Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Leafs need to trade JVR before the trade deadline

The following is a guest post written by Twitter’s @RaskForRaycroft. Give him a follow!

It’s January, and the Leafs are sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, and the trade deadline is a month and a half away. The Leafs are potential buyers, with cap space to use and several glaring deficiencies in their roster that could use attention.

The conventional wisdom is that they should hang on to their UFAs, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and JVR as they’re better equipped keeping their value now even if they’re lost for nothing on July 1st for a possible playoff run.

JVR especially is the most prolific pure scorer on the team, and is having a career year, as he’s tied with Matthews with 19 goals. The power play runs through him, and it’s almost hard to imagine how the Leafs would function without him at this point, especially with the Kadri line disappearing in the last month or so. That said, we know the Leafs are not talking extension with JVR and he will almost definitely test the free agent market in July. He will command a premium price and a long term that the Leafs might be able to afford, but shouldn’t give him.

Looking at recent examples of comparable contracts, there’s a few names that jump out and scare you a little when discussing JVR’s next deal.

Player Year signed Age Prior 3 years’ PP60 Term AAV $80m cap adjusted AAV
TJ Oshie 2017 30 1.64 8 years $5,750,000 $6,133,333
Milan Lucic 2016 28 1.56 7 years $6,000,000 $6,575,342
Kyle Okposo 2016 28 1.60 7 years $6,000,000 $6,575,342
Andrew Ladd 2016 30 1.24 7 years $5,500,000 $6,027,397
Loui Eriksson 2016 30 1.14 5 years $6,000,000 $6,575,342
James van Riemsdyk 2018 29 1.69 6 – 8 years $6.4 – 7m?

*data via nhlnumbers.com & corsica.hockey*

If the Leafs or JVR himself decide to walk away, is losing him for nothing in the hope of doing damage this year really the best move? I would argue, unequivocally: No. Why? Well, here’s four reasons that show the team should definitely push for a JVR trade before February 26th: 

1) The Leafs are Not Actually THAT Good

Last year was so fun. We played the kids and did better than expected. Our first overall pick turned out to be as-advertised, and Marner, Nylander, and even Connor Brown played over our most realistic expectations. The defence was trash, but they tightened up and still played a close six-game series with the President’s Trophy winners that could have gone either way.

This year? Not so much. Just about every category that you can measure in the #fancystats community says this team has regressed. As a positive corsi team last year, playing with pace that was off the charts, the team outscored its defensive deficiencies often. This year, they’re playing a (coaching induced) more boring game, but their defensive stats are no better, despite huge strides from Rielly. Scoring droughts and injuries to Matthews, Kadri and Zaitsev have slowed down the “fastest team in hockey” from a year ago. Their middling 5v5 corsi and Pace scores show a team that is struggling to break even most nights, but benefiting from being in a garbage fire division.

Unfortunately, success raises expectations. But progress is not linear. Much was expected in terms of a step forward with this Leafs team, and they’re on pace to match their points pace from a year ago. That is kind of a lie, however, as the Leafs results since November have been average. They are still appearing higher in the standings based on a hot as hell October, but since then have a record very similar to the divisional opponents chasing them.

2) Their playoff path is dire

The Leafs blessing is playing in the Atlantic. But it is also their curse. The argument for keeping JVR for a playoff run supposes that age old logic that if you “just get in” anything can happen. Because of the Kings and the Preds, those times, right?

The top seeds are the top seeds for a reason.

The Leafs are projecting for a first round matchup that they would be underdogs to win with a red-hot Boston team boasting one of the best lines in hockey. If they do pass that test, they will likely draw the dominant, deep, cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning, who are better than the Leafs in almost every category. It will take a miracle run to beat Tampa in a 7-game series – and if they do prevail, congratulations you draw the winner of the deepest division in hockey, the Metropolitan.

That path is a meat grinder beyond compare. It’s a longshot to win a cup this year, even if the roster is optimized (please, Mike), and everyone is healthy (also a bold assumption).

Is that kind of low probability worth squandering the chance to recover value from the biggest trade chip we have?

