Would a Duncan Keith Trade Make Sense?

There are more than a few big named blue liners potentially on the market who could peak the interest of the Maple Leafs, just over one month before the deadline. Among those names, one of the most interesting could be long time Blackhawk; Duncan Keith.

Keith’s lengthy resume includes Stanley Cups and gold medals and Norris Trophies, but that isn’t the Duncan Keith of today. And on top of that, he’ll be under contract for four more seasons after the current one at just over $5.5mil. Let’s have a look at some of the scenarios which could see Duncan Keith in blue and white come this March.

It’s important to remember, in acquiring Keith, that he isn’t going to play 25 minutes every night along side Morgan Rielly. Therefore there are a couple of non-starters when discussing any potential trade for the veteran defenceman. Firstly, Timothy Liljegren cannot, in any way, shape, or form be involved in the deal. Right handed defenders come at a premium in today’s NHL and letting go of a potential top pairing guy with a right handed shot is not good business. Especially one who will be cost effective for the foreseeable future. The second, is that Keith cannot be acquired strictly for futures without significant salary cap retention on the part of the Blackhawks.

So what would that look like? If the Hawks are going to retain $1.5-2mil of Keith’s contract every season for the rest of his contract, the return would likely reach its peak. With Liljegren off the table, it leaves young defenders Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin (who some now have ahead of Timmy Liljegren) and Andreas Borgman as prime candidates to be moved. All three are left handed shots, a side that could be blocked for years to come as far as playing in the Top 4 goes with the emergence of Travis Dermott and the elite play from Morgan Rielly. Up front, Jeremy Bracco, Carl Grundstrom and to a lesser extent the Pierre Engvall’s of the farm highlight the list of prospects.

With cap retention, The Leafs would no doubt be giving up some kind of high draft pick. If the featured prospect in the deal is someone like Sandin then maybe it’s a conditional pick depending on how far Toronto moves on in the playoffs, but if it’s a lower end prospect like Borgman, who through injuries has fallen off the radar, and Grundstrom, the pick would likely be a guaranteed first rounder.

I am of the opinion that this scenario, at least for someone like Keith, is unlikely. The Hawks will no doubt have their eyes set on Sandin and, while I can see Sandin being moved, it would be in a deal for a younger player who can handle those extra minutes and carry some of the workload from Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey. Names like Alex Pietrangelo and Cam Fowler come to mind.

There is also the potential of a deal happening as a precursor to a Duncan Keith trade. Underperforming forwards with sizeable cap hits could be shipped out to clear the salary brought in by Keith. Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown have all seen diminished roles this season, and while their value is likely at an all time low, they could be moved to a young team making a push now without significant salary cap concerns.

Now those are two names who are a big part of the group in maybe different ways, Kadri as a catalyst and one of Toronto’s only feisty players, and Brown a beloved teammate who runs off season workouts etc and has presence in the room. So it could effect the team’s chemistry. If let’s say Patrick Marleau is somehow moved before the completion of the 2020-21 season, it would almost no doubt have to be during this coming summer and take his full permission given his contractual clauses giving him control of any movement.

Trading Nazem Kadri sounds unlikely and unpopular perhaps, but even given his minor struggles this season would no doubt fetch a sizeable return. The biggest issue with a Kadri trade in the middle of the season is that the front runners to replace him would be Lindholm and Gauthier, neither of whom have shown any sign that they’re capable, at least at this stage of their careers, to perform as an NHL 3rd line centre. Now, if you were to complete a Kadri trade, you’d be forced to bring in another piece who would no doubt eat up a hefty portion of that new found cap space. Even if that players contract was expiring, there are no immediate cheap options to replace Kadri.

Connor Brown is a different story from Kadri and Marleau. While he doesn’t make nearly as much, he does make more than any team would like to be playing a fourth line player. While he’s shown a tendency to be a very good penalty killer, the team is not short of guys capable of playing down a man. Especially given the emergence of Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen as very good penalty killers. Going forward, Trevor Moore looks like he could be ready to step into a similar role as Brown at a fraction of the cost.

The final, and as far as I’m concerned; most beneficial scenario to Toronto is the somehow inclusion of Nikita Zaitsev. The oft goat horned Russian defender has at times, this season, been the ire of Leafs fans. His lack of poise while handling the puck in his own end has resulted in more than a few bad turnovers. Still, there is possible value in the right shooting third year pro defender.

As we’ve seen over and over, it takes time for defenceman, especially those coming from the European game, to adjust to the lack of time and space in the defensive zone. There is reason to believe that we haven’t seen the best from Zaitsev in that regard. The main issue is without question between the ears in the confidence department.

Zaitsev has decent enough size to compete hard, and certainly above average mobility. He’s shown an ability to block shots and he’s effective on the penalty kill. It’s entirely possible that a team like Chicago can look at what they would hope to be an improving player for similar money as a better option then the declining Keith given the prospects of their immediate future. And by not retaining money on the Keith contract, it would not only afford them the ability to retain on another contract, it would also give them an asset that could potentially be moved in the future should they find themselves in need of extra cap space. As mentioned earlier, there is a premium on right handed defenceman, and that’s likely a trend that will continue over the coming years.

Of course this doesn’t diminish the package of future assets the Leafs would be required to send to Chicago in any impactful way. But it does, perhaps, move Stan Bowman’s interest from a Rasmus Sandin and instead focus it on a Calle Rosen.

So, let’s say for arguments sake, that this last scenario comes to fruition. Where does that leave the Leafs defensive group for the remainder of 2019? The answer to that is one that Mike Babcock might not like. Igor Ozhiganov would become the lone right handed shot. This leaves two options. One is to make another move and bring another right handed shot in. The second is to move Travis Dermott to the right side. He’s said in the past that he’s very comfortable on his off side, it’s not something that coach Babcock likes to do.

In the end, it seems like the hurdles that need to be jumped in order to facilitate a trade which would being Keith to Toronto are stacked far too high for it to be likely. Management in Toronto has shown, over the two previous trade deadlines, that they aren’t afraid to leave the team largely untouched if the prices become too lofty.

If your thirst for deadline additions can only be quenched by the likes of Wayne Simmonds and Duncan Keith, you may be in for a disappointing day.

Virtual GM – Leafs/Canes Blockbuster Trade

What would it look like if two devoted fans pretended to manage their favourite NHL organizations and tried to make a legitimate hockey trade.

Doug Abrams (@dabrams2021) and I have known each other as long as I’ve been involved in online hockey talk. For the purposes of this story, he will take on the role of Hurricanes GM Don Waddell and I will take on the role of Kyle Dubas. I have the same glasses so it should be easy enough. What hopefully will add to the realism of this piece, an attempted trade between two franchises Carolina and Toronto, is the mutual respect I believe we have developed for one another. I say this because it is the same type respect General Managers in the National Hockey League share. There’s only 31 positions and it truly is a fraternity. A job only they or someone who has held one previous can truly understand. In any event, we will try our best to play “Virtual GM” here today.

Doug and I, because of the relationship I’ve eluded to, will be able to talk openly and honestly about our teams, our needs, bearing in mind we are in competition. The following is our attempt to make a deal beneficial to both clubs.

Preliminary talks have somewhat occurred. Negotiations begin.

Jude (Kyle): Doug (Don), you guys are playing well. Congrats on that. As we’ve talked over the past few months I think a mutual interest has been expressed so I’m not calling to waste either of our time today. For us the timeline to make some adjustments or adds to our group is now. Or you of a similar mindset?

Doug: Jude, we both know our teams need and what has to be improved to make a run. It is no secret that my team desires a proven goal scorer. That is why we are talking. You need a right-handed offensive defensive man who can add goals and especially on the power play. I have several irons in the fire. We need to get to a hockey deal now. I am not going to be able to steamroll you and you are not going to be able to steamroll me. It will be a hockey deal of value for value. I need Nylander. I have Faulk available. That is a hockey deal two adults could and should make.

Jude: No, absolutely. We are in the same boat. That’s why I called this morning and this isn’t our usual dance. The music has stopped and we are fielding and making calls as well that are beyond the opening stage. But this aside, it’s you and I talking now. As for our needs, I’m not sure Justin checks the boxes for us. He does the ones you’ve outlined but if we are discussing William’s name that’s not a player we are currently interested in. That’s not to say we couldn’t use him or value him.

Doug: For Faulk, he has dramatically improved his defensive awareness. He has a cannon. You don’t have that kind of offensive defenseman and you will need him for a playoff run. It is obvious to me that your Leafs have real chemistry. It has the feel of the 2005-2006 Hurricanes as long as your goalie, Andersen, stays healthy and as long as Matthews and Marner stay healthy. Rule 101 of winning the Stanley Cup is to load up when your team has the momentum. For Faulk, what deal are you offering me? I have enough Leafs’ hats and sweaters in my closet, so thanks but no thanks for that part of the offer.

Jude: Well those are always included. Call it a freebie. With Justin I don’t disagree, we have our own scouts and staff. I think what may be an issue here in trading for him is I’m not sure I can take away from our current roster in order to add him. My offer largely would revolve around futures and I’m not sure that suits you. In order to take from my team and offer scoring your team desperately lacks the conversation would have to grow. I can make an offer, however.

Doug: We are not interested in moving Faulk just for futures. We have impressive talent in Charlotte. We have some guys over in Europe who are developing well. Our present lack of scoring is an issue that our prospects will solve in time. We are talking about the present. I am open to tangible offers. It’s time to move to offers. We both know where our teams are and what we need now, not in the future. This trade will only work if I am building my team now and also for the future. I can’t use a rental player. Our team is not there yet. Your team is. The salary cap monster is heading your way like the Ice King. Everybody knows that, including you. So make me a hockey deal offer.

Jude: Oh we both know where our teams are. Scary cap talk won’t advance things along, I can assure you I’m the least worried of the 31 managers it seems but also, yes, I am a realist. And we are both interested in a hockey trade, first and foremost. Your pipeline may be great and it is, but gamebreakers are not there and we know this. But now we are getting off topic into assessing each other. Michael Ferland. Are you making him available or listening there?

Doug: Ferland is a beast. He and his agent are still a little out of our assessed value; but I want to make a deal with him. If somebody comes up with an offer we can’t refuse, well, obviously we won’t refuse. The truth is if this were two seasons later and we had Necas, Kuokkanen, Roy, Saarela, Bean, and Fox, among some of our guys, at their NHL game, I’d say no way we would ever consider trading Ferland. He is a guy who is made for the playoffs. Tough, fast, great hands, competitive, eager to drop the gloves to protect his teammates. So if you make me a deal that takes all that into account – and also takes into account the value of a rental player, then sure. Remember what Doug Weight and Mark Recchi did for the Hurricanes? The Canes would never have won the Cup without their play and without their leadership. Ferland is that kind of guy for the playoffs for your team. Marner and Matthews will need Ferland.

