Toronto’s Trade Deadline Priorities

We’ll be spending an awful lot of time over the next few weeks discussing which players the Toronto Maple Leafs should be looking to ship out of town ahead of the February 29th trade deadline. That said, we’ve actually spent very little time discussing what kinds of things GM Lou Lamoriello should be asking for in return.

“Picks and prospects” is the simple answer, but we can do better than that. The Leafs have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, and already have a possible 11 selections in the 2016 Entry Draft. Back in the day when Toronto had nothing in the cupboards, they weren’t in any position to be picky about what they got back when unloading talent. This time around, Toronto has an opportunity to identify areas of weakness in the system, and address those areas in particular.

So, what do the Leafs really need?

Defensive Prospects

I stand by my assertion that Toronto has one of the best prospect pools in the league, but it’s a little top heavy and all of those truly high-end guys seem to be forwards. Travis Dermott, Scott Harrington, Stuart Percy, Rinat Valiev, Andrew Nielsen… they’re all decent prospects, but none of them are exactly blue chippers. 

And no, you’re not going to get blue chip prospects in exchange for rental players that Toronto plans on selling off. Maybe you could get something of value if the Leafs deal a Leo Komarov or a James van Riemsdyk, but you’re not going to pick up high-end youngsters in exchange for Roman Polak or P.A. Parenteau.

In the absence of a blue chip defensive prospect, though, it makes sense to build up depth. Not all of these mid-level guys will become everyday NHL players, but the more you have, the more likely you stumble upon an overachiever or late bloomer that makes a larger-than-expected impact on the Leafs roster. Take, for example, a player like Colton Parayko in St. Louis. You’re more likely to get a surprise like that if you have ten developing defenders as opposed to five.

Young Goaltending

The same argument for picking up defensive prospects can be made for goaltending prospects. I’m not convinced that both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier will be back with the Leafs next season, and I imagine whichever one does return will be backed up by Garret Sparks. That leaves Antoine Bibeau and… uh… nobody. Toronto doesn’t have a goaltending pipeline to speak of.

It seems like every year I advocate for the Leafs to draft another goaltender. The last time they did, Bibeau was an overager and made the jump from junior to professional hockey only a year afterward. Toronto hasn’t had a goaltender in a while now that they could stash in college or Europe for several seasons.

Simply, the Leafs don’t have a long-term plan in net. And that’s not awful, because the NHL is flush with adequate goaltenders and it’s easy enough to find one on the trade market every year, but I’d argue it’s better to have some goaltending prospects around than none at all. It’s always nicer to grow your own talent.

So, the Leafs really should consider other teams’ goaltending prospects when they’re looking to make a deal. You’ll need at least one more netminder at the AHL level next season, and picking up a young guy still plying his trade in Europe or in school would give you a little bit of assurance down the road. And there’s also nothing wrong with picking up a CHL goaltender who still has a little bit of junior eligibility left, either. 

Yes, More Draft Picks

But not necessarily for drafting…

The beautiful thing about draft picks is that they’re a very flexible currency in the NHL. Just because Toronto has them doesn’t mean they have to use them; the Leafs could just as easily use draft picks in trades that bring in NHL-ready players that better fit into the long term plan. Or they could package multiple picks together on draft day and jump up in the selection order to grab better prospects. 

I can’t really get behind the idea of drafting 11+ prospects in a single summer. The issue is that, unless you’re very particular about which leagues you draft out of (which limits your ability to draft the best players available), you could face a situation where you have too many young players to sign to contracts at once and risk losing the rights of those you can’t keep. Toronto already drafted nine players in the seven-round draft last year, and drafting 11 or more this time around seems like a bad idea. 

The Leafs played the ‘trade down and build depth’ plan perfectly in 2015, so maybe this year the focus should be on moving up in key areas of the draft to nab higher-ceiling players. For example, this might be a good year to jump up in the first round using an extra second round pick in order to nab a falling asset, much like how the New York Islanders snapped up Matt Barzal last year 16th overall last summer. Acquiring a few more picks to go along with what they have would allow them to more easily move themselves up into prime draft positions.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Justin, I can’t agree more. The hoarding now should go towards bundling later. The Leafs now have so many picks and prospects, and they should gather up more in the trading to come, that they should be ready to package them for teams that have to restock their farm systems (just as the Leafs once did). That will give the team some strikes at priorities one and two that you lay out.

