Leafs trade possibilities

 

With the rumour mill churning and the Toronto Maple Leafs actively seeking a top-six forward, general manager Brian Burke could soon pull the trigger with the trade deadline looming.

As the All-Star weekend wraps up, trade speculation reaches its peek with what’s sure to be a few weeks of absurd trade rumours (Jeff Carter and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ first-round draft pick for Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski is my personal favorite).

Burke has publicly stated his desire to acquire a top-six forward that can add some size and strength to the line-up. The problem, it seems, is such players aren’t acquired at will. Burke had expressed his preference of trading in January to avoid the insanity of the trade deadline, as several general managers make nonsensical moves and get involved in bidding wars, but nothing has materialized since then. For all we know a trade could happen tomorrow, but one thing is certain: Burke will get his man, whomever that may be.

What Leafs fans should brace themselves for, however, is the possibility that a lesser-known player, such as Tuomo Ruutu, may be targeted in place of big names such as Carter, Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash, etc. Sure, any of those players would fit well in the line-up, but at what cost? Is it sensible for Burke to relinquish premier assets, thus weakening the team’s prospect pool, to make a playoff run? I understand that whomever Burke may acquire could be a young star just entering his prime, and that would be ideal, but if the price demands, say, Schenn, Nazem Kadri and the Leafs’ first-round draft pick, it could prove to be detrimental in the future. Such risks, however, are Burke’s forte. He’s an aggressive general manager that’s willing to take risks if he believes it benefits his club’s chance at the Stanley Cup, but are the Leafs in a position to take that risk, yet? I think Burke has a list of available players he’s willing to part with, because you have to give to receive, but I do not believe he’s so adamant with the current roster that he’d throw away what could be several parts of the future core for an impact player.

I do believe, however, Burke is swinging for the fences and is actively attempting to land a top-line forward (that adds size and strength). Once he tests the market and has an indication of what it’ll cost the Leafs, he’ll assess it accordingly and go from there. If he doesn’t find the big name he’s looking for, he may pursue a cheaper asset such as Ruutu, who could potentially find a spot as the top-line center between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Ruutu is by no means a top-line center, and he’s better suited on the wing, but it’s experiment that would certainly be pursued in hopes of opening up some ice for the Leafs’ skilled duo. This is, of course, merely speculation on my part, as I believe Ruutu would be a decent, and logical, addition to the Leafs.

One of the big names circulating the Leafs’ rumour mill was James van Riemsdyk, as Darren Dreger reported Burke covets the 22-year-old forward. But speculation came to a halt when “JvR” suffered a concussion. As of now, van Riemsdyk is out indefinitely and has not begun skating, so it’s unlikely that Burke takes a chance on him, considering he wants help now. While his name will surely surface again at some point, I’d say it’s highly unlikely he’s traded to the Leafs this season.

Brenden Morrow’s name also emerged almost instantly after Bob McKenzie reported that the 33-year-old forward may be on the market. Morrow has a full no-trade clause, so he would have to approve of any potential deal. He’d infuse some leadership into the line-up as well as some grit, but I don’t believe he’s a good fit with Toronto. For one, by the time the Leafs are ready to compete Morrow would be declining (and it appears he already is). Furthermore, the Leafs would likely have to relinquish future assets and/or a top-six forward. Considering Morrow’s impact would be short-term, it just isn’t logical to pursue him at this time.

Jeff Carter’s name has surfaced, but Dreger has reported that Burke wants nothing to do with his 10-year, $5.25-million cap-hit. If Burke is able to unload Mike Komisarek’s contract in return, however, I think it would be worthwhile. Carter is capable of producing at an elite level and he is by no means a one-dimensional player (34 blks, 26 GvA, 43 TkA in 2009-10; 41 blks, 29 GvA, 40 TkA in 2010-11) but his contract is a concern. If a general manager is willing to take the risk, however, his value may be diminished for the simple fact that he wants out of Columbus and his contract is huge. I’d say the possibility of Carter coming to the Leafs is almost non-existent, but it’s one that, I think, would make sense.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, Rick Nash is a regular on the Leafs rumour mill, so he has to be mentioned. Burke would have to be willing to unload a lot of depth to acquire Nash but, for what has felt like a decade, the Leafs possess the assets to complete such a trade should Burke so desire. Nash, besides not being a center, is everything Burke covets in a player and I’d start building the shrine immediately upon his arrival. But that’s a long shot. A very long shot, in fact. It’s worth noting that Nash has a cap-hit of $7.8-million and is signed through the 2017-18 season. Such a deal would punctuate Burke’s tenure with the Leafs, either positively or negatively, and may be too pricey for the general manager to even consider (several roster players who have to be on the way out to accommodate Nash’s salary). I’d mark the probability of this happening to very low. But if Carter proves too difficult to move, or if teams simply don’t offer what Columbus is seeking, it could mean the end of Nash if the Blue Jackets want to rebuild and acquire some depth in the form of prospects and roster players.

Dreger has reported the Leafs have no interest in Ryan Malone, and that Ryane Clowe, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf are not on the trade market. Not even worth speculating on their availability.

Personally, I think Burke may go the cheaper route and acquire a player such as Ruutu. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent and he’s a 40 to 50 point producer that adds a lot of hits to the mix, so the Carolina Hurricanes won’t net a lucrative return. At 28 years old, he’d be a welcome addition to the top-nine and would fit in with the Leafs immediately. While he’s on pace for about half the hits he usually gets (currently on pace for 156), those numbers would increase with the role he’d inherit on the Leafs. He’d help win the Leafs a few extra puck battles, which has been a concern, and he’d be a leader on the youngest team in the NHL. He’s by no means a major acquisition, but he’d be useful player for a playoff run at the right price.

The coming days, or weeks, will unravel many, if not all, of these questions.

You stay classy, TCL.

ronguillet@gmail.com

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Comments

George Prax's picture

I don't know if it's the right move for the leafs to make to break the bank for a big name player, but I can definitely see it happening. Trading too many key roster pieces is going to hurt them and they're in no position to be messing with any potential chemistry right now. Then again Burke can't sit on his hands as the Leafs have their best chance to make the playoffs in years. Gonna be an interesting few weeks.