Jude: Look, I’ll be straight. Our staff and myself value Ferland. Is it immediate scoring you want for him or does his status change that? Also you know people talk. There’s a feeling Adam Fox is headed for free agency. Is there a chance we include him in something bigger?

Doug: You will want to make an offer soon. As you might imagine, my emails are blowing up and my cell phone texts look like I’m a movie star. It’s crazy.

Jude: Yeah to be honest Lawrence (AGM) is on a call here beside me which could swing what we do. For Ferland I can offer Jeremy Bracco, a 2nd and a 2020 3rd.

Doug: As you know from dealing with me, I never take offense at any suggested deal. That is the nature of our business. If that were the going rate for Ferland, I’d have already traded Ferland. I have better deals on the table now. Ferland is a rare breed. You can’t find another guy like him even potentially available. Ferland is going to take Nylander and a 2019 2nd and a real prospect. We can discuss the prospect. I’d consider but will have to run by our management team, Kapanen, your 2019 1st and your 2020 2nd. I am not sure I can sell that to my group. It would at least be an offer we’d consider. Bracco is a fine young prospect, but we have Necas, Kuokkanen, Roy, Saarela, Gauthier. We are fine there. I can sell my group on Nylander, a 2019 second and a serious prospect. The good news for you is that with Nylander being out for so long, he is not close to his real game and it may well be 2020 and after a full preseason that he gets to his NHL game. As such, for this run, you’ll miss him less. You might well be able to sign Ferland with the savings you get on trading Nylander and Kapanen does a lot of what Nylander does.

Jude: The savings, eh. Well your counter offer was probably as out in left field as my initial one. Lol, so good on you I deserved it. If Willy’s name even comes up than Doug Hamilton’s does too. What’s going on there, Doug? Why is his name coming up? AGAIN. I mean these are guys you just acquired but we have interest there as well. Significant.

Doug: Hamilton is a guy we can make available. Hamilton has been excellent. It did take a him a little while to figure out the style he needed to play for us. Probably part of that is we see Brind’Amour as a rising star as a head coach, but he’s getting on the job training. We think Brind’Amour will be worth it. He and Hamilton needed to get on the same page. They have now and it shows. We have Pesce and Faulk; and we love Adam Fox and Bean. We can afford to talk about trading Hamilton. So what is your offer for Ferland and Hamilton. You know it is going to take a wagonload of talent coming back for us to make that trade of Ferland and Hamilton. You also probably want to pause a moment and consider what your competitors will look like if and when they add Ferland and Hamilton. If you were a GM of another playoff team that is dead serious about getting the Cup, you would be licking your chops at the idea of adding those two guys for a serious run at winning the Stanley Cup.

Jude: Can I put you on hold for a minute, Doug?

Doug: I’ve got another phone conference with another team in five minutes. Let’s get some concrete offers going so we both have something definite to bring back to our management group. If we are offering you Hamilton and Ferland, what is the best, last offer you can give me to take to sell to my group?

Jude: Okay, I’ve already considered all angles and competition and before we consummate I’d need final approval from Brendan and ownership. I know what you need, you know what I need. I know you covet William. I need to have one more talk with our capologist, but we are possibly willing to trade Nylander for that return.

Doug: Sounds great. It was a productive discussion. Let’s talk tomorrow or Wednesday.

As you can all see, it’s very difficult to make a trade today. Especially one of such magnitude. If Toronto or for arguments sake myself were to make this deal the Leafs would still have over $4.5 million dollars in cap space without using Long Term Injury Reserve. I won’t delve too far into the cap figures and I could be wrong. It’s not my speciality and if this were “real” someone would be hired to do that for us. But let’s take a look at what the Maple Leafs roster would look like after a blockbuster such as proposed. Arrange as you see fit. Nothing is official in our created scenario. Only the framework is in place, but the main parts are somewhat established or brought to the table. Would you consider this offer?

Thanks to and follow @CapFriendly

*After a call made by Toronto later in the day, talks have resumed.

Jude: Hey Doug. I knew we said we’d talk in the next couple days, but I have some movement pending. After deliberating, our feeling is William would be something to possibly re-visit in the summer. For us we’ve come out and said Nylander is a big part of our future. And we meant it. The winner of a trade they say is who gets the best player and in this deal although it’s a great framework for a deal, I have to pull 29 off the table. But I’m looking to deal and we would like Michael Ferland, Adam Fox, and we’d be interested in CMac if you are interested in our young goaltender Garret Sparks.

Doug: Jude, I understand about Nylander. We may have some other guys we are looking at. To be blunt, Nylander’s slump is a little bit of cold water on the deal for us as well. He should bounce back, but that is a ton of money for a player if he gets complacent. Adam Fox is a no go. We believe we will sign it and he was quietly a key piece of our deal with Calgary.

Ferland, yes, for the right price. McElhinney we can talk about; but again to be blunt, he has vastly exceeded all expectations and we finally have stable goalkeeping.

Jude: Yeah it wouldn’t be the time to move William at a low point for us and we see signs he’s going to be everything we hoped. As for Adam, that’s why we asked. Lol, our group loves him too. Justin Faulk we had discussed but again it’s the boxes. Now normally I’d want a player with term but in the case of Ferland, he just fits for us. We are very serious and have no issue moving our 1st, Sparks and Bracco for Michael and Curtis.

Doug: It is still not a deal we can make right now. Ferland would take your 1st rd & Kapanen to make it worth doing. We can get a player at Bracco’s level & a 1st round pick from teams for whom the 1st round pick is going to be much near the top 10 than the Leaf’s #1 pick. We track you out as picking perhaps #20 to #31; it’s a sliding scale of probabilities with #23-#28 the most likely. That’s just how we grade your Leafs out. You could make a huge run if you get some help for the stretch. We know that. I imagine you are talking to us because you know it, too.

I would have to take a deal of Sparks and your 2nd round pick for McElhinney very, very seriously. I would need to have our analytics folks dig into it and get back to my group on Sparks.

Jude: Kapanen we need for our run. He’s proven in the clutch and plays fast and heavy, the reasons we want Ferland. The goaltending we aren’t interested in unless it was something you wanted. Which it doesn’t sound like you are in need. So what about Pesce? Pesce and Ferland if Kapanen is involved and I can do, a 1st, Kappy, Bracco and more.

Doug: LOL. I figured you were heady enough that eventually you would start asking about Pesce. I am not trading Pesce, Slavin, Aho, Teravainen, Necas unless your guys are ready to be steamrolled in a deal you lose so badly you would be fired. Slavin and Pesce are the best defensive duo in the NHL. I can’t help it if they are still under the radar. Bracco, as I mentioned before, is fine but we have what we need in that level of player, and honestly better than Bracco, as we grade him out, in Charlotte with Necas, Kuokkanen, Roy, Gauthier, Saarela. We have some guys even more under the radar in Charlotte who are equally intriguing to us.

So to get Ferland, it’s got to be a real deal prospect and your 1st round pick 2019. Giving up a comparable young player to guys we already have doesn’t move the needle for us.

Jude: I completely understand and don’t mean to waste your night, I just have a trade pending. I’m not sure we have the fit for a deal if a roster player or top tier prospect is required for Ferland. The 1st is there for you and if you don’t get the deal you want we can talk about the prospect you’d like to add. But as of now we can’t move our best like Liljegren as we will need cost effective youth soon.

Doug: Carl Grundstrom intrigues me. For Ferland, I could take back to our group an offer of your 1st 2019, Carl Grundstrom, and your 2nd 2020. It’s not a deal I totally love; but I could at least tell the group we need to churn the data. Grundstrom has some grit to his game. We need to end the era of the Carolina Candy Canes. We know that. You know that. The entire NHL knows that. Ferland is one of those guys who has brought physicality and a mean streak to the Canes. I, for one, am pushing to get Ferland signed to an extension if we can get his agent to chill a little bit and let us make a deal that works. That is my preference. If you guys want to talk seriously about Hamilton, I’m fine with that discussion. It all depends how much you are serious about adding pieces for a Cup run or if you are more on a tour boat state of mind, seeing the great views. There are arguments on both sides of adding or not. It just depends what state of mind your group has.

Jude: Ok, I’m going to hold off on any movement. I will go back to the staff and take the night to arrange a hard offer to present by 9:00am. Always a pleasure and nothing but respect.

Doug: Again a great and insightful discussion. We will talk tomorrow and see if we can find a hockey deal that is a win-win. You know I love where your team is. I both logically and with my heart see you all as capable of doing real damage in the playoffs. I don’t want to create an Eastern Conference monster, but there is a part of me that would like to find a win-win just to see how far you guys get. We might be meeting you in the playoffs. Crazier things have happened.

Jude: Doug, you know I want to make a deal for both of us, you know me. I feel our time is now and I also know exactly where you’re program is headed. Let’s help each other get where we want to be. Talk in the morning!

Doug: Talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight.

*Toronto has held internal meetings and have long realized their need. The cost will be high and surely to be scrutinized. It is however as they say “The price of doing business.”

Jude: Doug, apologies it took a while to get back on this. Just like yourself we’ve been talking with basically everyone. With so many balls in the air I’d really like to focus on a defender if we may. Our interest for the time being is in Doug Hamilton. We’ve done our homework and believe you are making him available solely because your right side is set with more to come. Kapanen, our 1st, and next year’s 2nd is on the table. Perhaps we can talk about Ferland but this is our offer. I will need to look once more at our cap as we may need to send a contract as well, but this is the offer. Hamilton is a luxury you don’t necessarily need and Kapanen is something you do.

Doug: Works for us as well. We need to either make a deal or respectfully turn the page knowing we both gave it our best efforts. Hamilton is a guy we can make available just because we have so much talent at RH dmen. Let’s talk about Hamilton. I can live with Kapanen, your 2019 1st, and Grundstrom. We like that kid and he is closer to the NHL than a 2nd round pick would be. I would be willing, reluctantly, to take back to my group the offer of Kapanen, your 1st in 2019, your 2nd in 2020, and your second in 2021. It’s basically just math and probabilities to me. We need to get three NHL players out of the trade. Your 1st 2019 is equivalent to an early 2nd round pick in value. As you know these round categories are pure fiction. They’re arbitrary. After the top 5 picks the datacloud rate of success is a blur. Your 2nd round pick 2020 is also the same as an early 3d round pick due to your team’s projected success path. Let’s focus on a deal for Hamilton. We seem to be on the same page or close enough that we should be able to find a hockey deal here.