  • CMpuck

    If the Leafs could put a package together to move up with Pittsburgh’s 1st into the top ten? Then it’s another corner stone draft piece.

    That said, there are great mid to late 1st round talent but drooling over this class’ top ten.

    Wonder who this year’s Barzal and Connor will be, who slips? McLeod?

  • Gary Empey

    The Leafs have no issues on defence or in goal. You listed the goalies, and the fact you see it so easy to release one, implies how easy it is to pick one up in free agency. Same with d-men. You don’t mention Rieley, simply because it destroys your false point about lack of blue chippers (not because he’s not a ‘prospect’). You say they have lots of forwards, but you don’t mention that they are all small wingers. The Leaf’s only priority, is drafting NHL-size centers. You say trade a 2nd and move up to 16. Where do you think Pitts is going to end up? Who do you think is going to trade a lottery pick? Who do you think will be there at 16 who’s better than the player at 18? You don’t mention names, because every reader would say the guy you list at 18 is better than the one you list at 16. Who’s better, Jost, Bellows, Rubtsov, Brown, Kunin or McLeod? If Leafs have a 27th, take World Junior star Asplund. With 33rd, NCAA scoring leader 6’3 Thompson, 46th, OHL scoring leader 192-pnd Mascherin, 63rd, Ulf Dahlen’s son Jonathan. Who cares about ELC!!

    • Gary Empey

      I appreciate your perspective While Justin’s article may not be perfect it does address some of the problems the Leafs face at the trade deadline this year.

      Re-“The Leaf’s only priority, is drafting NHL-size centers.”

      I don’t think this year the Leafs have much of a priority. They are on record as stating the have a slight preference for defense.

    • My God, you’re putting an awful lot of words in my mouth. I don’t mention Rielly because he isn’t a prospect, and he alone can’t keep the entire blueline afloat. There’s, I’d estimate, four good defensive prospects in the system, and it’s entirely possible only one of them becomes a top-four guy.

      As for trading up picks, I’m not saying it has to be up to 16. There’s a million hypothetical situations where a lot of people would gladly trade up. What if Pittsburgh’s pick ends up, say, 19th… And you got a guy like, say Chychrun dropping into the 10-14 range, Cam Fowler-styles. You don’t think that, Toronto, with their deep stock of picks, wouldn’t consider moving up? I’m not even saying they have to do it, but if the believe strongly enough in the player, I wouldn’t blame them either.

    • My God, you’re putting an awful lot of words in my mouth. I don’t mention Rielly because he isn’t a prospect, and he alone can’t keep the entire blueline afloat. There’s, I’d estimate, four good defensive prospects in the system, and it’s entirely possible only one of them becomes a top-four guy.

      As for trading up picks, I’m not saying it has to be up to 16. There’s a million hypothetical situations where a lot of people would gladly trade up. What if Pittsburgh’s pick ends up, say, 19th… And you got a guy like, say Chychrun dropping into the 10-14 range, Cam Fowler-styles. You don’t think that, Toronto, with their deep stock of picks, wouldn’t consider moving up? I’m not even saying they have to do it, but if the believe strongly enough in the player, I wouldn’t blame them either.

  • RedLightRaycroft

    I have this dream that we land not only the first overall, but we retain Pitsburgh’s pick and somehow also end up with the 7th overall choice, leaving the first round with Matthews, Chychrun and Jake Bean or Tyler Benson. Maybe in NHL 16.

  • Gary Empey

    @Justin Fisher–RE-Defensive Prospects— OK Justin, Listen Up

    Andrew Nielsen (Lethbridge Hurricanes WHL)–(Height 6.03 — Weight 207) continues to lead all defencemen in scoring and is four points ahead of the next highest-scoring blue-liner. 12 goals, 40 assists, 84 minutes in penalties. Plus 30. He just turned 19 in Nov. He plays with a physical presence. You know the WHL is not the Q. They pay a lot more attention to the defensive aspect of the game.

    Give me one reason you don’t consider him a Blue Chip Prospect?

      • Gary Empey

        Your propensity to underestimate prospects from the western hockey league, is only exceeded by your incredible lack of faith, in my ability to spot blue chip prospects. I fully expect you to soon. bow down. and humbly pay homage to my superior knowledge. in this and other aspects of the game of hockey.

