Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY SPORTS
The Anaheim Ducks are going to to be in a very, very tricky situation in June. With the Vegas Golden Knights ready to pounce on some of the best available players in the upcoming expansion draft, Anaheim is filled to the brim with defencemen. Kevin Bieksa will automatically be protected thanks to his no-movement clause, and after that, they will likely only be able to protect two of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.
Which should make 22-year-old and exempt Brandon Montour a lock to stick around, but here we are talking about him.
Our resource today is Pierre Lebrun’s radio hit on Leafs Lunch on TSN 1050. It’s a lengthy transcription, so bear with me as we claw through this bit by bit.
Pierre Lebrun: Certainly, I know the Leafs, if they do something, it should be on the back end, and it will be something that you’ll see the impact at training camp next year, not just for this “run”. They’re going to keep their long-term view, and a young player like that would certainly fit. Now, as of last week, I hadn’t heard of the Leafs really knocking on Anaheim’s door too loudly yet, but as you mentioned, all the teams I know will be calling Anaheim over the next three weeks here. The Ducks are loaded up and down on d(efence), they can’t protect them all come June, though that’s something that Bob Murray can address in the offseason, he doesn’t have to address it now.
The Ducks have their window open, they want to win, they want another top six forward, so you know what the price is if not more, and it’s Montour or Theodore that I think are potentially available, one or the other. But for a high price.
Gord Miller: But you’re getting into the Fowler, Lindholm, Vatanen, that group, right? You’re talking more about Theodore-
Lebrun: I think it’s more the kids, and certainly in terms of Fowler, Gord, I think he’s completely off the table. I think the Ducks would like to sign him to an extension this summer, one year out, he’s been their best defenceman this year. They just signed Lindholm, Vatanen’s on a cap-friendly deal. I think it would make more sense for them to see if someone bites hard on one of the kids, but believe me, I don’t think the idea from Anaheim is “we are dealing one of these kids”. I think the question is, is someone going to blink? And there’s no question to me, I think Tampa Bay would be keeping an eye on that, even with their inherent short term and long term D on the blue line. The Winnipeg Jets are a team to keep an eye on, if not with those kids, somewhere else. They need to augment their blueline moving forward too.
This is why it’s good to be Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks. There are few teams that can sit on a pile of depth at D, and you look at all the teams that are absolutely hurting there, and are desperate to augment.
Patrick O’Sullivan: Just imagine if they had [Simon] Despres, the guy hasn’t played, he’s hurt, he’s injured. That would be another guy that you’d have on the list.
Lebrun: I would say that, Patrick, if they had a healthy Simon Despres, they would’ve traded a defenceman by now. Because they wouldn’t have been cap compliant, and they had problems entering the year after signing Lindholm. As it is, their guys are going up and down to San Diego. By the way, what a great place to play minor league hockey. But if Despres was a healthy player this year, something would’ve, there probably would’ve been a move back in September, October, because the Ducks wouldn’t have been under the cap.
Andi Petrillo: I know this is hard to predict, because sometimes we get shocked when we see a trade and we’re like “That guy got *that* much for that player?” but when you’re saying that the price can be high for a Theodore or a Montour, what realistically could be the asking price? And, if we kind of narrow it down, because this is Leafs Lunch, if we were the Leafs, what realistically could the Leafs offer up Anaheim? What is the asking price?
Lebrun: As Gord knows, the price varies from organization to organization, because the Ducks would view the assets differently from team to team. But certainly, when it comes to the Leafs, they’re deep up front. You know, is JVR++ going to get them Brandon Montour? I don’t think so. But I could be wrong. I think we know the name that interest them the mo-
O’Sullivan: Nylander would!
Lebrun: Yes. But I don’t know if [the Leafs] want to move him. It might be too early in the process to make that call. Maybe they wait until the offseason. I don’t know.
Miller: But Pierre, here’s the thing. People rip on Edmonton for trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. But the fact is, the Oilers had a surplus of forwards and needed a defenceman. Now, maybe evaluating straight up, one for one, is Taylor Hall better than Adam Larsson? Yeah, probably. But the Oilers needed a defenceman, they didn’t want PK Subban, and so the price you pay is Taylor Hall. I’m convinced they would make that deal again. I’m sure they would. Because Larsson was something they needed, and Hall was something they already had.