Jude: We are down to the nitty gritty as they say and the problem for us becomes if we move Grundstrom he is the heir to Kapanen’s slot based on style etc. We view Carl as a 1st, regardless where he was chosen and as your scouts know he could play in the NHL tomorrow morning. Now I will move both, but I have to hold my 1st for another deal now. Which could be for Ferland but let’s hammer this out. The counter offer now is Kapanen, Grundstrom, a 2nd and a 3rd in 2020.

Doug: Make it Kapanen, Grundstrom, 2nd 2019, 2nd 2020 and we have a deal. It’s a fair hockey deal and saves you a 1st round pick for future deals, including potentially Ferland.

2nd round picks are a crapshoot. Some become superb, but 90% do not become impact players.

Jude: I’ve got to consider our future and sustaining the pipeline here. Our scouts work too hard and we value them too much. I need to give them dice to roll. We would like your 4th this year and 6th in 2020.

Doug: If your offer is Hamilton, our 4th 2019, our 6th 2020, for Kapanen, Grundstrom, your 2nd 2019, your second 2020, I will make that work. I will have to twist arms and I am going to take heat, but I will make it work. It’s a little weighed toward your side of the equation; but no trade is perfectly balanced.

Jude: I have the green light to make this deal. It’s going to be painful for us both. That’s how we know we’ve made a fair trade. I respect the process we’ve gone through here and far as I’m concerned let’s call Central Registry. I believe we have a trade.

Doug: Yes, we have a trade. Let’s put the call in. While your staff does that, is there a deal to be made with Ferland? I love that guy. To be totally blunt about it, I am pressing to have Tom Dundon go for more cash than we are all entirely comfortable going. I am aggressively pushing the re-signing avenue; but obviously if it were unanimous, we’d already have signed Ferland to an extension.

Jude: As it stands we will be looking at cheaper options as a rental. I can put my 1st back on the table but not much else. We have others we are looking at with less market for and cheaper. Circle back or make an offer now.

Doug: We won’t take just a first round pick for Ferland. We already have a better offer we are considering. I can take an offer of your 2019 1st and Johnsson back to the group. I am not convinced they will say yes; but it is about the minimum we would consider.

I am glad we were able to get the deal done with Hamilton. He is going to help you all in the playoffs and in future seasons.

Jude: Yeah Johnny we are keeping. I’ll call back on Ferland but rentals, just not in our wheelhouse at the price. Let me make sure the money works on Dougie and let me call Bobby Mac so he knows first, I owe him one.

Doug: Absolutely. Talk to you soon.

*an hour passes

Jude: Doug we have unfortunate news, but hey possibly not. We will need you to take back an expiring contract you know and like. Ron Hainsey. We don’t want to let him go but his minutes will be going down and we have another deal for a cheap defender. Ron is a soldier and you know he can help your playoff push. For us we just don’t have the spot and to make it work he has to be part of the deal.

Doug: We can take Hainsey back, but it will also require you to add to the deal. Hainsey is an expiring contract which makes it feasible to consider; but we will need more juice to the deal. I suggest you add your 2021 1st for our 2021 second. There is just not that much difference but it’s enough to make it work. Some people get emotionally attached to late first round picks, but the math of it is late first round picks and early 2nd round picks are basically picking between Coke in cans versus Coke in resealable plastic bottles.

Jude: Well then my question becomes if they are so equal in value then why is it something of importance in this point of the negotiations. By adding Hainsey who you could essentially move, we don’t feel anything should be added. We could retain 1 million in salary but initially I asked for a 7th if we added him. I’m not interested in the shifting of picks at this time. Take Hainsey with retention and you have a deal. I’d hate to see it fall apart over this but time is of the essence here. Do we have a trade?

Doug: It’s a good question. I won’t give you the exact math because it’s proprietary, but a late first is marginally better. In any event throw in Ian Scott with Hainsey and we have a deal.

Jude: They say goaltenders are voodoo and who knows but we love Ian Scott and his progress and would never consider him as a throw in. I cannot add him.

Doug: Then tempt me with a prospect or draft pick to take Hainsey. If it were that easy to move Hainsey, you’d move him yourself. He has some value, but realistically we are taking your cap problem in Hainsey. You have to add value to make it work.

Jude: With money retained we could move him, but I’d have to go make that deal and then come back to you and by the time that’s worked out there could be movement elsewhere. You have the pieces you want. I have what I want. Taking Hainsey helps us both facilitate a trade. I cannot in good faith add.

Doug: I am not going to be able to get my group to agree without something more added. How about 2020 3rd round pick?

Jude: 5th.

Doug: 4th and we have a deal.

Jude: Without salary retention, then yes. I will need that space.

Doug: $500,000.00 retained of Hainsey. You afford it. It will give me something to help me with my group. It’s only for the rest of the season, which is less than $250,000.00.

Jude: So the deal is….

To Carolina:

Kapanen

Grundstrom

Hainsey $500,000 retained

2nd in 2019

4th in 2020

To Toronto:

Hamilton

4th in 2019

6th in 2020

We have ourselves a deal.

“That is a major price to pay. I’m certain most in Leafs Nation will consider it an overpayment. As they should, especially on the surface. Allow me to explain why I pulled the trigger here. First, I’m not sure we can keep Kapanen long term. Maybe we can, but let’s just say I’m unsure. Grundstrom and the picks, it’s hefty. But the time is now and our core is in place. A core that is missing a bonafide top 4 or better RD. Now would I take this offer to other teams and go for a Paryako? Likely. But for the purposes of this story and the process we enjoyably endured, Doug Hamilton is our target. As mentioned earlier they say the winner of the deal is who gets the best player in the end. Toronto is a better team after this trade for this year and beyond. Will further moves be needed because of the cap next season? Yes. But I feel it’s doable and our defence not only going forward but today has improved immensely. If we are to believe we have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, then this is a deal that was painful to make but gives us a legitimate chance to go the distance. Special thanks to @dabrams2021 who made a fantastic deal for his club from their standpoint. A deal that we both feel helps our organizations and that is the ultimate goal. Thanks to all of you for reading and following along through this fun and personally enlightening experience.”

Jude MacDonald @JudeLeafs

Virtual GM – Leafs/Canes Complete a Major Trade

What would it look like if two devoted fans pretended to manage their favourite NHL organizations and tried to make a legitimate hockey trade.

Doug Abrams (@dabrams2021) and I have known each other as long as I’ve been involved in online hockey talk. For the purposes of this story, he will take on the role of Hurricanes GM Don Waddell and I will take on the role of Kyle Dubas. I have the same glasses so it should be easy enough. What hopefully will add to the realism of this piece, an attempted trade between two franchises Carolina and Toronto, is the mutual respect I believe we have developed for one another. I say this because it is the same type respect General Managers in the National Hockey League share. There’s only 31 positions and it truly is a fraternity. A job only they or someone who has held one previous can truly understand. In any event, we will try our best to play “Virtual GM” here today.

Doug and I, because of the relationship I’ve eluded to, will be able to talk openly and honestly about our teams, our needs, bearing in mind we are in competition. The following is our attempt to make a deal beneficial to both clubs.

Preliminary talks have somewhat occurred. Negotiations begin.

Jude (Kyle): Doug (Don), you guys are playing well. Congrats on that. As we’ve talked over the past few months I think a mutual interest has been expressed so I’m not calling to waste either of our time today. For us the timeline to make some adjustments or adds to our group is now. Or you of a similar mindset?

Doug: Jude, we both know our teams need and what has to be improved to make a run. It is no secret that my team desires a proven goal scorer. That is why we are talking. You need a right-handed offensive defensive man who can add goals and especially on the power play. I have several irons in the fire. We need to get to a hockey deal now. I am not going to be able to steamroll you and you are not going to be able to steamroll me. It will be a hockey deal of value for value. I need Nylander. I have Faulk available. That is a hockey deal two adults could and should make.

Jude: No, absolutely. We are in the same boat. That’s why I called this morning and this isn’t our usual dance. The music has stopped and we are fielding and making calls as well that are beyond the opening stage. But this aside, it’s you and I talking now. As for our needs, I’m not sure Justin checks the boxes for us. He does the ones you’ve outlined but if we are discussing William’s name that’s not a player we are currently interested in. That’s not to say we couldn’t use him or value him.

Doug: For Faulk, he has dramatically improved his defensive awareness. He has a cannon. You don’t have that kind of offensive defenseman and you will need him for a playoff run. It is obvious to me that your Leafs have real chemistry. It has the feel of the 2005-2006 Hurricanes as long as your goalie, Andersen, stays healthy and as long as Matthews and Marner stay healthy. Rule 101 of winning the Stanley Cup is to load up when your team has the momentum. For Faulk, what deal are you offering me? I have enough Leafs’ hats and sweaters in my closet, so thanks but no thanks for that part of the offer.

Jude: Well those are always included. Call it a freebie. With Justin I don’t disagree, we have our own scouts and staff. I think what may be an issue here in trading for him is I’m not sure I can take away from our current roster in order to add him. My offer largely would revolve around futures and I’m not sure that suits you. In order to take from my team and offer scoring your team desperately lacks the conversation would have to grow. I can make an offer, however.

Doug: We are not interested in moving Faulk just for futures. We have impressive talent in Charlotte. We have some guys over in Europe who are developing well. Our present lack of scoring is an issue that our prospects will solve in time. We are talking about the present. I am open to tangible offers. It’s time to move to offers. We both know where our teams are and what we need now, not in the future. This trade will only work if I am building my team now and also for the future. I can’t use a rental player. Our team is not there yet. Your team is. The salary cap monster is heading your way like the Ice King. Everybody knows that, including you. So make me a hockey deal offer.

Jude: Oh we both know where our teams are. Scary cap talk won’t advance things along, I can assure you I’m the least worried of the 31 managers it seems but also, yes, I am a realist. And we are both interested in a hockey trade, first and foremost. Your pipeline may be great and it is, but gamebreakers are not there and we know this. But now we are getting off topic into assessing each other. Michael Ferland. Are you making him available or listening there?

Doug: Ferland is a beast. He and his agent are still a little out of our assessed value; but I want to make a deal with him. If somebody comes up with an offer we can’t refuse, well, obviously we won’t refuse. The truth is if this were two seasons later and we had Necas, Kuokkanen, Roy, Saarela, Bean, and Fox, among some of our guys, at their NHL game, I’d say no way we would ever consider trading Ferland. He is a guy who is made for the playoffs. Tough, fast, great hands, competitive, eager to drop the gloves to protect his teammates. So if you make me a deal that takes all that into account – and also takes into account the value of a rental player, then sure. Remember what Doug Weight and Mark Recchi did for the Hurricanes? The Canes would never have won the Cup without their play and without their leadership. Ferland is that kind of guy for the playoffs for your team. Marner and Matthews will need Ferland.

