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:
|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.