Lebrun: They have zero, zero buyer’s remorse on that deal Gord, to your point. Larsson’s been a steady presence, which they needed, and the key part of that deal that gets glossed over all the time? The controllable nature of that cap-friendly deal that Adam Larsson has. That was huge. If Brandon Montour is traded, and again, he may not be, but if he is, he may end up fetching more than Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline. People are going to say “what?”, but because Kevin Shattenkirk is a UFA July 1st, he’s a rental, you’re borrowing a guy for three months. Whereas you’re getting a controllable asset for years to come in Brandon Montour, who is cheap right now too.
Who is Brandon Montour, anyway?
So here’s the weird thing about Montour, before we too deep into this post: I quite like him. The 22-year-old native of Ohsweken, Ontario is one of the most fun defencemen to watch in the AHL, and he’s right up my alley as far as the type of player I’d like the Leafs to acquire: incredibly mobile and creative, and a player who tilts the ice with offensive traits, rather than defensive ones.
Montour was drafted by the Ducks as an overaged player, thanks to a successful transition from Canadian Junior A to the USHL. The 20-year-old then played half a season for UMass, picking up 20 points in 21 games, before going pro and closing his year out with the Norfolk Admirals.
His big splash, however, came last year, when he scored 12 goals and added 45 assists in a “full” (for Californian teams) 68 game season as an AHL rookie. Those numbers also only trailed Toronto Marlies defenceman TJ Brennan for the league-wide scoring race.
This year, he’s back at it again, putting up 30 points in his first 34 games, putting him in the Top 6 for defensive scoring and Top 5 in points per game.
Would it be worth trading JVR++ for him?
This is where it starts to get muddy. Montour is good. I think Montour is probably an NHLer. But Lebrun’s suggestion is that an offer that starts with James van Riemsdyk, a 27-year-old forward on a 50+ point pace for his fifth straight season on a $4.25 million per season contract wouldn’t be enough for the Ducks, who would need something brighter than that for Montour, who has seven career NHL games under his belt.
Let’s talk about what the base numbers miss with Montour.
As we mentioned above, Montour was the second-highest scoring defenceman in the AHL last year with 57 points. However, if you break them down into even strength and powerplay points, you’ll find that over half of them (30) came on the man advantage. By comparison, Brennan, the defender he was chasing, scored 48 of his points at even strength (71%), and when you take the top 20 defencemen in scoring and you sort by even strength points per game, Robbie Russo and Will O’Neill leapfrog him, and ten defencemen creep within 0.05 per game (or four points in a 76 game season) of him.
This year, he’s improved. His even strength points per game have gone up from 0.39 to 0.53; fourth in the league. He’s shooting way more too, going from 2.7 per game to 4.1, and combined with a spike in shooting percentage to just under 10%, its led to that extra perk in production. It’s impressive for a kid his age, but it’s not as completely obscene as it seems; when we’re talking about acquiring a budget-priced top line winger and additional assets, I’d want my unproven at the NHL level player to be making a mockery of his development league, rather than just being one of the very good guys.
Would it be worth trading Nylander for him?
Which, interestingly, is something we heard a lot of with William Nylander on his way up. Some of the best ever point production rates at his age in the Swedish pros, and in the AHL; it was a sight to behold. That means a lot more when you’re 17, 18, 19 in pro leagues, though. At 22, you run into the issue of being nearly at prime age, and the fact that well, all the big names have made their way up. Montour is on pace for one of the best AHL seasons for a 22-year-old defenceman the cap era. That’s awesome.
Do you know who did that last year as a forward? Seth Griffith. Justin Schultz has the best 22-year-old defenceman season ever, and at 26 years old he’s finally put it together, but he was also putting up nearly 50% more points per game than Montour is.
Of the 30 defencemen who have put up at least 0.50 points per game at the NHL level since 2010, only three of them weren’t full-season, contributing NHLers in their age 22 year. Those players are Mark Giordano, Mark Streit, and Lubomir Visnovsky. The latter two went through old-school European development cycles and Giordano might be one of the greatest examples of misevaluation in the modern era, going both undrafted and getting so such little wiggle room for minutes that he, at one point, spent a year in Russia because he didn’t feel that the AHL was enough of a challenge.
Maybe Montour is a guy who also breaks that barrier. Maybe he’s missing out on an opportunity. But guys who break through and become dynamic offensive defencemen are rare in the NHL; to do it at this stage is a whole other subset.