3) JVR will get you a HAUL

As mentioned earlier, JVR is having a year. He is the kind of player who will put a contender over the top. He’s already shown how well he can produce, even in limited ice time, and he would instantaneously make a good power play unstoppable. Looking at deadline day deals for less impactful rental forwards in the past few years, you see the kinds of returns we could be talking about:

Year Player From To Return
2017 Brian Boyle TBL TOR 2018 2nd & Byron Froese
2017 Martin Hanzal (with Ryan White & 4th rd pick) ARI MIN 2017 1st, 2018 2nd, 2019 4th, Grayson Downing
2016 Lee Stempniak NJD BOS 2016 4th, 2017 2nd
2016 Jiri Hudler FLA CGY 2016 2nd, 2018 4th
2016 Andrew Ladd (with Matt Fraser & Jay Harrison) WPG CHI 2016 1st & Marko Dano
2015 Brett Connolly TBL BOS 2015 2nd, 2016 2nd
2015 Antoine Vermette ARI CHI 2015 1st, Klas Dahlbeck

Leafs could stand to replenish the system with more high end picks and prospects, and even serve to stabilize their defense. The possibilities are numerous and the Leafs front office can structure a deal that would address what they consider their biggest area of need.

4) The consequences are minimal

If the Leafs do trade JVR, what are the consequences? Well, obviously, you aren’t going to replace that offence from within. Your chances of a playoff upset go down, and your chances of a first or second round exit (which are already the most likely outcomes) go up. That’s the only real negative.

Also, your chances of re-signing JVR after trading him are greatly reduced. But, given the contract and term he will get, it would not be advisable, given the need to re-sign the big three and a competent top 4 defenseman. Trading him now avoids making a mistake in re-signing him in the summer.

The other benefit is that they will get to try other options in his place. You can run see what you have “over-ripening” on the second best team in the AHL before their ELCs or waiver eligibility runs out, and more accurately assess their ability to play at the NHL level. This includes giving players we’ve seen like Kapanen, Leivo and Soshnikov increased roles, and bringing up guys like Johnsson and Aaltonen. While none of these options can do what JVR does, it sets you ahead in the evaluation of what a post-JVR (and Bozak) future will look like, and who may be part of it.

The picks and prospects you gain in the deal will also serve to strengthen the pipeline of cheap, NHL ready talent down the road, that can step into the lineup and play minutes when the big three are making more than $25 million on the cap. The Leafs may have a glut of forward prospects now, but as they age, not all will pan out, and they need to keep the system stocked with useful pieces on ELC deals to extend their window to contend.

This may sound like a reversion to the “rebuild” mentality we’d hoped we left behind. We all had dreams that the rebuild was over and the window was now, in the 34/16/29 ELC’s – but the reality is, with this team, in this division, in this year, that keeping JVR (and Bozak) is not the prudent course of action to make this team stronger and better for years to come. Is that not what the Shanaplan was supposed to be all about, after all?

Remember, “There will be pain”?

Trading JVR will be painful, but it’s the right thing to do for the franchise.

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  • TMLMikey

    I’ve been on the fence with what I was hoping the Buds would do with JVR (and to a lesser extent Bozak and Komarov). I first thought that just keeping them as their own deadline pickups was a great idea. I’m starting to feel though that with these players onboard they still aren’t very likely to win the cup this season. Now I think these three players should be used to acquire as much as possible for future moves. Load up so much that you can (for example) call the Coyotes and make it impossible for them to not trade OEL… or Carolina for Hanifan. I’m on the side now of trading JVR even though he’s a great player for this team.

  • FlareKnight

    I’m fine with keeping him.

    The logic for moving him is there. Although I don’t agree when it comes to the playoff path. The path to the cup is always dire. You have to grind out an 82 game season and qualify and you have to beat out 4 other teams. Often relying on the right guys getting hot or the other team suffering injuries. If we wait for an easy ride to the Cup…..we’re always going to be selling.

    If they move JVR for a good return I’m fine with it. I don’t expect it though. So long as you aren’t tossing out your own picks left and right you will continue replenishing the system.

    I think people have to be ready for pain in the other respect. Plenty (understandably) didn’t care for the Leafs adding Boyle last year. But I don’t sense the Leafs regret that move. Similarly I don’t see them regretting keeping one of their leading scorers for a playoff run.

