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HNIC says the Maple Leafs want to make some asset value trades

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Not the same asset value trades they wanted to make a few weeks ago. These are all new offers.

Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs
Dmytro Timashov celebrates his first NHL goal with teammates Alexander Kerfoot and Martin Marincin.
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

On October 19, Dmytro Timashov scored his first NHL goal and celebrated with Martin Marincin and Alexander Kerfoot, as pictured above.

That same night, a HNIC broadcast, there was a report that the Leafs were looking to trade Nic Petan to get him somewhere where he would actually play NHL minutes. At about the same time rumours began to circulate that the Leafs were also trying to trade Martin Marincin.

The Leafs running classified ads on the intermission panels of HNIC is not new, but so far the success rate hasn’t been great. Maybe the other GMs don’t watch the show?

Note for the literal minded: I’m not actually suggesting that Sportsnet is being paid to talk about insignificant Leafs trade rumours. They have a great deal of integrity and you should recognize this is an exaggeration. But the Leafs can make sure the press knows things they want publicized. Strategic leaking isn’t unusual, and 30 NHL teams do it, but only one team gets even chump-change deals like this discussed on HNIC. It’s like having the New York Times cover your desire to sell your old dining set on Kijiji because you’re just that famous.

Petan and Marincin were waived on November 7 when no trade was found for two depth players the top-heavy Maple Leafs had no use for.

The funny thing is the Leafs suddenly did have a use for both of them at various times, and they’ve bounced up and down since, playing, sitting in the press box, returning to the AHL, playing there. Which is a familiar pattern on most teams that don’t seem to be terrified of losing a player to waivers if he’s under 25.

Waiverphobia: The unreasonable and unfounded fear of having a player you drafted claimed on waivers in the NHL - Lucy van Pelt, PsychiatricHelp.com

This time, the Leafs ran an ad for three players: Timashov, Jeremy Bracco and Ben Harpur.

Looking over what’s for sale

Timashov started the game on the third line, was removed in the first period for the more experienced, talented, and capable Jason Spezza, and played 5:15 in the game. The trouble is, I think GMs do watch the games, at least by proxy through their scouts, so that might stick in some minds more than the ad that ran, so moving him might be tricky.

Bracco was given one of the treat callups over the Christmas break. This is where the Leafs let the player put on a suit and sit in the press box to watch the game, get one day on the NHL payroll, so they feel like part of the team, and with the exception of Adam Brooks (fewer minutes than Timashov) never actually play in the NHL. Not that big a part of the team, it now appears in Bracco’s case.

Elliotte Friedman is careful to say that the Leafs are testing the market on Bracco, not just looking to dump him. The idea is that Bracco is blocked from the NHL by the right-wing depth on the Leafs. I think Bracco is blocked from the NHL by his own ability — or could be— because points in the AHL, particularly for players who are setup men, not shooters, don’t translate cleanly to NHL success. Is he Seth Griffith, who never seriously played NHL games? Is he Brendan Leipsic who is a career 0.34 points per game depth winger in 166 NHL games on four teams? Or is he more like Timashov, who ... well, what is he?

Trying to trade Bracco, as opposed to throwing him in as the prospect in a “pick plus ...” deal, seems odd, and it is odd. Teams almost never do this. The Arizona Coyotes occasionally like to move some AHLers/tweeners/depth NHLers around in one of their 26 cents back for a quarter deals, but most other trades of that sort are for disgruntled players who don’t like the Rangers or the Islanders or the Stars farm team. Oh, or don’t want to go to the ECHL, that’s another trade trigger.

The same mostly holds for Timashov. He’s a career 0.29 points per game player in 28 games, and his low cap hit and lack of waiver exemption seems to be what put him on the team. If you don’t trust him at all in a game against the Rangers, then what is his NHL upside? He’s not Josh Leivo. He doesn’t have any record, box score or more sophisticated, to indicate he can at least ride along on a top line. In Leivo’s case, he’s likely adding a little to the mix with his exalted teammates and is the gold standard of player who does actually dramatically improve in the NHL.

If Nic Petan, proven in all ways to be a better player than Timashov, can clear waivers, what’s Timashov’s asset value that’s being protected here? Aside from heartfelt praise from his biggest fans, Timashov’s only edge on Petan is his age and the assumed potential for more from him.

Are the Leafs really worse off because Leipsic was allowed to go in the Expansion Draft? Can you be too focused on marginal returns for your low-level prospects?