In the meantime, William Nylander is 20 years old, he’s playing on Toronto’s third line, and is putting up high second line to low first line production and top line possession numbers. It’s not unrealistic to believe that he’s already a fringe star player, and that he’s likely to be an all-out superstar.
If Nylander is on the block for a defencemen, I want a proven, decent aged superstar on a favourable contract. The Senators aren’t giving up Erik Karlsson for William Nylander, the Los Angeles Kings aren’t giving up Drew Doughty, the Lightning aren’t giving up Victor Hedman, and in a 1-for-1 situation, that’s really about where I cut this conversation off until Nylander gives me an actual reason to be on the trade block other than TSN bringing him up for the eight-hundredth time this season.
What should the Leafs do with this info?
Remember how I said that Montour compares to a bunch of different players once you get rid of powerplay scoring and focus on what he does at the 5 on 5 level?
Montour is having a great follow-up season in the AHL. Connor Carrick is in the NHL, on Toronto’s best play-driving pair. Let’s pretend that this is a wash, just for the sake of conversation. After all, Montour might be stuck in an impossible situation, rather than spending most of the season being considered not being good enough to replace a 35-year-old Kevin Bieksa in the lineup (PS: Making Bieksa feel unwanted enough to waive his NMC would be morally awful, but also a great way to free up another protection spot for Anaheim).
Knowing what we’ve just been told, that Montour has a price tag of more than Van Riemsdyk, something closer to the lines of Nylander, and that if the Leafs don’t act fast, they might lose out to teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning…
Lou Lamoriello should pick up the phone, he should call Steve Yzerman, and offer up Connor Carrick for Jonathan Drouin.
You’re laughing at this, as you likely should. But again; Carrick, who is two days younger than Montour, did just as well last regular season in the AHL. He did much better in the playoffs, and has an NHL job that he’s doing well in, having played 93 additional games in his career to date. Drouin is putting up numbers that resemble Nylander’s, but also has an additional year of age.
Yes, Carrick for Drouin would be ridiculous for the Lightning to do, and I say this as a huge Connor Carrick booster. But that’s my point; that trade is as lopsided as the suggested “fair value, realistic” deals involving Toronto in this radio hit.
I really can’t see Toronto legitimately talking to Anaheim about Montour if the price is close to this high. That changes if it drastically lessens, to say a second or third round pick, or a B level prospect to simply swap out positions. Remember that Carrick is less than a year removed from being in a package that included Brooks Laich and a second-round pick in exchange for Daniel Winnik and a fifth, which isn’t even in the same stratosphere as we’re talking about with Montour.
If the Leafs are actually calling the Ducks, they’ll probably be looking for more than Montour, while offering less than Nylander. Even in this regime’s “weaker” moments of decision making, they haven’t been nearly far-off enough to believe that they would trade one of the best prospects in the world for a player two years older with significantly less NHL experience and a noticeably lower (though still decently high) upside.
What should we expect out of this?
Honestly, if I had to guess, I think the Anaheim Ducks are feeding information to the outer world to warp the market for their players, and that this is a case of insiders reporting what they’ve been led to believe is true, but is a road on a parallel path.
Cam Fowler has been hyped up a few times in the past several weeks as their best defenceman and untouchable, while the team has been linked with trading players that are exempt from the expansion draft instead of the logjam that are ripe for the picking. It makes the opposite of sense.
What I think is happening here is that Anaheim is trying to drive up the value of Fowler, who has a lot of really fun player traits (I could watch him skate on a loop for hours) but doesn’t get the results of his peers, while creating a justification for moving him by hyping up the younger players.
If the Ducks were, for example, to move both Fowler and maybe even Vatanen or Manson to clear their expansion draft logjam, and called up Montour and Theodore in their place, those two could be sold to a shocked fanbase under the pretense of “we really like these young guys, look at the offers we rejected”. Until that happens, sticking to the veterans in the public eye creates a perception of a non-buyers market, despite the fact that common sense implies that the Ducks are in trouble if they don’t move a bigger name defenceman or two before mid-June.
Fowler is the most obvious player to move. By making him “untouchable”, you increase the asking price. I could be wrong, but I really, really believe that he’s the one they really want to sell. Montour, for all intents and purposes, is on a tire-pumping tour to justify his future spot, unless a team is crazy enough to drastically overpay to roll the dice on his potential.
At the end of the day, I don’t see the Leafs being that team. As we’ve stressed repeatedly here, if the market for defencemen is this steep right now, it makes more sense to not play it until it normalizes.