’s a pretty obvious asset to shop if you’re Kyle Dubas.

7. Vegas! Vegas is going to win the Cup and it makes absolutely no sense. It’s wonderful. I thought they would be awful, because all expansion teams are awful, and they are instead chosen by God. They’re going to be hanging a Cup banner and I’m still going to be shouting that regression will come for William Karlsson any second now, damn it!

Vegas is good for us, though. I think the Knights were fortunate and that some of the things that happened for them were genuinely unforeseeable. But sometimes a big thing comes along and—God, I don’t want to use the tech buzzword “disrupt” here—upsets the apple cart. I think a bunch of us on the nerdy-progressive side are used to seeing ourselves as the side that’s going to come in and change how things are done, and it might do us some good to have the apple cart get hit from an entirely new direction. Learning often starts with learning that you were wrong about some things.

Dale Tallon really fucked up, though, I’m just saying.