Jude: Look, I’ll be straight. Our staff and myself value Ferland. Is it immediate scoring you want for him or does his status change that? Also you know people talk. There’s a feeling Adam Fox is headed for free agency. Is there a chance we include him in something bigger?

Doug: You will want to make an offer soon. As you might imagine, my emails are blowing up and my cell phone texts look like I’m a movie star. It’s crazy.

Jude: Yeah to be honest Lawrence (AGM) is on a call here beside me which could swing what we do. For Ferland I can offer Jeremy Bracco, a 2nd and a 2020 3rd.

Doug: As you know from dealing with me, I never take offense at any suggested deal. That is the nature of our business. If that were the going rate for Ferland, I’d have already traded Ferland. I have better deals on the table now. Ferland is a rare breed. You can’t find another guy like him even potentially available. Ferland is going to take Nylander and a 2019 2nd and a real prospect. We can discuss the prospect. I’d consider but will have to run by our management team, Kapanen, your 2019 1st and your 2020 2nd. I am not sure I can sell that to my group. It would at least be an offer we’d consider. Bracco is a fine young prospect, but we have Necas, Kuokkanen, Roy, Saarela, Gauthier. We are fine there. I can sell my group on Nylander, a 2019 second and a serious prospect. The good news for you is that with Nylander being out for so long, he is not close to his real game and it may well be 2020 and after a full preseason that he gets to his NHL game. As such, for this run, you’ll miss him less. You might well be able to sign Ferland with the savings you get on trading Nylander and Kapanen does a lot of what Nylander does.

Jude: The savings, eh. Well your counter offer was probably as out in left field as my initial one. Lol, so good on you I deserved it. If Willy’s name even comes up than Doug Hamilton’s does too. What’s going on there, Doug? Why is his name coming up? AGAIN. I mean these are guys you just acquired but we have interest there as well. Significant.

Doug: Hamilton is a guy we can make available. Hamilton has been excellent. It did take a him a little while to figure out the style he needed to play for us. Probably part of that is we see Brind’Amour as a rising star as a head coach, but he’s getting on the job training. We think Brind’Amour will be worth it. He and Hamilton needed to get on the same page. They have now and it shows. We have Pesce and Faulk; and we love Adam Fox and Bean. We can afford to talk about trading Hamilton. So what is your offer for Ferland and Hamilton. You know it is going to take a wagonload of talent coming back for us to make that trade of Ferland and Hamilton. You also probably want to pause a moment and consider what your competitors will look like if and when they add Ferland and Hamilton. If you were a GM of another playoff team that is dead serious about getting the Cup, you would be licking your chops at the idea of adding those two guys for a serious run at winning the Stanley Cup.

Jude: Can I put you on hold for a minute, Doug?

Doug: I’ve got another phone conference with another team in five minutes. Let’s get some concrete offers going so we both have something definite to bring back to our management group. If we are offering you Hamilton and Ferland, what is the best, last offer you can give me to take to sell to my group?

Jude: Okay, I’ve already considered all angles and competition and before we consummate I’d need final approval from Brendan and ownership. I know what you need, you know what I need. I know you covet William. I need to have one more talk with our capologist, but we are possibly willing to trade Nylander for that return.

Doug: Sounds great. It was a productive discussion. Let’s talk tomorrow or Wednesday.

As you can all see, it’s very difficult to make a trade today. Especially one of such magnitude. If Toronto or for arguments sake myself were to make this deal the Leafs would still have over $4.5 million dollars in cap space without using Long Term Injury Reserve. I won’t delve too far into the cap figures and I could be wrong. It’s not my speciality and if this were “real” someone would be hired to do that for us. But let’s take a look at what the Maple Leafs roster would look like after a blockbuster such as proposed. Arrange as you see fit. Nothing is official in our created scenario. Only the framework is in place, but the main parts are somewhat established or brought to the table. Would you consider this offer?

Thanks to and follow @CapFriendly

*After a call made by Toronto later in the day, talks have resumed.

Jude: Hey Doug. I knew we said we’d talk in the next couple days, but I have some movement pending. After deliberating, our feeling is William would be something to possibly re-visit in the summer. For us we’ve come out and said Nylander is a big part of our future. And we meant it. The winner of a trade they say is who gets the best player and in this deal although it’s a great framework for a deal, I have to pull 29 off the table. But I’m looking to deal and we would like Michael Ferland, Adam Fox, and we’d be interested in CMac if you are interested in our young goaltender Garret Sparks.

Doug: Jude, I understand about Nylander. We may have some other guys we are looking at. To be blunt, Nylander’s slump is a little bit of cold water on the deal for us as well. He should bounce back, but that is a ton of money for a player if he gets complacent. Adam Fox is a no go. We believe we will sign it and he was quietly a key piece of our deal with Calgary.

Ferland, yes, for the right price. McElhinney we can talk about; but again to be blunt, he has vastly exceeded all expectations and we finally have stable goalkeeping.

Jude: Yeah it wouldn’t be the time to move William at a low point for us and we see signs he’s going to be everything we hoped. As for Adam, that’s why we asked. Lol, our group loves him too. Justin Faulk we had discussed but again it’s the boxes. Now normally I’d want a player with term but in the case of Ferland, he just fits for us. We are very serious and have no issue moving our 1st, Sparks and Bracco for Michael and Curtis.

Doug: It is still not a deal we can make right now. Ferland would take your 1st rd & Kapanen to make it worth doing. We can get a player at Bracco’s level & a 1st round pick from teams for whom the 1st round pick is going to be much near the top 10 than the Leaf’s #1 pick. We track you out as picking perhaps #20 to #31; it’s a sliding scale of probabilities with #23-#28 the most likely. That’s just how we grade your Leafs out. You could make a huge run if you get some help for the stretch. We know that. I imagine you are talking to us because you know it, too.

I would have to take a deal of Sparks and your 2nd round pick for McElhinney very, very seriously. I would need to have our analytics folks dig into it and get back to my group on Sparks.

Jude: Kapanen we need for our run. He’s proven in the clutch and plays fast and heavy, the reasons we want Ferland. The goaltending we aren’t interested in unless it was something you wanted. Which it doesn’t sound like you are in need. So what about Pesce? Pesce and Ferland if Kapanen is involved and I can do, a 1st, Kappy, Bracco and more.

Doug: LOL. I figured you were heady enough that eventually you would start asking about Pesce. I am not trading Pesce, Slavin, Aho, Teravainen, Necas unless your guys are ready to be steamrolled in a deal you lose so badly you would be fired. Slavin and Pesce are the best defensive duo in the NHL. I can’t help it if they are still under the radar. Bracco, as I mentioned before, is fine but we have what we need in that level of player, and honestly better than Bracco, as we grade him out, in Charlotte with Necas, Kuokkanen, Roy, Gauthier, Saarela. We have some guys even more under the radar in Charlotte who are equally intriguing to us.

So to get Ferland, it’s got to be a real deal prospect and your 1st round pick 2019. Giving up a comparable young player to guys we already have doesn’t move the needle for us.

Jude: I completely understand and don’t mean to waste your night, I just have a trade pending. I’m not sure we have the fit for a deal if a roster player or top tier prospect is required for Ferland. The 1st is there for you and if you don’t get the deal you want we can talk about the prospect you’d like to add. But as of now we can’t move our best like Liljegren as we will need cost effective youth soon.

Doug: Carl Grundstrom intrigues me. For Ferland, I could take back to our group an offer of your 1st 2019, Carl Grundstrom, and your 2nd 2020. It’s not a deal I totally love; but I could at least tell the group we need to churn the data. Grundstrom has some grit to his game. We need to end the era of the Carolina Candy Canes. We know that. You know that. The entire NHL knows that. Ferland is one of those guys who has brought physicality and a mean streak to the Canes. I, for one, am pushing to get Ferland signed to an extension if we can get his agent to chill a little bit and let us make a deal that works. That is my preference. If you guys want to talk seriously about Hamilton, I’m fine with that discussion. It all depends how much you are serious about adding pieces for a Cup run or if you are more on a tour boat state of mind, seeing the great views. There are arguments on both sides of adding or not. It just depends what state of mind your group has.

Jude: Ok, I’m going to hold off on any movement. I will go back to the staff and take the night to arrange a hard offer to present by 9:00am. Always a pleasure and nothing but respect.

Doug: Again a great and insightful discussion. We will talk tomorrow and see if we can find a hockey deal that is a win-win. You know I love where your team is. I both logically and with my heart see you all as capable of doing real damage in the playoffs. I don’t want to create an Eastern Conference monster, but there is a part of me that would like to find a win-win just to see how far you guys get. We might be meeting you in the playoffs. Crazier things have happened.

Jude: Doug, you know I want to make a deal for both of us, you know me. I feel our time is now and I also know exactly where you’re program is headed. Let’s help each other get where we want to be. Talk in the morning!

Doug: Talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight.

*Toronto has held internal meetings and have long realized their need. The cost will be high and surely to be scrutinized. It is however as they say The price of doing business.”

Jude: Doug, apologies it took a while to get back on this. Just like yourself we’ve been talking with basically everyone. With so many balls in the air I’d really like to focus on a defender if we may. Our interest for the time being is in Doug Hamilton. We’ve done our homework and believe you are making him available solely because your right side is set with more to come. Kapanen, our 1st, and next year’s 2nd is on the table. Perhaps we can talk about Ferland but this is our offer. I will need to look once more at our cap as we may need to send a contract as well, but this is the offer. Hamilton is a luxury you don’t necessarily need and Kapanen is something you do.

Doug: Works for us as well. We need to either make a deal or respectfully turn the page knowing we both gave it our best efforts. Hamilton is a guy we can make available just because we have so much talent at RH dmen. Let’s talk about Hamilton. I can live with Kapanen, your 2019 1st, and Grundstrom. We like that kid and he is closer to the NHL than a 2nd round pick would be. I would be willing, reluctantly, to take back to my group the offer of Kapanen, your 1st in 2019, your 2nd in 2020, and your second in 2021. It’s basically just math and probabilities to me. We need to get three NHL players out of the trade. Your 1st 2019 is equivalent to an early 2nd round pick in value. As you know these round categories are pure fiction. They’re arbitrary. After the top 5 picks the datacloud rate of success is a blur. Your 2nd round pick 2020 is also the same as an early 3d round pick due to your team’s projected success path. Let’s focus on a deal for Hamilton. We seem to be on the same page or close enough that we should be able to find a hockey deal here.

Jude: We are down to the nitty gritty as they say and the problem for us becomes if we move Grundstrom he is the heir to Kapanen’s slot based on style etc. We view Carl as a 1st, regardless where he was chosen and as your scouts know he could play in the NHL tomorrow morning. Now I will move both, but I have to hold my 1st for another deal now. Which could be for Ferland but let’s hammer this out. The counter offer now is Kapanen, Grundstrom, a 2nd and a 3rd in 2020.

