Retain One, Or Trade Both?

With the National Hockey League's trade deadline looming, names like Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak are becoming increasingly popular in the Toronto Maple Leafs brass.

Fans of the Blue & White have been playing armchair general manager and have formulated a number of trades since the Olympic break. But amidst the excitement of the yearly spectacle, I'm beginning to wonder if it's in the Leafs' best interest to trade both Ponikarovsky and Stempniak.

After all, were they not serviceable players for the Leafs?

Take a look at Ponikarovsky's statistics:

- 19 goals (3rd on the Leafs)
- 41 points (3rd)
- +5 rating (1st)
- 114 hits (2nd on team, 1st among forwards)

Now Stempniak's:

- 14 goals (5th)
- 29 points (6th)
- 5 powerplay goals (3rd)
- 1:46 SH TOI/G (4th among forwards)
Ponikarovsky is 29 years old and is finding his niche as a 20-25 goal, 50-60 point player who can be a big-body presence. He has made considerable strides in his development since he played alongside former-Leaf Mats Sundin and has become the player Leafs fans were hoping for. And now we're willing to send him off for a prospect and a second-round pick? Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be complaining about that return, but if Ponikarovsky can be resigned for a reasonable price, would he not play an important role in the Leafs' rebuild? He seems to fit Burke's mold quite well, if you ask me. And a second-round pick and a prospect is no sure thing, especially for a player who has just entered his prime.

Then there's Stempniak. His potential 30-goal seasons are well behind him, and giving up Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of fans. However, the 27-year-old can still produce anywhere from 40-50 points and is a decent penalty-killer (see here). He is just entering his prime and could probably be resigned for a reasonable price. And now rumours are circulating that he could be had for a third-round draft pick? I'm sorry, but if a third-round selection turned out to be a player of Stempniak's ilk, I'd be a pretty happy fellow.

In fact, since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, some of the most renowned names are: Dominic Moore, Mikael Tellqvist, Michael Rupp, Tomas Plekanec, Patrick Sharp, Matthew Lombardi, Johan Franzen, Steve Mason and Cal Clutterbuck. Some great players, but that's among a list of over a hundred selections. I'm not suggesting a third-round pick is not valuable, but considering Stempniak's age and the role he plays on the team, what is the purpose of trading him?

Of course, acquiring more draft picks is also important for the Leafs, and because of that I understand the necessity of trading one of the aforementioned players. But, are fans perhaps getting a little carried away with the rebuild? It's as if every player that has been on the Leafs since the lock-out needs to be sent away to expel old memories.

And if both Stempniak and Ponikarovsky are traded, the Leafs' offence is looking extremely bare heading into next season. Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and maybe even Nazem Kadri would be leading the charge. Yikes, talk about inexperience.

Although, to be fair, one cannot predict what Burke has in the fold. Even Nostradamus couldn't have predicted the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf. And Burke has said he will be both a buyer and seller at the deadline, so perhaps he's targeting a couple of players to add some depth upfront.

The trade deadline is in about 26 hours, folks. Hang in there.