With 25 games remaining in the regular season, playoffs just around the corner and the Maple Leafs firmly with a playoff spot in their grasps some in the Toronto sports media suggested taking a bomb to the roster and trading away their veterans on expiring contracts with James van Riemsdyk being their target of trade fodder.
Yes, this summer offers its challenges as new contracts to William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are on the horizon and resigning the likes of Bozak, Komarov and van Riemsdyk becomes harder to do with the salary cap. But those decisions don’t have to be made now, the Maple Leafs as currently constituted aren’t pressed against the salary cap, the roster appears to have found its way again after coach Babcock reshuffled the lines and are now currently riding a record of 8-2 in their last 10 games.
So why then would the Maple Leafs wave the white flag and trade away their second leading goal scorer in van Riemsdyk so late in the season? To just trade a player because you don’t think you can resign him isn’t reason enough to throw away what you have achieved so far and in my opinion what message does that send to veterans like Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey who you presumably signed to help push this young group of players to the next level?
More importantly what does it say to Auston Matthews and the rest of the young Maple Leafs? That their success this season was meaningless and that you now don’t have belief in them to win when the games count the most?
I wonder how that will go down in contract talks with Matthews, Nylander and Marner. What does that do to the confidence in the group as this rebuild goes into years four, five and beyond.
How does using a first round match-up against Tampa Bay or Boston as justification make this trade feasible, when keeping van Riemsdyk would improve the odds of the Maple Leafs winning the series and moving forward.
The Maple Leafs aren’t perfect and yes, the Maple Leafs’ defense is still a work in progress but the playoffs offer a different dynamic. Can anyone really argue that Boston or Tampa are that much better than the Maple Leafs where giving up now would make that much sense?
This management group has set out a plan to move this franchise forward to respectability, taking a step back now only prolongs the process. If the playoffs series last year against Washington proved anything, it is that this Maple Leafs with a couple of bounces could and can surprise.
The Maple Leafs pushed the best team in the NHL last year to six games in the playoffs with a defense I would argue that was worse than this year’s top six. The majority of last year’s roster were rookies also, each now with another season of experience and growth. It is that growth and experience that the Maple Leafs will carry into their second appearance in the playoffs in as many years.
My main issue with the Van Riemsdyk trade rumors is this, you can only reach the summit of a mountain if you climb and move upwards. That is exactly what the Maple Leafs are doing with their current roster incomplete as it may currently be.
Even if that means that guys like Bozak, van Riemsdyk and Komarov walk in the off-season, I would rather see that than disrupt what has been a successful season and inadvertently give the young guys on the team the impression that management doesn’t believe in them to win.
Patience is key at this juncture in time, so I would suggest play out the season and see what can be done before the draft with the main UFAs. If they can’t be signed to affordable contracts, then flip them in a trade at the draft or before Free Agency begins. That way you don’t disrupt the present season, and the franchise has the summer to fill the holes created by the exits of the veterans either via trade or by graduating guys like Kasperi Kapanen and possibly Nikita Soshnikov if the later is still around.