        PS- If the Leafs pick second overall, who do like?
        Don’t consider this a test.

          • Oh god if the Leafs land Puljujarvi… Can you imagine any combo of Nylander, Marner with him? Even Laine, both these Finns have the makings of ELITE powerforwards in the NHL and would compliment the 2 blue chippers we already own up front.

          • Gary Empey

            You have forced me to unpack the NHLECalulator that was so kindly posted here last week. In the likely event you were a little “woozy” when you chose Puljujarvi and wrote off Andrew Nielsen, I shall post the results here, unless they are really, really embarrassing, to yourself.

          • Gary Empey

            The NHLECalulator results are in.

            Some may say only a real tool would use this tool. I say any tool that furthers Justin’s education is a good tool.

            Puljujarvi is predicted to score 16 points if he jumped into the NHL, next year.

            Matthew Tkachuk is predicted to score 48 points if he jumped straight into the NHL, next year.

            Other interesting results I found were:

            Michell Marner is predicted to score 53 points if he jumped straight into the NHL next year.

            Auston Matthews is predicted to score 43 points if he jumped to the NHL next year.

            Andrew Nielsen is predicted to have 23 points if he jumped into the NHL next year.

            William Nylander is predicted to score 48 points if he jumped to the NHL next year.

          • Gary Empey

            Yes I read that as well and it seems to be true.

            Anomalies always appear in computer generated analytical programs that have to be accounted for and corrected. Eventually they become fairly useful.

            I do have concerns of how they will be able to assess young players who are mostly still in different stages of development. The same problem scouts have today.

        • magesticRAGE

          Bro, in with Justin on this. I’m encouraged with Neilson, but he’s not a blue chip. He solid defensively, yes, but I wouldn’t call him a puckmover. He has the NHL size, but his skating needs work. From what I have seen, he has decent hockey IQ, but not brilliant. He has great numbers, encouraging numbers, but as it was said, his team is STACKED. A lot of his points are secondary, which are still legit points, but they’re based on rebounds and tips on his big shot. He’s a good defenseman, and a late bloomer, time will tell.

          Timashov is closer to a blue chipper, as he tracks up a ton of primary points, great skater, very intelligent, and a great puck handler and distributer.
          If Neilson and Dermott are a blue chip, then Rinat Valiev might supplant Reilly soon. Blue chip prospects generally don’t have gaping holes in their game, as Hanifin was able to step right into the NHL.

    • Benjamin

      Easy, his team is freaking stacked.

      We don’t know how much he’s actually grown offensively vs how much he’s coat tailing his 5 teammates over a PPG. His skating is also still a concern from what I’ve heard.

      Maybe he turns out or maybe he’s the next Matt Finn. But he’s not a blue chip prospect yet.

    • Benjamin

      Absolutely Gary! I totally agree! Provorov was a top ten overall pick last year and Nielson is every bit as good if not better! He played on a bad team in his draft year and got overlooked. And because he’s big and didn’t score a lot last year people think he’s slow. B.S. He’s every bit as fast if not faster than most of the dmen that got drafted ahead of him, including Provorov.

    • magesticRAGE

      lol blue chipper? he had 23 points last year and now has a high point total on a stacked team as an overager. most of his assists are secondary not primary for one meaning he’s not setting up plays himself, he’s benefitting from the forwards he’s on the ice with seeing as they’re leading the whl in points. a lot of his points come on the powerplay as well with the top chl team in the league. he plays on the top pairing with the best forwards in the entire whl. you are drunk.

      • Gary Empey

        No I am not drunk. I may crack one open after reading your comment.

        Of course he is playing the power play. He quarterbacks it. Of course he plays top pairing. Now in only his second year in the WHL, he is the best defenceman in the league. He is not an overager. He would be one next year if he stayed there. He was an 18 year old rookie last year. Like Rielly he missed time due to injury. Because of that injury, and his status as an 18 old rookie, he became the proverbial ” High risk High reward pick ” The Leafs hoped he would turn into a good defenceman. No one expected him to lead the league