    I do think there are benefits to moving him. But keeping guys you think can contribute has value as well.

    • RaskForRaycroft

      Fair criticism. I don’t mean they should wait for a favorable path though, just that this team as it’s currently constructed and performing would be an underdog in just about any match up, let alone the path from the Atlantic 3 seed.

      If the leafs had better metrics in terms of driving play overall, if the Matthews line wasn’t showing troubling signs of decline/fatigue, and the Kadri line was actually playing like a shutdown line that can also drive offence like it was at the end of last year I’d agree the leafs could beat just about anyone.

      Luckily we have some time after this bye week with some rest, and with Zaitsev back soon, to see if they do, as Babcock says ‘have another gear’ or if they are what they are.

      I’ll be happy with being wrong, naturally.

  • Niceguytrieshardlovesthegame

    When is anyone on this website actually going to hold Gardiner accountable for his play? Maybe I’ll stop waiting for that article.. Is there a Leafs blog where people actually watch the game as opposed to pumping out TOI, corsi, and +\- as a justification for his presence?? I think re-upping this guy would be one of the worst things for the rebuild.

    • RaskForRaycroft

      I’ve watched almost every minute of every leafs game this year and have never once been driven to the conclusion that gardiner is the key problem on this team. Is he having a down season? Absolutely. But he’s not alone and a 80% Jake is still a serviceable NHL defenceman on a team that sorely lacks them.

      I think his struggles in the fancy stats department have been well documented on this website and elsewhere. I don’t see anything on this article where I addressed re signing him or not… It’ll be an interesting conversation and it’ll depend on his play moving forward.

      I think your perception may be skewed by your own opinion of the player if all you want others to do is dump on him. He’s been sub par this year. What else can you say

      • Niceguytrieshardlovesthegame

        I find it hard to believe that you’ve watched every minute of every game (as have I) and come to the conclusion you have. This reminds me so much of the dialogue about Kaberle.
        You might be right that I’m letting my personal feelings about a player show through in my judgment, but it’s based on his play, not his favourite singer (barf, bieber).
        He does good things, don’t get me wrong, but the sum of the parts is a very frustrating, untapped potential player. If he had a better partner I could see him being shielded from the plays that make him unsuccessful but he’s not in that position. I’m scared of what his perceived value is and dread re-upping this player at potentially bigger money than Rielly. This would serve to put us right back in the vortex of overpaid and underperforming.
        I might be greedy but I just want more out of my multimillion dollar defenceman.

        • Capt.Jay

          Wasn’t it you who came after me with advanced stats vs my eye test about Babcocks coaching and went on to say how it’s the same people who go after the said person when it benefits them? 3 days later you’re doing the same thing when it’s for someone’s game you don’t like.

    • BRstreetlaw

      This article is about pending UFAs – of which Gardiner is not one. Clearly the Leafs don’t have the same kind of overall depth at D as they do on LW/RW.

      That said, Gardiner does have one year left on his deal and is UFA when the Matthews and Marner ELCs end. With the Leafs in search of RD talent via trade and free agency, at what point do we say that Dermott, Borgman, Marincin, Nielsen, and Rosen are enough depth behind Rielly on the left side? Maybe we should be spending Gardiner’s money on a top-pair partner for Rielly.

      I don’t have as much of a problem with Gardiner in the first place. I just wonder if next year’s gap between him and either Dermott or Borgman is any bigger than the gap between JVR and Leivo, Kapanen, et al

  • magesticRAGE

    The Leaf’s will be fine without JVR.
    1) Without the teams best player (who’s a center) they were able to win most games. Team depth took over.
    2) JVR is bad at defense. In the playoffs, defensive play is paramount. Leivo, Kapanen, Johnsson all are more defensively responsible and have history of lighting the lamp.
    3) As the article displayed, fair market value will go up as the salary cap goes up. Meaning that the Big 3 will be proportionally expensive, and extending JVR as well. The cap can run real close to the limit quick, especially with Lupul’s LTIR being finished.
    4) There are Defensive prospects coming to the minors, but pretty much nothing forward wise. The cupboard need stocking, quality over quantity this time around.
    There are other reasons, but this is getting long…