At this point we’ve probably all made peace with the fact that the Leafs are unlikely to be an active team on the trade deadline next Wednesday. With how the season has played out, it’s tough to place them in the bin of buyers or sellers, so this isn’t at all surprising. Chances are we’re in for a quiet one this year.
But with that disclaimer out of the way, it’s also fair to point out that trades can materialize quite quickly, even ones of the blockbuster variety. Look no further than the nine-player Phaneuf deal from just a year ago.
According to some of the trade chatter swirling, there’s still a chance something major can come together for the Leafs in the next week or so, as their interest in Kevin Shattenkirk apparently still exists. And though his price has been reduced to ‘rental’ status, the current going rate is something that will make most Leafs supporters wary, even with a potential acquisition as exciting as this and the playoffs (maybe even a division win) a real possibility.
I mean, what exactly is STL asking price for Shattenkirk as rental? Hearing 1st rder, good prospect, plus another element. Do they get that?
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 24, 2017
Any possible deal that starts with the Leafs unloading a first-round pick is likely a no-go for most who follow this team. And that’s fair. When you preach patience and sticking to the plan and all that, and carry through on it to the point of finally gaining a major amount of trust from the fanbase, it’s tough to sell a move that seems very pre-Shanny Leafs. No doubt it would sound off a few sirens in Toronto.
But as much as I recognize and feel some of that same fear, I think there is a case to be made for moving out a first round pick this season, and I think Toronto’s front office is one that’s creative enough to make it work. “Make it work” in this case meaning mitigating the risk of looking like John Ferguson Jr or Brian Burke.
As things currently stand, the Leafs have seven draft picks going into this summer – a first-rounder, two seconds, then a pick in rounds 4, 5, 6, and 7. The funny thing is, with this front office, I think they’d be more hesitant to move out a pair of second-rounders (the 2016 rate for Roman Polak, mind you), than that first. Why? Because given what we’ve been hearing about this supposedly weak draft class, that pick is likely to be used to move back and add anyway. Hell, even in a strong year I’d expect this team to do that.
The bottom line is I really don’t think the Leafs put a ton of value on drafting in the first round unless it’s a top five pick. Nor should they, really.
Lot of rumours around this guy: pic.twitter.com/lNMY6xjcXX
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) February 24, 2017
So if they do engage the Blues and go down this road of landing Shattenkirk – again, according to Dreger they are still interested in doing just that – why not just put protections on any potential lottery winning pick? Seems simple enough, because it is.
For some reason, NHL general managers aren’t all that creative when it comes to moving picks around. The only time I can think of, off-hand, where a first round pick had protections against the lottery, was when the Kings unloaded one for Andrej Sekera a few years ago and stipulated that the pick would slide a year if they missed the playoffs. But “lottery protected” doesn’t need to follow this format, as far as I can tell.
Let’s say Toronto moves their first rounder, and goes on to make the playoffs with Shattenkirk in the fold. That pick likely falls around 17th if they get bumped right away. If they just barely miss, that pick is likely around 14th or so, but now holds a 1-2% chance of becoming first overall for Nolan Patrick. That’s a low risk, but obviously no team wants that kind of egg on their face. So why not just protect against it? Put a condition on the pick that if it lands in the top three after the lottery, it slides to the following summer. The Leafs have a first rounder in 2018 and should be more firmly planted in the playoff picture next season, especially if they can execute the second phase of this deal: Re-signing Shattenkirk. [Considering Lou’s track record with the Kovalchuk deal, I like their chances as much as anyone’s.]
Then there’s the option of getting into the pick-flipping game right off the hop. Sure, Toronto might have to part with their 1st in a trade of this magnitude, but perhaps they can push for later round picks from the Blues to soften that blow to their scouting staff. Like I mentioned earlier, the chances of them using that pick to move back are probably high anyway.
There’s a lot to think about here. At first I saw the price for Shattenkirk being floated out there these past few days and scoffed, probably like what you’re doing right now. But in a weak draft year and with a scouting staff that appears to be confident in picking later in the draft, along with a front office that recognizes the benefits of the “picking for volume” strategy, it doesn’t worry me as much. Even with the potential of failing to sign Shattenkirk to an extension hanging over this, it might be a risk worth taking.