Doug: Make it Kapanen, Grundstrom, 2nd 2019, 2nd 2020 and we have a deal. It’s a fair hockey deal and saves you a 1st round pick for future deals, including potentially Ferland.

2nd round picks are a crapshoot. Some become superb, but 90% do not become impact players.

Jude: I’ve got to consider our future and sustaining the pipeline here. Our scouts work too hard and we value them too much. I need to give them dice to roll. We would like your 4th this year and 6th in 2020.

Doug: If your offer is Hamilton, our 4th 2019, our 6th 2020, for Kapanen, Grundstrom, your 2nd 2019, your second 2020, I will make that work. I will have to twist arms and I am going to take heat, but I will make it work. It’s a little weighed toward your side of the equation; but no trade is perfectly balanced.

Jude: I have the green light to make this deal. It’s going to be painful for us both. That’s how we know we’ve made a fair trade. I respect the process we’ve gone through here and far as I’m concerned let’s call Central Registry. I believe we have a trade.

Doug: Yes, we have a trade. Let’s put the call in. While your staff does that, is there a deal to be made with Ferland? I love that guy. To be totally blunt about it, I am pressing to have Tom Dundon go for more cash than we are all entirely comfortable going. I am aggressively pushing the re-signing avenue; but obviously if it were unanimous, we’d already have signed Ferland to an extension.

Jude: As it stands we will be looking at cheaper options as a rental. I can put my 1st back on the table but not much else. We have others we are looking at with less market for and cheaper. Circle back or make an offer now.

Doug: We won’t take just a first round pick for Ferland. We already have a better offer we are considering. I can take an offer of your 2019 1st and Johnsson back to the group. I am not convinced they will say yes; but it is about the minimum we would consider.

I am glad we were able to get the deal done with Hamilton. He is going to help you all in the playoffs and in future seasons.

Jude: Yeah Johnny we are keeping. I’ll call back on Ferland but rentals, just not in our wheelhouse at the price. Let me make sure the money works on Dougie and let me call Bobby Mac so he knows first, I owe him one.

Doug: Absolutely. Talk to you soon.

*an hour passes

Jude: Doug we have unfortunate news, but hey possibly not. We will need you to take back an expiring contract you know and like. Ron Hainsey. We don’t want to let him go but his minutes will be going down and we have another deal for a cheap defender. Ron is a soldier and you know he can help your playoff push. For us we just don’t have the spot and to make it work he has to be part of the deal.

Doug: We can take Hainsey back, but it will also require you to add to the deal. Hainsey is an expiring contract which makes it feasible to consider; but we will need more juice to the deal. I suggest you add your 2021 1st for our 2021 second. There is just not that much difference but it’s enough to make it work. Some people get emotionally attached to late first round picks, but the math of it is late first round picks and early 2nd round picks are basically picking between Coke in cans versus Coke in resealable plastic bottles.

Jude: Well then my question becomes if they are so equal in value then why is it something of importance in this point of the negotiations. By adding Hainsey who you could essentially move, we don’t feel anything should be added. We could retain 1 million in salary but initially I asked for a 7th if we added him. I’m not interested in the shifting of picks at this time. Take Hainsey with retention and you have a deal. I’d hate to see it fall apart over this but time is of the essence here. Do we have a trade?

Doug: It’s a good question. I won’t give you the exact math because it’s proprietary, but a late first is marginally better. In any event throw in Ian Scott with Hainsey and we have a deal.

Jude: They say goaltenders are voodoo and who knows but we love Ian Scott and his progress and would never consider him as a throw in. I cannot add him.

Doug: Then tempt me with a prospect or draft pick to take Hainsey. If it were that easy to move Hainsey, you’d move him yourself. He has some value, but realistically we are taking your cap problem in Hainsey. You have to add value to make it work.

Jude: With money retained we could move him, but I’d have to go make that deal and then come back to you and by the time that’s worked out there could be movement elsewhere. You have the pieces you want. I have what I want. Taking Hainsey helps us both facilitate a trade. I cannot in good faith add.

Doug: I am not going to be able to get my group to agree without something more added. How about 2020 3rd round pick?

Jude: 5th.

Doug: 4th and we have a deal.

Jude: Without salary retention, then yes. I will need that space.

Doug: $500,000.00 retained of Hainsey. You afford it. It will give me something to help me with my group. It’s only for the rest of the season, which is less than $250,000.00.

Jude: So the deal is….

Kapanen

Grundstrom

Hainsey $500,000 retained

2nd in 2019

2nd in 2020

4th in 2020

Hamilton

4th in 2019

6th in 2020

We have ourselves a deal.

“That is a major price to pay. I’m certain most in Leafs Nation will consider it an overpayment. As they should, especially on the surface. Allow me to explain why I pulled the trigger here. First, I’m not sure we can keep Kapanen long term. Maybe we can, but let’s just say I’m unsure. Grundstrom and the picks, it’s hefty. But the time is now and our core is in place. A core that is missing a bonafide top 4 or better RD. Now would I take this offer to other teams and go for a Paryako? Likely. But for the purposes of this story and the process we enjoyably endured, Doug Hamilton is our target. As mentioned earlier they say the winner of the deal is who gets the best player in the end. Toronto is a better team after this trade for this year and beyond. Will further moves be needed because of the cap next season? Yes. But I feel it’s doable and our defence not only going forward but today has improved immensely. If we are to believe we have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, then this is a deal that was painful to make but gives us a legitimate chance to go the distance. Special thanks to @dabrams2021 who made a fantastic deal for his club from their standpoint. A deal that we both feel helps our organizations and that is the ultimate goal. Thanks to all of you for reading and following along through this fun and personally enlightening experience.”

Jude MacDonald @JudeLeafs

Shuffling The Deck On D

By @Hockey_Hooligan – Dan “Boomer” Cavanaugh

It’d be easy to write five paragraphs hammering on the 51-22 pairing after Saturday. And if we are being honest, many instances this season. As for last game, the words write themselves. On a night, much like other nights, they were the Leafs goat-horn pairing. But too often we see scribes and even ourselves line up knuckles and pound on the obvious punching bags:

I’d like to make more use of my time and come up with some possible solutions to change the script. I’m sure the fan base and media alike would love to change the story line of their post game discussions too, so here we go.

You’re probably basically stuck with that anvil contract of Zaitsev’s and if they’re not trading for an upgrade on defense the coaching staff is going to have to find some better balance in the pairings.

Ideally you respectfully put Zaitsev and Hainsey on a rocket to the fucking sun, but that’s not gonna happen.

Knowing Dermott has/can play and has had some past success on right side. I’d try…

Rielly/Dermott

Gardiner/Oz

Hainsey-Zaitsev

That 3rd pairing looks like a disaster but Zaitsev showed in his rookie year and in international competition that he’s more than capable of playing more offensive. He’s been terrible when he has to stop and think about the safe play or how to get it to Gardiner. He needs to play more instinctive. What he’s being asked to do isn’t working for him, and it never will so why not utilize his strengths? Let him be the puck mover on his own pairing. Maybe he doesn’t resemble a transition player now but my bet is he improves in this facet versus lesser competition, without the responsibility of taking on the NHL’s best. Hainsey will provide the defensive consciousness of the duo. In addition they are already a unit on the PK.

Mo and Dermott are a double barrell shotgun. Rielly has officially arrived and Dermott is ready to handle the increased role. Many teams have success loading up their top pair. This pairing has the potential to be something special assuming Dermott can handle big minutes playing his off side. I’m not sure if asking a 2nd year defenseman to play his off side on a top pairing is the right solution, but here we are.

I think Oz does a better job of getting the puck to his partner under pressure than Zaitsev. He’s also had, by all appearances, more success getting the puck out of the zone when his partner isn’t an option. I think he and Gardiner could be a great fit together. I’m not sure asking a player in his first season in North America if he’s ready to be Gardiner’s defensive conscious but again, here we are.

Mind you none of this matters if your forwards group isn’t fully committed to their defensive responsibilities. That 2nd, 3rd and 4th effort on puck battles is a necessity not just some cliché solution from the coach.

Tiring and more often wrong is continuously blaming only the defensive breakdowns. There’s been plenty of goals against this year where it was a play made or not made by a forward that ended up being the event that precipitated the goal/chance(s) against but the defenseman ended up wearing the goat horns mentioned at the outset because he’s the last guy seen on a play before the puck goes in the net.

Babcock preaches 5 man units and how you won’t have success unless you have buy ins from all 5. He’s not wrong. The Leafs problem is a few times too often they’re only getting buy ins from 3 or 4 guys. Whether thats an issue with the player still not fully understanding what his job is or poor execution I’m not sure.

With all that being said, barring a trade, it’s time to shake up the D.

Reverse The Curse

On May 13, 2013, we all collectively sank into our couch cushions as Patrice Bergeron flipped the puck over a fallen James Reimer to complete an unfathomable game seven comeback for the Boston Bruins, and send our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs home defeated. On that night, many in Leafs Nation developed some deep scar tissue that haunts them to this day. Like a jilted lover who has been cheated on by an ex and now believes that everyone will do the same, we believe that every time the Leafs meet the Bruins, especially in the playoffs, it will end the same way. It’s time to get some therapy, get back out there and realize that just because it happened then (and okay last year too but hear me out), doesn’t mean it will happen now. Here is a list of reason why the 2013 loss to the Bruins is completely irrelevant to anything that may happen in 2019

1. The teams have changed.

In the case of the Leafs, there are only two holdovers from the lockout shortened 2013 season, Nazem Kadri, and Jake Gardiner, both of whom were 22 years old, with less than 100 games of NHL experience at the time, and weren’t exactly players that Randy Carlyle was leaning on to play huge minutes down the stretch on that fateful night, although Kadri did have a goal and an assist in the game. Boston has a few more players remaining, with five, six if you include Torey Krug, who didn’t play in game 7 but were on the roster. The remaining Bruins were almost all key players in the outcome with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask all playing important roles for the team then and now. Still these are almost completely new rosters at this point, complete with new coaches, general managers, even new national anthem singers. The Leafs even have a new logo! Aside from the seven players mentioned above, the only thing that remains the same are the team names and locations.

