The Toronto Maple Leafs certainly haven’t given their fans much to cheer about over the past couple of months. After a good start to the season the team’s struggles have been magnified with their lack of defensive coverage and their seemingly flawless ability to give up third period leads.
On Tuesday, memories of last year’s playoff series were in full force. Up by two goals in Boston, the Leafs seemed to get flustered in their defensive end. They left the points open and it was newcomer Tim Gleason and goaltender Jonathan Bernier that weathered the Bruin storm – helping the blue and white escape with a 4-3 win.
But the fact is, something has to change. The Leafs can’t continue to fall back and play defensive hockey when they have the lead – clearly it’s not working. So how do you shake things up? How do you change a team that showed so much promise in October?
Some would go the route that the Winnipeg Jets just took by firing their coach. However, Leafs’ GM Dave Nonis has already put those ideas to rest.
Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle: “His job is not in jeopardy.” http://t.co/GgwqIkzXZr
— theScore (@theScore) January 11, 2014
Therefore, there’s only one other possibility – a trade. But who should the Leafs consider parting ways with? According to an article by The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox, Nonis is looking to make a significant move, but won’t jeopardize the future of the team.
“I’m still trying to see if there’s a deal out there that can change our look but not hurts us long term,” said Nonis.
Now Nonis has come out with a list of his ‘untouchables’ which include Morgan Rielly, Fredrik Gauthier, and this year’s first-round pick. But he also stated that Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner wouldn’t be going anywhere unless the team received a similar aged player in return. So, who would the Leafs – and more specifically GM Nonis – be willing to part ways with? Here’s a look at some players that the Leafs should consider moving.
Joffrey Lupul (LW)
He has 25 points (14g-11a) in 39 games for the Leafs this season, but he’s struggled lately. That’s not saying much as the entire team hasn’t been playing all that well. However, Lupul has played with arguably the most fight of anyone on the team during their slump.
In his first full season with the Leafs in 2011-12, Lupul recorded a career-high 67 points (25g-42a) in 66 games. But the 30-year old has struggled with injury throughout his career which could hinder any return the Leafs may get.
However, this is definitely the best time for the Leafs to trade Lupul. His value is at an all-time high with his play thus far this season, his return should increase especially if he can find his scoring touch again.
Possible Return: Roster player/2014 3rd-round pick OR Prospect/2014 2nd-round pick
James Reimer (G)
When Nonis traded for Jonathan Bernier this past offseason, the future of James Reimer came into question. In all honesty, it’s been in question ever since Bernier’s contract extension was announced. While Reimer’s still seen time in 20 games this season, Bernier’s 34 games seems to suggest that last year’s starter has lost his number one role.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Reimer isn’t ready to backstop an NHL team. In 124 career NHL games, the 25-year old is 61-38-15. Although his numbers aren’t the best this season, Reimer demonstrated his abilities in the Leafs’ playoff push last season.
He put up career bests as the starter in 2012-13 in both goals-against average (2.46) and save percentage (.924) while leading the Maple Leafs to game seven against the eventual Eastern Conference champions.
Head coach Randy Carlyle continuously assures fans and media that he’ll push forward with the two-goalie system. It’s something he alluded to even after Bernier’s stellar performance at this month’s Winter Classic.
“There’s going to be opportunities for James to get back in the net. And we think that – again I know you’re tired of hearing it and think that I’m full of it when I say 1-A and 1-B – but that’s what I believe in. And I think competition for the position allows people to compete and bring the best out of them,” said Carlyle in his post-game press conference.
But it’s what’s best for the team. If Nonis can find a trade that would improve the Leafs in other areas, Reimer should be available as part of that trade. Either way, Reimer’s been a good sport while playing backup to Bernier, but any return in a trade involving him could put the Leafs where they need to be to make a playoff run.
Possible Return: Roster player/Low-round pick OR Two Prospects/Low-round pick
Nikolai Kulemin (LW)
Kulemin is one player that the Leafs should definitely consider trading. But don’t expect him to be traded as a single piece. Any return in a move like that would be more of a future consideration as the Leafs would likely receive a late-round pick for the defensive-minded forward.
But the Leafs could package the Russian Olympian with other assets to get a player that would help them now. However, teams won’t be looking at Kulemin for his scoring ability – at least they won’t expect it from him.
In 36 games this season, the former 30-goal scorer has 11 points (5g-6a). But the 27-year old has shown the ability to score and do so when it counts. Of his five goals this season, three of them are game winners. He is big part of the Leafs penalty kill alongside Jay McClement and Tyler Bozak and he has a lot of forechecking upside. If the Leafs can offload Kulemin in a trade to upgrade their top-six forwards, look for him to be part of a blockbuster move.
Possible Return: Late-round pick OR Prospect
Now, there’s no evidence that any of these three have been dangled in front of other NHL general managers. But with the way the Leafs have been playing they’re going to have to make some kind of splash in the trade market. What they have to look at is not just what they are sending out, but what they are bringing in and how it can help them now and in the future.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.