A word on Ben Harpur before I answer that. There was a meme that Mike Babcock wanted Ben Harpur on the Leafs because he’s big. There was never any evidence for that, and both he and the equally tall Marincin were sent to the AHL, Harpur very quickly. In the AHL, he is a third-pairing defenceman who makes no impression most games. He’s not irredeemably terrible, and his entire game is to pass the puck off as soon as it arrives on his stick. He’s tall enough that he can play AHL PK well. There is no one with credibility who thinks this young man is a future NHL player on any team but one that simply values big players for being big. I’m not sure why the Senators traded him. They could really use him right now.

Oh, and he’s not actually young. Ben Harpur turns 25 in a couple of weeks. (I’ll spare you another tour through my pet theory about birthdate and the draft, but Ben Harpur has been a giant on every team he’s played on from childhood to today because birth years are the cutoff dates in kids hockey. And the benefit of his advantage has finally run out. This should be foreseeable, not constantly come as a surprise.)

Asset value

This term gets bandied about a lot in discussions of sports these days, and I’m not sure we all mean the same things when we use it. At one level it’s about choosing to dehumanize the player, ignore if they’re good in the room, work hard, care a lot about the team, and focus on what they can actually contribute on the ice. Asset value of a player is their calculated valuation minus intangibles, with the understanding that the intangibles exist only in your mind.

That’s good as far as it goes, and that sort of ruthless “don’t name the piglets, they’ll be your dinner eventually” is exactly how you should run a hockey team. But there’s value and there’s value. Another side to asset value analysis is the belief that every single player can be traded into something, likely a better something, if only you try hard enough. Never let a player “walk for nothing”. This is more like the kinds of marginal returns day traders try to exploit in the stock market, and it’s an attitude that’s seeped into hockey.

One of the things that should come before asset value considerations of any kind actually is team performance, however. This is where waiverphobia comes into play, and also that nearly impossible to disregard hope in your heart that a 23-year-old prospect will get better. He will defy the ageing curves that say he’s likely near peak at that age, and he will improve. He’ll be heaps better, If only you believe in him and play him on the top line and not the fourth line, because how is that fair? You have to give him a chance.

You do have to actually play most prospects in the NHL at some point to see how they do. Which is what I think training camp is for, not random games in December. The results on Timashov from random games over several months are that he’s not laughable in the NHL, but it’s hard to see what he brings beyond a really small cap hit. To a team not in LTIR, acquiring him would make him the cheapest player on any NHL roster just because of how prorated cap hits work. That’s his value.

But worrying excessively about losing a player for nothing is exactly how you end up with a roster overflowing with players the coach doesn’t actually trust to play. And those might be different players depending on the coach, but as long as the NHL staffs their playing roster from waiver concerns and doles out ice time by coach’s gut feelings, that’s how it is.

Is there any value here at all?

Ben Harpur could be moved in an AHL trade. Timashov might go to a team with no cap space for a low-quality pick, and Bracco likely would generate some interest. His waiver exemption expires this summer, so of course the Leafs can’t possibly do anything with him at that point. They’ll be paralyzed into inaction and he would play low minutes on half the games and no development would be discernible in that situation. Much better to convert him to a low-value pick now, a pick that could turn into anything! Even a player who will sit in the press box for most of a season once he’s 23.

I’ve never been one who believes in the ideologies of “play the kidz” or in the conveyor belt off the AHL that values Marlies graduates over some other guy who played on some other AHL team. And the more I watch the Leafs deal with their second and third tier prospects, the more I think just getting a guy who is 25 and who did his tryout on NHL ice on some other team instead of hanging on to your own drafted prospects like they might be secret champions is a totally fine option. We’re talking below league-average or average fourth-line players here. They should be interchangeable and easy to find (as long as they aren’t centres, it seems). Go with some proven ability over your hopes and dreams, and put the current needs of the team ahead of the asset value of a player you’re likely making sunk cost decisions about by keeping them in the gilded cage of the press box.

Have actual call-ups you can actually call up and who you aren’t then stuck with out of fear.

In other words, there is no value to the team’s performance, now or in the future, in playing Timashov over Pontus Aberg or Nic Petan. Thinking you have to hang onto players like Timashov because the asset might appreciate seems to ignore what you’re using the damn assets for. And how little that appreciation is likely to be. Cook Bracco in the AHL forever or trade him now, it doesn’t matter. But force Timashov onto the roster, and it costs you the chance to play someone in a game who can do more than five minutes. So maybe not repeating that mistake with Bracco next year is a good plan — the right asset value move.

Take the quarter, the dime, and the shiny penny the Leafs have advertised for trade and see if you can get 30¢ for them. John Chayka will be proud, the team will be unchanged, and if one of them someday turns into even Josh Leivo, you better have some new prospect or two and three 25-year-old guys in the AHL ready to be called up. Otherwise, what the hell have you been doing with your time?

Call Kyle Dubas if you want this dining set. One of the chairs is missing a leg, and the table has a few dings in it, but it’s nearly new!