The writing is officially on the wall after a disastrous California road trip, and I think it's safe to say Leafs brass are smart enough to acknowledge the playoffs are a serious improbability now (at below 30%). It's not so much that they couldn't find a groove or go on another hot streak, but there simply isn't any space in the eastern conference playoff picture for them to bump out someone else. They have too many extra games played and have given up too many points to the teams around them. The finally thriving Bruins? The burning hot Rangers? The Barry Trotz savvy Washington Capitals? None of those teams are falling out of the top 8, leaving the Leafs out of luck even if Bernier is an absolute beast down the stretch.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The timing for the Leafs demise could not have more apt. Any later than this and we are watching the same movie we saw last year all over again. We lost plenty of useful players for nothing in the summer with cheap moveable or expiring contracts that could have netted us a late pick or two at the deadline, i.e Mason Raymond, Dave Bolland, Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin or even possibly Paul Ranger all walked for nothing. For a team not making the playoffs, having several of those players sign overpay deals on the open market come July 1st is simply unacceptable asset management that can't happen again.
This year has a whole new crop of guys who should fetch some value to teams looking to add useful bodies for a playoff push and all indications are that Shanahan and Dubas will start the full rebuild. One can only imagine Dave Nonis will be sitting nervously by the phone over the next two weeks. If the Leafs really blow it up as they should, do you really want Dave Nonis as the one leading that charge?
Whether Nonis stays on as a mascot or not, here are some percentage probabilities of what players will be wearing the Blue and White post the March 2nd deadline.
76-100% Should/Will Be Moved
- Cody Franson. He will be one of, if not the most marketable defenseman who will be available at the deadline. At 3.3M he is extremely affordable, and he simply does not fit a Leafs rebuild plan with a long term extension looming at 4.5-6m per seaon. The Leafs would be insane not to move him, as the return should be quite significant.
- Stephane Robidas. Despite being a healthy scratch at times this season, he's a veteran d-man and people are always looking to scoop up guys like him at the deadline. With 2 more years left he makes no sense on the Leafs roster, and while he would not fetch more than a very late round pick at best, his 2nd on the team plus/minus rating of 11 should be enough to get someone to take a flyer on him.
- Daniel Winnik. With 18 points and a team leading plus 15, he would be a steal at 1.3M on an expiring contract for a playoff team looking for some depth. This is a no brainer.
- Mike Santorelli. He has arguably been the best addition from the Leafs free agent crop, and if you look to re-sign any of the group this is probably the guy. That said, if you can get value for him you absolutely should, and you can always look to bring him back in the offseason later.
51-75% Possible/Likely to Be Moved
- Joffrey Lupul. If he can come back in time to show he's healthy, he could have some value to a team with some cap space.
- Jake Gardiner. I don't like the idea of trading him while his value is lowest, especially with an impending new coach in the offseason who might find a way to revitalize him. That said if you have someone interested, given the contract it could make sense to package him with an expiring contract for a nifty little return.
- James Reimer. The market for goaltending isn't the strongest, especially with the Wild picking up Dubnyk recently, but someone might want a playoff injury insurance policy and Reimer would certainly fit that bill.
26-50% Likely Will Not Be Moved
- Phil Kessel. The sniper will be a very marketable piece to a team looking for that goal scorer to put them over the edge but his value will be highest in the offseason when teams will have more cap space. Wait until closer to the draft to find the best suitor for Phil unless someone comes in and blows you out of the water with an offer.
- Dion Phaneuf. While the contract is an issue, and this hasn't been one of his best years, I would still be hesitant to deal Dion and throw some of the younger d-men to the wolves until a greater idea of the long term plan has taken shape. But again, the right offer could certainly change that. Some believe his contract makes him immoveable, I firmly believe the Leafs could find a suitor tomorrow if they wanted to simply divest themselves of the contract and I wouldn't be in a rush simply to create cap space when there is absolutely no one to spend it on this offseason in a very poor free agent class.
- Nazem Kadri. Let's see what Naz can do with another off-season and a bump in ice time next year under a new head coach and system. He's still young enough to be a useful piece on a new era Leafs squad, however his decline in offensive production is certainly cause for concern.
0-25% Should Not/Will Not Be Moved
- Jonathan Bernier. You could start a rebuild with much worse goaltending that this. With less than stellar numbers you should be able to hard ball him as an RFA and keep the cap hit down for at least another year or two until you figure out exactly what you have.
- Morgan Reilly. The Leafs best young d-man isn't going anywhere.
- James van Reimsdyk. At 4.25M for the next 4 years there is no need to divest yourself of a player who is good for 30 goals a season and has a nose for the net. You won't replace that production at that price so JVR shouldn't be going anywhere.
- David Clarkson. Sadly, he's a Maple Leafs for life. Get used to it.
Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Roman Polak, Richard Panik - these are all useful pieces who the Leafs would probably like to keep around but if the right team comes calling of course nobody is untouchable. These are the players who would be the hardest to gauge market value for, and since none of them make much money (cue a Bozak arguement), these are likely all players whose value is higher to a Leafs team than anyone else out there. Even more so considering we will need some serviceable players to fill roles in a rebuild, and these guys fit that bill better than anyone else we have, as they have been generally views as gritty hard working players who have shown some of the only heart the team has seen all year.
This season has been an unmitigated disaster. But it doesn't have to finish that way. By utilizing the open market and looking to take advantage of teams who will look to bulk up (ANA, SJ, TB, STL, NAS), teams that will look to make a final playoff push (DAL, COL, CAL), or teams that absolutely need to stay in the playoffs (WIN, WAS, NYR, VAN), you have a stellar opportunity to bring back some decent prospects and a collection of picks that could give the Leafs a ton of options and flexibility, in what is shaping up to be a deep draft this offseason.
All of the fans know what needs to happen here. This collection of players has unfortunately started to make even the most diehard of Leafs Nation sick to their stomachs on a nightly basis. Do you blame Randy or Dave or Phil or Dion for that? Let's just agree it simply ended up this way due to a variety of combined factors and sure, some classic Leafs bad luck too. At this point in the new Horachek era, we can only acknowledge that dwelling on said why is an exercise in downright futility and befuddlement.
Only time will tell over the next month and a half if the ever patient Shanahan wants to drag out our pain and sorrow out that much longer. But the fact remains if you let the current window to restock the cupboards pass you by this deadline, on a vain gamble to sneak in to the spring dance, or in some asinine attempt to give this core one last chance to gel under an interim head coach, you can add another year or more to a rebuild that everyone and their grandmother knows is coming but technically hasn't even started yet.
Leafs Nation is ready, Shanny. In the last 15 years fans have experienced just about everything else emotionally other than a cup final and a true rebuild. One isn't a reality right now, so let's open the floodgates on the latter. There is nothing left to gain by being patient now except you risk letting teams that can actually take on cap money fill their rosters with players from teams other than yours. Let's beat them to the punch.