        • CMpuck

          he was born in 1996. this year’s rookies were born in 1997. he was playing with 1997 rookies last year. he started late but he was a year older in his rookie year. that’s what i meant but overager. the majority of his points are on the pp and secondary assists. how is that a blue chipper? a blue chip prospect is chychrun, juolevi, provorov, werenski, hanifin NOT a guy one-two years older than the competition he’s facing in his second year producing mostly secondary assists and not even strength points either. he’s not setting up the plays, he’s passing it to the guy who sets up the play! an overage player is someone who gets sent back to juniors after being drafted, so yes, he is an overager. he quarter backs the pp but he’s getting secondary assists… that’s not the qb, that’s a passenger along for the ride on a strong team. he’s leading the league as a 19 year old vs smaller/younger competition… he’s doing great and exceeding expectations but his shooting percentage is also through the roof and unsustainable. i wouldn’t have your hopes so high. he’s no blue chipper. he’s projected as a bottom pairing defenceman who can chip in points. a phaneuf-lite. physical, booming slapshot but no aim, needs to improve skating, minimal offence in the pro league, good defence but of course, needs improvement. i wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up like polak or luke schenn. not a bad thing, just the truth. at least it’s not a top 5 pick again.

  • Gary Empey

    why has chychrun slipped so much besides being omitted from team canada… yeah the finns had the opportunity to showcase themselves but isn’t chychrun a franchise d? that’s what has been said all year until the world juniors… now tkachuk is ranked higher than him?! good d-men always slip: jones, hanifin… now chychrun! idk if tkachuk should be ranked higher. most of his points that he’s racking up in the ohl are secondary assists on a dominant team on one of the most dominant lines in the entire chl… he’s just a passenger. i don’t see the hype. i’d take chychrun over him but maybe i haven’t seen either enough to judge… chychrun hasn’t been as dominant recently as he was last year. maybe he picks it up in the second half. then again, the sting aren’t a great team even with zacha, korostelev and konecny…

  • Gary Empey

    I totally get the excitement surrounding Nielsen which is looking like a great pick but have to agree with some, lets temper the expectations a little on a guy that hasn’t even turned pro yet. Too many guys show promise at that level that never work out, although personally I do have hope (WHL DotY)

    Top Defenceman Winners:
    2014-15 Shea Theodore, Seattle
    2013-14 Derrick Pouliot, Portland
    2012-13 Brenden Kichton, Spokane
    2011-12 Alex Petrovic, Red Deer
    2010-11 Stefan Elliott, Saskatoon
    2009-10 Tyson Barrie, Kelowna
    2008-09 Jonathon Blum, Vancouver*
    2007-08 Karl Alzner, Calgary*
    2006-07 Kris Russell, Medicine Hat*
    2005-06 Kris Russell, Medicine Hat
    2004-05 Dion Phaneuf, Red Deer
    2003-04 Dion Phaneuf, Red Deer
    2002-03 Jeff Woywitka, Red Deer
    2001-02 Dan Hamhuis, Prince George*
    2000-01 Christian Chartier, Prince George

    • The Russian Rocket

      That’s a great list and a little scary to see how many of those guys turned into misses.

      It’s good not to expect too much from the kid but I also noticed that he’s looking a bit better than Provorov (stats-wise) so at the very least, that’s great to see.

  • Gary Empey

    There seems to be some confusion over the meaning blue-chip when using it as an adjective.

    If you use blue-chip to describe a person who plays sports, then the the accepted definition is: an athlete rated as excellent or as an EXCELLENT PROSPECT.

    Justin mentions the word “can’t miss”

    A “can’t miss” player will always be a blue-chip player.

    A blue-chip player is not necessarily “can’t miss.”

    I consider Andrew Nielsen an EXCELLENT PROSPECT, well within the meaning of blue-chip.

    The only argument that holds any water is Justin’s comment that “He’s had a very good 50 games this year.”

    It may be too early to know if he is the real deal, but it’s not too early to say he is an excellent prospect.

  • magesticRAGE

    Good article, agree with it all. NHL16 has a good GM, and I have run into the problem of hording too many picks. Some prospects already in the system have to be rushed to make room for the next wave, not maximizing their development. The Leaf’s can hoard picks, but aquire some for the following drafts, this is a multi-year rebuild. Contact wise, it’s ideal that every year, a prospect can be promoted, outperforming a roster player, not 5 or 4 in a season. I’m good with Hunter having 13 this draft, move up the Pens 1st (when secured), and have 9 picks in 2017, and 9 in 2018.
    This rebuild needs to avoid a get rich scheme, but build something sustainable.