I tend to roll my eyes a lot at old-school media types, particularly when attempt to connect a player’s birthplace to their potential value to a hockey team. Real dinosaurs are still yet to be sold that Europeans play the same sport, and some of those will even include Quebec as the unknown member of the EU. Those who aren’t jurassic but are still delusional will often suggest that [team here] will only succeed if they’re loaded with a core from [home state or province]. Really, it shouldn’t matter where you’re from, just how well you play.
But let me take a page out of their book for just one day – could the Leafs benefit from completely removing the prairie provinces from the organization?
The Top Level and Selling High
Looking at the current roster, the Leafs would have to ship out Tyler Bozak (Regina, Saskatchewan), Joffrey Lupul (Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta), Dion Phaneuf (Edmonton, Alberta), and James Reimer (Morweena, Manitoba).
Let’s focus on the first three. I really like Joffrey Lupul, tend to be one of Dion Phaneuf’s biggest backers, and honestly am more against Tyler Bozak’s role than I am against Tyler Bozak himself. All three are decent contributors to the team.
But that’s a lot of money ($16 million combined cap hit), and these three aren’t getting much younger. Bozak turns 29 in just a couple of months, Lupul will be 32 at the start of next season, and Phaneuf will finish the season at 30 years old. With that considered, the forwards have three years ahead on their contracts and Phaneuf has six to go.
The harsh reality with Lupul is that he’s never going to be healthy enough to justify 5.25 million a year, but if you can convince a team that they’ve all been coincidental injuries (they probably have been) and that he’ll probably be healthy for good soon (he probably won’t be), you’ll get some value for him. With Bozak, his production is at a record high, and whether the fans and management care to admit it or not, every opportunity that Nazem Kadri gets on line one clips away at those scoring rates that Tyler has. As well, early numbers in the Horachek era imply that the new system allows for fewer of Bozak’s shot attempts to come in scoring chance situations, which is going to put a dent in that elite shooting percentage of his. This is the sell-off point; even if you like him, he has his most value to another team at this very moment.
As for Phaneuf, it seems like his apprentices are approaching prime time. After a cold 13/14, Cody Franson looks like the real deal and requires a new contract in July. Morgan Rielly is just about ready for big minutes. I still have some faith in Jake Gardiner, though admittedly not as much as last season. Minnetonka, Minnesota must be close to the Canadian border. Phaneuf is still enough of a brand name that you can probably trade off his contract without salary retention, and while you won’t get a ton back in that scenario, a half decent prospect and a regaining of a second round pick would be ideal.
Reimer is a tough loss here, seeing as he has an affordable deal in a time where Jonathan Bernier is about to have his go away. But as the deadline approaches, good teams who lack insurance between the pipes will be keen on somebody like that, and you could get a decent pick back in return. This also allows the Leafs to give one of their three goaltending prospects (Christopher Gibson, Antoine Bibeau, and Garret Sparks; most likely one of the first two) a look in the NHL, while having all three at at least the AHL level.
Overall, the Leafs are probably at their point of ideal return for at least three of these four players, and can shed up to $18 million towards next season this way.
The Youth, The Punchers, The Indifference
The Marlies roster and prospect pool (so, based on the amount of Americans, Ontarians, and Europeans playing in other leagues, the Marlies roster) provides more players, but even less of a reason to be heartbroken by this idea.
Heading out, you have Brad Ross, Carter Ashton, Troy Bodie, Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Andrew MacWilliam, and Matt Frattin. You also have Brendan Mikkelson and Byron Froese, but they’re on AHL-only deals.
Addressing the younger half first, there’s not a ton lost in Ross, Ashton, and Frattin. Expectations were somewhat to quite high for all three of these guys, and both Ashton and Frattin have had moments where they looked like very good AHL players. But opportunity to succeed be damned, Ashton hasn’t produced much of anything in his NHL shots, and Frattin hasn’t looked good since he left Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul’s line two years ago. Brad Ross is fun to watch and tries his best and hardest to improve (as unfortunately proven with a recent suspension for a banned substance, which was in a non-enhancing supplement taken quite some time ago), but ultimately looks like he won’t ever make it to the NHL. MacWilliam is a good defensive d-man at this level, but nothing about him has screamed out upside beyond “slightly better Korbinian Holzer” yet.
You’re then left with the #grit. Troy Bodie is a decent occasional call up when the Leafs want a strong forechecker who can drop the gloves, but at this point, David Clarkson has appeared to give up on achieving expectations and shifted himself to the super-Bodie role anyway. Orr and McLaren can’t even get regular AHL time, combining for just 14 games played this season. Their role in the game has clearly diminished and they’re of no real loss.
There’s one glaring issue in this grand plan, and that’s William Nylander. If we look at his birth certificate, young Snizzbone was actually born in Calgary, Alberta. I’m going to make the assumption he wasn’t there for very long, however – a look at his stats shows that he played for Team Maryland of the AYHL as a twelve year old (god bless EliteProspects), which, paired with his father Michael playing with the Washington Capitals in the same season implies that he probably traveled with his dad until Michael was done his NHL career and William himself was taking off.
As well, Nylander spent a lot of his time in Sweden, has Swedish citizenship, and plays for Team Sweden. For the sake of making this entire plan a perfect fit, William Nylander defected from the prairies.
I have nothing against the people of the prairies; I’ve been through all three of your provinces and thoroughly enjoyed them. Hell, this fine network is based out of Edmonton, where the hockey teams are bad but the noodles are stellar. But there’s a lot of depreciating to depreciated assets in this organization, and my god, a lot of them are from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. It’s time to eliminate the prairies from this team temporarily; keep the Wendel Clark banner up if you need some nostalgia, but in the meantime, there’s money to be saved, and roster spots to be gained.
I’m more serious about this than I was when I started the post. It’s nothing against these provinces, but more against what the Leafs have poached out of them.