As the NHL trade deadline approaches, a question many Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans have is whether the Maple Leafs will be buyers or sellers. It’s always an exciting time to watch a team set out to improve itself and to re-organize its lineup so it might gain the best opportunity for a strong Stanley Cup run.
This season’s Maple Leafs’ fans probably are more ambivalent than usual about what the team should do. Some probably believe the Maple Leafs should stand pat and move no one. To be honest, that would be my choice. The season’s so far been really successful. Why ruin a good thing?
On the other hand, why not grab any opportunity to turn a really successful season into something special? In other words, if there’s a trade available that could help the team, why wouldn’t Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas engage it?
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at two recent rumors about potential trades the Maple Leafs could/should make. Some of the trade rumors circulating, to me, simply seem crazy. Some, even seem crazier than others. Are these two anything?
That said, every once in a while, during my three seasons of covering the Maple Leafs, I admit that general manager Dubas pulls off a crazy smart trade I hadn’t even considered and that hockey insiders didn’t have on their radar.
“Crazy Idea” #1: Alex Kerfoot and/or Maple Leafs’ Prospects for Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nick Foligno
Recently, Toronto Sun hockey writer Steve Simmons tossed out the idea that the Maple Leafs might be interested in Columbus Blue Jackets’ forward Nick Foligno. Although Simmons isn’t always accurate with his rumors, none of us are. (from “SIMMONS SAYS: Giant opportunity for the Maple Leafs can’t be wasted,” Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun, 07/03/21).
In a recent article, Simmons wrote: “The Leafs have next to no salary cap room. In order to acquire anyone — the name Nick Foligno keeps popping up — they would have to move other assets and money, certainly Alex Kerfoot for example, maybe one of the young defencemen Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren, maybe the young sniper Nick Robertson, maybe an early-round draft pick.”
Simmons believes the Maple Leafs should go after a top six forward and Foligno’s name “keeps popping up.”
So, what part of that idea actually makes sense? First, Foligno is a pending UFA and that means the Blue Jackets, who seem out of the playoff run right this moment, would probably be sellers. The Blue Jackets would probably also retain some of Foligno’s salary cap hit to move him. They would want a prospect in return, I’d guess. With this idea, the team would still have cap issues to consider. I can’t see the Maple Leafs moving Kerfoot for a rental.
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The part of this idea that makes no sense to me is that Foligno is a shell of his former self. Once a strong player, this season he’s only scored four goals and seven assists (for 11 points) in the 26 games he’s played. He’s not going to be a big scorer for the team and he’s expensive.
That said, because I’ve lauded the value of veterans Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Wayne Simmonds to the team, it will be disingenuous for me to critique someone simply because they’re past their prime. Plus, that’s getting personal.
In his day, Foligno (who scored 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points in 79 games in 2014-15) could score, but he only scored more than 20 goals two seasons. What Foligno does offer is the kind of grit a team like Toronto might desire for a deep playoff run.
The difference for me is that Dubas gave up no one to sign these three players (Spezza, Thornton, or Simmond). They were simply value-addition with no value-subtraction. I can’t see Dubas giving up any of the three young players Simmonds mentioned – Sandin, Liljegren, or Robertson. And, that’s where the question is answered for me: the deal won’t hit the table because Dubas won’t move a player the Blue Jackets want.
“Crazy Idea” #2: The Maple Leafs Will Trade for Grit Not Skill
This “crazy idea” comes from the Toronto Sun’s Michael Traikos, who suggests that because the team has all the skill it needs, the Maple Leafs will look for grit and seek to add more sandpaper to its roster. Traikos adds that such a trade will happen soon because, unless the player comes from a Canadian team, there are quarantine issues to work with. (from “TRAIK-EOTOMY: Who should the Maple Leafs target at April’s trade deadline?,” Michael Traikos, Toronto Sun, 03/03/21).
Traikos doesn’t think the Maple Leafs will target a player like the Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall because “it needs more blue-collar players like (Zach) Bogosian and (Wayne) Simmonds. Guys like Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm and Calgary forward Sam Bennett. It needs guys that can push back against Boston and Tampa and Vegas. Guys that can help the Leafs go the distance.”
So, what makes sense about this idea? First, from my perspective I agree with the idea of adding grit to the lineup. That makes sense because I’ve seen how Wayne Simmons has impacted the team in very positive ways. Another player or two who bring similar characteristics could help the Maple Leafs’ plans going forward.
Fortunately, in my experience watching the NHL, grit is cheaper than skill. Thus, the idea of adding grit makes much more financial sense than the idea of adding skill.
One key to any trade the Maple Leafs make is that the trade must work financially. In short, and I used the word “short” as in short fall, Dubas has only $130,000 to spend. The Maple Leafs would likely have to sweeten the pot with a prospect or draft choice. When a team is selling grit, it seems less likely to retain salary.
In addition, I’m quite convinced – using my logic – that Dubas won’t move a roster piece in a trade for sandpaper. As well, and I can’t know this for sure because I’m not in the Maple Leafs’ locker room, given the leadership characteristics and positive personalities of many roster players, I have to believe the Maple Leafs locker room isn’t a cesspool of drama or division.
To me, team chemistry with this Maple Leafs team is a key to a successful season. If I were Dubas, I would not mess with team chemistry. I believe that could undermine the season.
Are These Two Ideas Anything, or Nothing?
If you happen to be culture buff, you might remember an old David Letterman routine titled “Is This Anything?” In the segment, the stage curtain is raised to reveal a person or group performing a crazy stunt accompanied by music from Paul Shaffer’s CBS orchestra. After about a half a minute, the curtain is lowered and Letterman and Shaffer ask each other the question “Is this anything?”
In applying that cultural concept, are these trades something or are they nothing? That’s the thing with trade rumors. They are usually crazy – amounting to nothing; however, they also could become something.
Considering the two rumors I’ve engaged above, I believe the first rumor has less credence than the second. Bringing Foligno to the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline makes no sense to me. The Blue Jackets would likely want a prospect in return, and to me the benefit is far less than the cost.
The second rumor about seeking grit instead of skill makes more sense. It could be “anything.” However, I can’t believe the Maple Leafs would move any of its stockpiled talent and risk the team’s long-term future for a little grit unless that grit came cheaply – a Kyle Clifford as a tag-along with Jack Campbell last season. That was not a costly trade in terms of talent.
Doing “anything” needs to be done cheaply. Otherwise, it couldn’t happen. There’s really not that much left in the salary-cap coffers.
Whatever Maple Leafs’ fans might think of Dubas, he does have an accountant’s sense of costs and benefits. No doubt he’ll consider costs vs. benefits carefully whenever he makes a trade.
Given the organization’s belief in team-building – a good team for a long time – that Brendan Shanahan brought with him as the team’s President, that plan is to build up talent without risking the future for a present that might not pan out?
There is a business bottom line, and any Maple Leafs’ trade scenario would be crazy if it violated that bottom-line business plan.