2. The Leafs have regularly beaten the Bruins since 2016-17

Of the 12 regular season meetings between the Leafs and Bruins since the debuts of Nylander, Marner, and Matthews, the Leafs have won eight. It’s unclear where the myth that the Leafs can’t beat the Bruins came from, but it’s exactly that, a myth. It seems as though it may have gained some steam because of the four losses in that time frame, three of them were particularly ugly. There was the 4-1 defeat in Boston last year where Mike Babcock insisted on matching Auston Matthews against Patrice Bergeron, and it did not go well. There was a 5-1 defeat earlier this year where the Leafs played what amounted to a scheduled loss on the second half of a back to back traveling to Boston to face a rested Bruins team, and there was an inexplicable 6-3 beatdown that probably wasn’t as close as the score indicated about a month ago in Boston. Throw in a couple of ugly playoff defeats (huge…know, I know) at TD Garden last year, and we have ourselves a genuine complex growing here. The one thing that these losses have in common is that they’ve all occurred in Boston. As it currently stands, the Leafs would have home ice advantage in a playoff matchup with the Bruins, and Toronto has won six of eight home games against the Bruins including playoffs in this time span.

3. Teams often “Reverse the Curse”

Going into last year’s playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins had beaten the Washington Capitals in two straight playoffs, both series had gone seven games, and Pittsburgh found a way to move on. Sound familiar? Well, with few people actually giving them a chance, the Washington

Capitals found a way to slay the dragon and beat Pittsburgh, advancing past their nemesis and ultimately going on to win the Stanley Cup. In 2016, the San Jose Sharks had been eliminated in consecutive playoff appearances by the Los Angeles Kings, in 2013 and 2014. When the two teams met in the first round of the 15-16 playoffs, many expected more of the same, however the Sharks handily defeated the Kings in five games en route to a Stanley Cup finals appearance. Does this mean the Leafs will definitely knock the off the Bruins if they meet again in this year’s playoffs? No, but it proves that teams regularly manage to overcome a foe that has had their number in the past.

The Boston Bruins are a good hockey team, and they will certainly be difficult for anyone, including the Toronto Maple Leafs to take down in a playoff series, where anything short of murder will essentially go unpunished by officials. This doesn’t negate the fact that the Bruins are not some mythical bugaboo, sent by an ancient medicine man to curse the Leafs from experiencing playoff glory. They’re a good hockey team, just like they were in 2013, but that’s the main similarity between then and now. The difference is, in 2013 the Leafs were overmatched in every way, whereas now, they’re essentially equals, battling the Bruins tooth and nail for home ice advantage when the seemingly inevitable playoff matchup arrives. John Tavares vs Patrice Bergeron, Mitch Marner vs David Pastrnak, Society vs Brad Marchand, these are glorious power on power matchups. There are many questions that need to be answered before the outcome of a Leafs/Bruins series is known. Can Andersen outduel Rask? Can Matthews and Nylander find their scoring touch against Boston now that they won’t see as much of Chara? Will Morgan Rielly’s dynamic offensive flair be a blessing, or a curse? Can Jake Gardiner find redemption after his brutal game seven last season. Can Nazem Kadri Keep his head on straight, and exploit the more sheltered matchups he’s likely to see now that Tavares is a Leaf. Will Mike Babcock out coach Bruce Cassidy? Can the Leafs finally get over the hurdle that’s plagued them for six years now? Will the “It was 4-1” joke finally die the horrible death it deserves? To paraphrase something that a wise man recently said, they can, and it will.

Do the Maple Leafs Need “Toughness” or “Grit”?

By Doug Doucette

Much has been made about the Leafs immediate need to get tougher, to get grittier, to be harder to play against. But after decades of staged brawls and open ice hits, clutching and grabbing, has our sense of what that means become out of touch with what today’s game has become?

Toronto are currently the least penalized team in the National Hockey League. And some naysayers might look at that and feel as though it signifies a significant lack of toughness. What’s more likely is that the speed and skill with which they play doesn’t invite mass physicality in any way. How many times have we seen Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews spin off of a check down low and carry on with the puck like the defender was never even there?

I submit, that what this team needs isn’t exactly the kind of toughness that you saw on your television screen ten or even five years ago. What the team is short of, is more of what a guy like Zach Hyman brings to the table. His feet are constantly moving. He engages defenders along the back wall and forces them into 50/50 battles for the puck. And while they can call them 50/50 battles all they want, when it’s a guy like Hyman going after it, with sheer will and determination he comes away with the puck far more often than half the time.

Even if you look back into the 1990’s you’ll find guys like this on every single championship team. Detroit did it with Draper and Maltby. The Devils had Pandolfo and Madden. The Stars had Langenbrunner. And last season we saw the impact that Tom Wilson makes, albeit with one foot still in the open ice hitting era.

So who’s out there, potentially on the move before February’s trade deadline that can bring this type of play? Who can we go out and get to slap on the wing of the Matthews or Kadri line? Let’s take a quick look.

Wayne Simmonds in Philadelphia is probably the most obvious answer. The Flyers are an absolute mess and a contract extension doesn’t appear to be in the future for the 30 year old winger. Simmonds is slightly off of the 30 goal pace for the second straight season, but he brings so much more to the table than just goal scoring. With the struggles of the Flyers and an uncertain future, you should be able to count on that pace to pick up once he inevitably finds himself in new colours. The one down side to a Toronto acquisition of Simmonds is that his natural side is on the right wing, where the Leafs already have Marner, Nylander and Kapanen. It’s not a stretch that any of the four could move, but it’s worth mentioning.

Luke Glendening is a name that was floated around at the trade deadline last season. A favourite of Mike Babcock’s during his time in Detroit, Glendening should come a much lower price than the more highly touted Simmonds, but also offers much less in the way of size and scoring. Still, Glendening is a pain to play against and often see’s minutes in tough situations. He also plays the right side, but could more easily slide into a fourth line role with Connor Brown on the left side and see increased ice time as the game goes on. We’ve seen Babcock limit the minutes of guys like Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander in the last minutes of a close game with the lead.

Alexander Steen is certainly familiar to Leafs fans. Although it’s been a decade since we’ve seen Steen in the blue and white, and the best play of his career appears to be behind him, he’s still an effective player who can play in all situations. He’s also a natural centre who has seen most of his time on the left side when playing the wing. The major issue when it comes to Steen is the two years remaining on his contract after this season. If St. Louis is interested in retaining salary to obtain a bigger return, or in taking back a contract from the Leafs, this could be an interesting target come deadline day.

Kyle Clifford in Los Angeles is another left winger with some term left on his contract, but in his case it’s only one year at a modest $1.6mil, a completely manageable number for any team. The 27 year old Ontario by has never been known for his offensive output. He’s likely another one of those guys that you would see end up in the fourth line role who moves up as the game goes on, but his big body and determination down low cannot be disputed. The Kings have been circling the bowl all year long, and despite poor seasons from Ottawa, Philadelphia and Detroit are currently last in the league. It’s fair to assume they’ll move anyone that isn’t nailed down.

And that brings up another name from LaLa Land. Trevor Lewis has been out for much of the season with a foot injury, which require surgery back in early December. Now that he’s nearing a return for the Kings, they could look to move him and his modest contract (one more year at $2mil) out for future pieces at minimal cost.

Michael Ferland in Carolina has made headlines as of late due to his on going contract negotiations. The Hurricanes acquired Ferlund with Dougie Hamilton in the Noah Hanafin trade this summer and he’s performed at roughly the same level with the perennial offensively challenged Hurricanes as he did with the Flames. That’s likely not the scenario that the Hurricanes hoped for when they acquired him. Ferlund is 26 and has dealt with some concussion issues throughout his short career. The price tag to acquire him could be high, and the risk of losing him in the offseason if his demands get too high is ever present, but he brings strength on the puck at a high rate of speed and has the skill to play with the Leaf’s top end players.

The possibility is always there that this issue is addressed in house, with improved play by those currently in the line up. Frederik Gauthier and Connor Brown seem to have developed some fore checking chemistry on the fourth line, but whether or not they could be trusted with more minutes and more important minutes remains to be seen. Andreas Johnsson has shown a willingness to go into the dirty areas since being given an opportunity on the Matthews line, but does he have the ability to do it over a prolonged period of time, and can he continue to do it consistently in the trenches of playoff hockey? Nazem Kadri has more to give, the struggling centre looks lost some nights when the puck goes into the offensive zone, and he hasn’t shown an increased desire to go and get it for himself.

The most important thing to remember is that The Leafs are a good team. Just like they are right now, they are and have been for much of the season, in second place in the conference. With a nearly inevitable match up with Boston waiting in the first round, it’s easy to look forward and think that they have to do something drastic. And while I’m sure Kyle Dubas and company would love to add another right handed shooting defenceman and a big body forward, they don’t have to overpay to do it. This is still a young and ever improving team that took the Bruins to game seven last year. It’s not unfair to expect that they will enter the playoffs this season, older, wiser and stronger.

On Online Abuse, Moving Goal Posts, and Tempering Expectations

William Nylander signed his seven year, $6.96M contract December 1, 2018, within minutes of the deadline that would’ve seen him sit out the NHL season and resume contract negotiations in the summer. The contract was summarily evaluated as a good deal for both sides by the Twittersphere, a place where people tend to disagree on everything. Sports Twitter has done its part to normalize microaggressions and enable personal attackers masquerading as professional critics, but that day seemed almost uniformly excited and encouraged by the Nylander contract. Facebook (obviously) and Instagram would tell a different story. On the Maple Leafs official Instagram’s post announcing they’d signed Willy, you’ll find this series of comments from five different users: “Trade him”, “Buy out Nylander and trade him for a defenseman and prospects”, “Spineless team”, “Greedy bastard”, “Could’ve already worn it for 28 games”.

Besides being rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of labour negotiations, the negative commentary is intrinsically ironic. Read “Trade him”, “Spineless team”, and “Greedy bastard”. I can’t imagine these posters would say similar things online of the people they know; their friends and family, for example. As these aren’t performance-based criticisms, they very quickly shift into the realm of personal criticisms. What we know, based on quotes from Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and Jake Gardiner, is the players read what’s posted online. We don’t object to this sort of online bullying with nearly as much vitriol as we should. The Maple Leafs are not spineless for having settled on a number $1.6M or so under the rumoured ask. William Nylander is not greedy for having bargained for his dues in a league where his labour rights until age 26 are determined by how shitty his drafting team was in the season prior to, and the order in which a set of ping pong balls fell. You can’t buy a player out and then trade him for a defenceman and prospects (??) and, no, William Nylander couldn’t have worn the Maple Leaf in the team’s 28 games prior to his signing, at least without sacrificing almost $10M dollars over a seven-year period.

It’s easy for Joe Average to type away at the keyboard in criticism of a professional athlete, especially because before the age of the internet, online posts were projections in an echo-chamber. Nobody was listening. In 2019, athletes are accessible. They have socials profiles to which they post their daily routines, and the veil of superstardom has fallen to position these athletes as normal people, rather than secretive, inaccessible idols impervious to our online bullying. If we grant it to be true that hockey is just a business, and thus that all criticisms of hockey players online are professional in nature, then it must follow that whatever steps William Nylander has taken to secure his place in in this league, with its average player age dropping year-over-year, with mainstreamed discussion of CTE and musculoskeletal injuries and their effects, are also professional in nature. You cannot take his holdout as a personal affront, engage in online character assassination, and then claim your attacks aren’t personal. Online, targeted harassment is unacceptable. We must be better.

Moving on.

It’s fair, I think, that we expect more from William Nylander going forward. The goal posts have very recently shifted and so too have expectations. That said, any decent strength and conditioning coach, sport scientist, or functional kinesiologist would’ve issued a disclaimer on Nylander’s return with a very high degree of confidence that he’d be underperforming for a period about four-to-six weeks. This is the nature of athletic performance. I have a formal educational background in functional anatomy and worked as a strength and conditioning coach for high school and university athletes for several years. A central tenet in exercise programming from the father of exercise periodization, Tudor Bompa, is that anatomical adaption, or the intentional, forced adaption of the human body to the requirements of a specific sport, demands priority be placed on agonist and antagonist (opposing) muscular balance.

The skating pattern and positional setting over the mid/forefoot to place your hockey stick on the ice demands a lot from the agonist dorsal flexors (top muscles) in your ankle and femoral extensors (quadriceps), but less so from the antagonist plantar flexors (bottom foot muscles) and femoral flexors (hamstrings). In training, Nylander would’ve worked on agonist and antagonist balance, focusing on injury prevention and the negotiations between muscles in the body in “hockey moves”. The reason he looks bigger this year is because he is; he’s spent significantly more time working on muscular hypertrophy and muscular balancing than in years past, when in the four months between August and December he’d have been playing hockey at NHL speed, and focusing his training around game, travel, and practice schedules. His plantar flexors and femoral extensors would’ve already grown dominant, and he’d look more comfortable in stride. Instead, the player is dealing with musculoskeletal soreness from an exercise stimulus that the rest of his team and competitors dealt with in August. It stands to reason his first few weeks would’ve been unduly difficult.

Moving into mid-January, William Nylander is playing well, his isolated impacts and team results the last few weeks bearing this out. The Athletic and stats-based Leafs blogs have produced enough Willy stats content to fill a day’s reading. What I offer is this: William Nylander’s weeks-long underperformance was to be expected. It was normal! His body has, necessarily, taken time to adapt to the pace and schedule of what is unequivocally the fastest league for the fastest sport in the world. The goal posts coming into the new year have shifted. We should expect more from William Nylander in 2019, and the underlying metrics tell the story of a player who’s playing well in a luck slump. My bet is he explodes for some offence sometime soon, because what we know to be true is his body has adapted to the speed and rigours of the NHL game, and his play on the ice is steadily improving.

Regardless of what happens, Leafs Nation has no excuse to attack him personally. He’s trying his best. I can guarantee you that.

 @jakebeleafs

 

How Frederik Gauthier Survived Brendan Shanahan’s ‘Scorched Earth’ Rebuild

Frederik Gauthier has been a polarizing figure in Leafs Nation since former general manager, Dave Nonis, selected him with the 21st overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. From the moment he was chosen “The Goat” was deemed a “safe pick” by scouts and draft analysts. Gauthier earned that distinction having already shown a propensity for strong defensive play in his rookie season with Rimouski of the QMJHL and scouts believed that he would at least be able to fill a depth role in the NHL, even if his offensive game didn’t show any significant progression. Many fans and pundits alike criticized the Leafs for using a first round selection on a player who was perceived as perhaps not having a very high offensive ceiling, which was understandable given the state of the franchise at the time.

Gauthier was drafted by the Leafs after his rookie season in the QMJHL where he produced 22 goals and 38 assists for 60 points in 62 games. Those were decent numbers for a rookie but his play away from the puck is what propelled him to becoming a first round selection in the NHL draft. Leafs fans will remember that through the Brian Burke and Dave Nonis years, the organization had a very clear philosophy for building their forward group. There was an emphasis on the bottom six forwards being physical and defensively responsible, often at the expense of offensive creativity. At 6’5” and with a reputation as a strong defensive player, Frederik Gauthier seemed to fit that bill perfectly. But when he returned to junior the season after he was drafted, fans were undoubtedly hoping to see progress in his offensive game. The progression wasn’t evident and Gauthier produced at about the same rate as his draft year, finishing with 18 goals and 34 assists for 52 points in 54 games.

Despite his lack of offensive uptick, he was named to Team Canada for the 2014 World Junior Championships giving Leafs fans hope that there was still a solid prospect in there somewhere. The following season, he was again sent back to Rimouski but fans and even Leafs brass had to be disappointed when Gauthier’s already pedestrian offensive potential seemed to take a step back. He recorded just 32 points in 37 regular season games. He did, however, make another appearance representing Canada at the 2015 World Juniors in the middle of the season where he was again used mostly as a faceoff specialist and shutdown forward on the way to Canada claiming a gold medal. The season ended on another strong note for Gauthier as he went on to play an integral role in Rimouski capturing the President’s Cup as QMJHL Champions, again giving hope to Leafs Nation that he may eventually blossom into a serviceable NHL player.

As Gauthier finished off his junior career, the Maple Leafs were beginning an organizational overhaul. Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan was brought in as the Leafs new president in April of 2014 and the mandate was clear; restore the Maple Leafs organization to their rightful place as one of hockey’s most prestigious franchises. For the next several months Shanahan assessed the entire organization from top to bottom and decided to clean house the following April. Among others, Dave Nonis along with his assistants and the remnants of Randy Carlyle’s coaching staff were let go. Shanahan pegged Mark Hunter and a mostly unknown 28 year old, Kyle Dubas from the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, as the Leafs new assistant general managers while bringing other fresh voices such as Brandon Pridham into the fold. Hunter had an impressive scouting background and Dubas was largely viewed as a progressive, analytically inclined, up and coming executive. Basically the antithesis of what Leafs fans had grown accustomed to during the Brian Burke and Dave Nonis years. Shanahan made perhaps his most impressive acquisition a month later when he signed coach Mike Babcock to an 8 year contract. Babcock brought instant credibility to a franchise that had been lacking it for some time. In another somewhat surprising move, Shanahan also lured legendary GM Lou Lamoriello out of New Jersey’s front office to be the Leafs new general manager that July. Many believed that Lamoriello was brought in to be a mentor of sorts to Shanahan’s prized pupil, Kyle Dubas. As part of his apprenticeship, Dubas was charged with the task of managing the Leafs AHL affiliate. All of this begged the question, “What would become of the Goat?”

With the Leafs in the middle of yet another rebuild, Frederik Gauthier made the jump to the AHL with the Toronto Marlies to begin the 2015-2016 season. The move came with little fanfare, especially for a first round pick. Nevertheless, the Toronto media was anxious to know what the new, stats focused Marlies GM thought about the Leafs first round choice from 2013. “People that have got really strong defensive value, and we’ve already seen some of that in baseball…but you know in hockey…how do we measure that and for us he charts out very well in that regard”, Dubas said while also noting that Gauthier may not be someone that pure analytics people would suggest taking in the first round.

There was plenty of excitement and anticipation in Leafs Nation during this time and almost none of it focused on their first round pick from 2013. The team had a brand new front office, one of the best coaches in the world and had added promising prospects like William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen. Heck, there was probably more excitement for Nikita Soshnikov who was an undrafted free agent signing that nobody knew anything about. Expectations for Gauthier were at an all-time low and he became a bit of an afterthought for the fanbase. With no one remaining from the regime that brought him into the organization and a renewed focus on speed and skill, it looked as though Gauthier’s Leafs career might be over before it even began.

Despite all of that, he did enough in his first season with the Marlies to earn a 7 game stint with the big club at the end of the season when they had depleted their roster by selling off pending free agents such as Shawn Matthias and Daniel Winnik at the trade deadline. He managed just 1 assist and a -5 rating during the 7 games and the Leafs were heavily outplayed when he was on the ice as evidenced by his 40.3 CF% over that stretch. He wasn’t ready for the NHL and it looked as though his skating may never be good enough to stick at the highest level.

Gauthier returned to the Marlies to begin the 2016-17 season but was recalled by the Leafs again in December and went on to be a regular on the fourth line for the better part of a month. He failed to earn Babcock’s trust and lock down the job which led to Lamoriello sending a 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for Brian Boyle who would go on to anchor the Leafs fourth line as they returned to the playoffs for the first time since the lockout shortened season in 2013.

After returning to the Marlies, Gauthier suffered a gruesome leg injury at the hands of Jake Dotchin during the second round of the AHL playoffs. He was slated to miss the next six months after having surgery to repair the injury. For a prospect who had already endured so many ups and downs and had his skating ability questioned at every level, an injury like that could have been a devastating blow to his career. Instead it may have actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as his surgery and rehab went so well that he was back on the ice just three months later, re-developing his skating stride with the Leafs trainers, Barb Underhill, and the sports science team. Again, he would make his way back to the Leafs for handful of games before Lamoriello spent another 2nd round pick and some low level prospects bringing in Tomas Plekanec to solidify the Leafs fourth line.

After another first round exit the Leafs parted ways with Lamoriello and named Kyle Dubas as his successor. With the Marlies still in the middle of a playoff run, it gave some players one more opportunity to show the Leafs new general manager what they could do. As Gauthier’s entry level deal was set to expire and he had yet to lock down an NHL job, there was a real possibility that the Leafs would decide not to give him a qualifying offer which would make him an unrestricted free agent. Even with his earlier praise for Gauthier’s defensive abilities, that possibility seemed even more likely with Dubas now at the helm and his reputation established as a forward thinking, analytical mind who wasn’t a fan of “safe players”. After all, players like Gauthier were symbolic of old-school team building philosophies that didn’t seem to have much value to someone like Kyle Dubas.

But before that decision had to be made, there was still the matter of the Marlies final push for a championship under Dubas. Gauthier was playing the best hockey of his career and established himself as an ultra-reliable shutdown center while chipping in 8 points during 20 games as the Marlies went on to win the Calder Cup in a gruelling seven game series with the Texas Stars. Adding a Calder Cup to a resumé that already included a QMJHL championship and World Junior gold medal had to make the organization sit back and take note of Gauthier’s knack for winning, no matter the level of competition. With his strong showing during that championship run under the watchful eyes of Kyle Dubas, and the lack of lower end center depth in the Leafs organization, Gauthier was signed to a 2 year contract just above league minimum salary.

Heading into this season it looked like a two-horse race for the Leafs fourth line center job between Gauthier and undrafted free agent signing, Par Lindholm. After initially beginning the season in the press box, Gauthier has taken advantage of opportunities created by injuries to play in 34 of the Leafs first 43 games. He is skating better than he ever has and is beginning to look more confident and assertive in the NHL, albeit in a sheltered fourth line role. He’s offered a steady defensive presence and has chipped in with 2 goals to go along with 5 assists while earning the trust of Mike Babcock to be in the lineup on a regular basis. He has been driving play mostly in the right direction, currently sitting second behind John Tavares among Leafs centres with a 53.9 HDCF%. Dubas has noted, “You might not find him as visually appeasing as you would a high-end skill guy, but boy he’s extremely effective.” It would seem as though Babcock feels the same way these days and while Gauthier will likely never be a real difference maker, he looks plenty capable of filling a depth role in the NHL.

Five years after being chosen in the first round, Gauthier finally looks to be fulfilling the potential that Nonis and company drafted him for when he was considered a “safe pick” back in 2013. Through all the organizational turnover both on and off the ice during Brendan Shanahan’s “scorched earth” rebuild and Gauthier’s own tribulations along the way, it is somewhat poetic that a draft pick Nonis was so harshly criticized for, who most would agree never would have been made under the current regime, has finally managed to carve out an NHL role in Dubas’ first iteration of the Maple Leafs.

Follow @_nickrichard via Twitter

What Can Kyle Take Away?

Just a few thoughts here as we have a game tonight and it’s the Sabres. It should be the primary focus in easily what promises to be the most heated and contested game of our early season. So I want to move past the Nylander signing talk fast and get him playing. But as we do and to close it out for now I will quickly ask what can our GM can or has walked away from this with and I’ll tell you what I think.

Really who are we or I to know the answer to the question above, what can Kyle Dubas take away from this experience, but you try to put on his shoes as they say (or glasses, which I go bold frame too). I wouldn’t even venture a guess on what he’s learned, only for a slight thought bubble opened when Dubas suggested he would try to avoid going through this again for the sake of the parties collaterally involved.

I’m sure the obvious intention would always be to avoid. It was taxing on everyone I’m sure despite our record. The situation needed settling to properly move forward and evaluate the team, as Dubas referenced in his press conference. But when lines in the sand are drawn, what is it exactly he can do to expedite the “process”? Just win for the himself, the Leafs, the player, and nobody else.

Now that it’s done and Dubas has stated, with mimicking situations about to present themselves that things will be different. Maybe here is how he goes about a non repeat.

I say mimicking but you had extenuating circumstances here, unrepeatable even, of a first time NHL GM in the hotbed of the sport negotiating a high profile contract in a changing salary allocation landscape with a player whose potential and rightfully earned self confidence reaches beyond that of his salary case put forth. Add a family history and it had everything.

With the eyes of the hockey world on it every moment of the way, there were final declarations to be made. First impressions last a lifetime. Agents, Kyle being a former one, fans, managers, players, this had everyone’s attention and the public and industry needed a victor.

Dubas and advisors I’m certain recognized the importance of this perception. And now moving forward, he can remember how unimportant it is.

Nylander came in at 8. Willy knows he’s worth it and I think you’ll see. Dubas looks at his case and says the point numbers bring you in at 6. The middle was set early, at 7. As GM he had to set a precedent or tone. Listen, the writing feels all over the wall on what this boiled down to. Willy wanted it, Kyle wouldn’t give it.

The number was 7.

Toronto’s GM couldn’t lose this one. He just couldn’t. William Nylander believed in himself and needed to be a 7 million dollar player at the very very least. This was all about principle, greed never weighed in the way we thought. It coming down to the 11th hour and Nylander making a call illustrated it even more just how firm they both were in that line, that 7. But in reality…why?

Dubas in the end didn’t go above his number. Technically. The Maple Leafs conceded everything on contract structure and I think Willy calls this a win too. So what will be different next time? How do we get there for the opener with our other ELC’s?

Me, I’m not so sure Dubas has to win in the public again, just as long as he knows he’s won. This negotiation was a one time only necessity, and possibly a realization was made throughout what constitutes a win.

Kyle had to stand tall here and he’s shown he will. But the next time around the perception surrounding his negotiations will be less of a factor. He didn’t buckle and he doesn’t have to in the future, but he also knows there’s not many numbers Nylander comes in at that are honestly going to hurt you. He’s likely laughing his ass off internally having 6 years of Willy at 7. He’s also proven he can make a fair deal. Important to note.

My hope is Dubas understands he can concede in the public eye while knowing he truly hasn’t conceded a thing.

The hockey wolves and pundits can go at his decisions all they want. Burke already did. And the media and blogs criticizing his moves aren’t going anywhere especially with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner still needing to sign. Maybe we at True Blue will be one. Still, Dubas is writing his own story.

So what is it that I think Dubas learned after all this? Close to the line is close enough and the PR win is overrated.

Yes, it is one he had to get under his belt. He won a 15 round split decision and I applaud that.

I’m not so sure next time the bell even has to ring.

The GM made his stand, and he bent without breaking in the public eye. But you can’t tell me for one second Kyle Dubas would blink an eye at paying William Nylander more than let’s say 7.25 million a season. HE KNOWS WHAT HE’S WORTH. And he’ll know with Mitch and Auston. Dubas is aware it doesn’t really matter what his superstars make within a few hundred grand instead of a number we’ve decided on as some sort of victory point.

Dubas has shown he won’t waiver as he was prepared to go past the deadline. This says A LOT. He didn’t cross the line in the sand. His toe, maybe. As we go, I can see him from now on just scuffing it with his foot. It’s not the lines in the sand it’s the friends he made along the way who were carrying him all along. Or something like that.

We had to go through this so maybe we never have to go through it again. And unfortunately it had to be with Nylander. And still we all survived, and Kyle and Willy remain strong.

Thanks to them there’s a good chance we won’t have to go through it again.

Boyz II Men

We’ve gotten so good at, well you have, uncovering and discovering the game. Dissecting it in the lab, freeze frames, even going as far as taking it the law offices. Certified chartered accountants with a minor in salary management. The Leafs fan is cunning today. And also it can tire you out. So I suggest we just put that aside for a few minutes and talk about some human nature. Human Leafs hockey nature because we don’t stray too far off topic here.

I really should say it’s one guy that kinda kicked off this Leafs domino in my mind and on top of it the first story out of the gate was about William Nylander and that’s almost unfair in many respects. Timing wise the team is flirting with 1st overall in the NHL. Although actually Willy ties in with what I’m about to talk about perfectly, I still probably would’ve liked to been talking about something from the on ice performance. Or someone. Someone I’ll save for last.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Washington Capitals in 2017, they put up a strong fight. I loved that type of game. No room. Two sides toe to toe, all contested shifts. The club had been exposed to the type of hockey you hear about but we haven’t seen in a long time.

Playoff hockey. The real stuff. It’s not fun at times, it’s not pretty, but it’s real.

The Caps and Leafs were and are very skilled. But it was TIGHT. And it was…HEAVY. It was a grind of a series and we played admirably. Toronto stood tall. In the end a really good experience for the organization. And what was the difference? What separated them?

You know at the top I mentioned how we put the game under a microscope now. It’s enjoyable to be honest. Trying to feel in tune with the Leafs machine. But other times it’s simplistic, it takes less thinking. Put all the analysis aside. In this series, in the end, the Capitals boys were men.

When he said it after the series, it stuck with me because it was so true. Babcock knew why they lost to Washington. Even in the immediacy of defeat you couldn’t help but find the optimism not very deep into his words.

“A lot of our guys are light yet.” Babcock stated after speaking with pride of the growth of his group after the Game 6 overtime loss. “But you know so were those guys a couple years back.”

Plain and plump. Every line doesn’t have to be at Socrates level to be insightful (though Babs has some humdingers). And now the Caps, where are they? They’re the defending champs. Where are we?

Okay, hey look. I’m hitting fast forward here a little. I don’t want to get into the Bruins series, I’m not gonna say there weren’t more factors than “heavy” at play. That wasn’t what it was about, least of all solely. But it was still a major player especially if coupled with the maturation only achieved by the sands of time and a dumbbell.

You give Auston a year of experience and physical growth, let’s see what happens. Look at him out there, he’s not a man. He’s THE man. That’s only going to progress. Mitch vs the Caps, that was a thick and eye opening series. Marner was the “lightest” in terms of weight and the mature Caps provided a chance to be in it and see it first hand. He’s gotten stronger and faster, he’s no boy out there and you see where that’s heading. Correction, where it is.

No different circumstances than Willy getting torched for the Bruins series. *Reminder – he’s a fkn kid. It comes with the territory, sure. But guys and girls that’s growth. That’s how it works. I always think of Datsyuk’s early playoff struggles. We all wanted it but you gotta be willing to watch it and go through it. Nylander has his opportunity now to come back and show what his buddy has. His buddy I’m saving until the end. Exponential growth in the man department. Think of Willy today. Now think of the progression of everyone else. He’s only begun his climb. Actually it’s Kuznetsov who I think of with Nylander, or any of them. Not because they are the same player, but the arcs are similar. Which fits perfectly with what Babcock was trying to say. He was dubbed a show off and a floater and light all that and hey I don’t come from an era that likes anybody doing the goddam bird dance. But today he’s a top top top flight player now and a Stanley Cup champion. All he needed was a chance to grow up, fill out, learn, and take over.

Which takes me finally to the muse of the piece, Kasperi KapaMAN. Who is quite frankly been a pleasure to watch this season.

I saw Kappy straight out of the gate here as a rookie with the Marlies. He was talented, great skills. Duh. He was also thin, but with a long enough frame. No horse, was no bull. Now?

He was just a kid then, but when you saw him on or off the ice you had a different vision of what he’d be. Not what he’s become. And what he’s become is not only a bullet (I mean he’s an absolute bullet) but he’s gonna put his shoulder on you. I’m not talking run you, which he will, but he can lean on you for position. When he locks his stick down and uses his weight on a puck battle, chances are he comes away with it. If not he’s using his powerful legs to track you.

KapaMAN is the poster child for the science department, the R&D department, whatever department is looking after making players lol because they made one hell of one here let me tell you. Killing penalties, scoring goals, making plays, just being a sturdy, reliable winger. He’s been developed so well. Or what I should say is he’s developed himself so well, or allowed himself to be. Two things had to or have to happen with our kids. Can you play the whole ice and can you play right when push comes to shove. Kapanen, he cranks it up in those circumstances. He epitomizes the cultivation the Leafs have gone through, in every respect. Travis Dermott, next man up on the same trail.

Toronto are lucky because they have professional adults to emulate in their room with Patrick Marleau and John Tavares. They are helping to bring out the best in our youth, but it’s in their naturally. Time is bringing it out too. Our boys were born hockey players. But they aren’t boys anymore. As any proud parent will tell you, they’ll always be our boys. But as it turned out it wasn’t a group of young boys in the first stage of their journey who would bring Stanley home.

It will be our men.