Was this just a trade made out of necessity or is there more to it? The Leafs traded for Peter Holland and Nick Staubitz today in exchange for Jesse Blacker, a 7th round pick in 2014 (originally from Anaheim, acquired in the Steckel trade) and either a 2nd or 3rd round 2014 pick depending on Holland’s performance. Let’s break this down:
First off, Staubitz is a salary dump/throw-in. He has some NHL experience, but has been playing in the AHL all season to date. He may never play another game in the NHL and is on the Marlies’s roster right now. The Leafs aren’t really lacking at right wing or in tough guys for that matter. In fact, even if McLaren or Orr are injured again and the Leafs want to call someone up, it might be Jamie Devane or David Broll who gets called up rather than Staubitz.
Jesse Blacker was for a time thought to be a serious part of the Leafs’ farm system. However, most people seem to have agreed that his potential was never really any greater than being a #4 defenseman on a good team, at best. He has had a really rough go of it lately after struggling in the preseason and then being nailed to the bench on the Marlies for most of this season so far. At this point, however, at 22, he isn’t as close to making the Leafs’ roster as guys like Rielly, Liles, Brennan and MacWilliam are considered to be the defensemen closest to NHL-ready. But even beyond that, it’s very possible that guys like Granberg, Percy, Nilsson and Finn would pass him by in the coming years as well. I had thought that Blacker would be traded, but my guess up until this point was that it might be as a sweetener in a deal to get a team to take JM Liles’s contract. That being said, I’m not surprised Anaheim wanted him considering that they’ve been reportedly looking for a young defenseman for a while now and I do still think Blacker will play in the NHL, but the chances of him being a real impact player aren’t very strong.
A second or third round draft pick may turn into a good player, but it’s unlikely they’ll be a real contributor. The list of Leafs 2nd round picks going back to the 2000 draft include Matt Finn, Jesse Blacker, Kenny Ryan, Nikolai Kulemin, Jimmy Hayes, John Doherty, Matt Stajan, Karel Pilar and Kris Vernarsky. Matt Finn in particular is still too young to judge, but how many top six forwards are in there? How about top 4 defensemen? Any starting goaltenders? Yes, the Leafs haven’t drafted that well in the 2nd round, but most teams haven’t done all that much better either. As for the 7th rounder, given how well Anaheim has done so far, this may well be the one of the last picks in the 2014 draft.
And now, Peter Holland. I can’t say I knew much about him before today given his young career and placement on a western team, but it’s hard not to compare him against Joe Colborne. He is, after all, another former mid-first round pick (15th overall, 2009). He doesn’t quite have Colborne’s frame at 6’2, 190 pounds (compared to 6’5, 215 pounds for Colborne), but he’s a year younger and has had more success thus far in his pro career. His stats thus far show 0.17 goals and 0.24 points per game over 29 NHL games and 0.39 goals and 0.88 points per game over 129 AHL games. That compares to Colborne with 0.06 goals and 0.28 points per game over 36 NHL games and 0.21 goals per game and 0.6 points per game in his last two seasons (149 games) in the AHL. Holland certainly seems to represent an upgrade over Colborne in offensive production, especially given that he’s a year younger. If he blossoms into a 2nd line center or a really strong 3rd line center, then the Leafs likely win this trade. He may have the potential for even more than this, but we’ll just have to see. Looking at www.hockeysfuture.com
, he is rated as having a 7.5 potential and C likelihood of reaching it (i.e. he’ll be a really good 2nd liner at best and a strong 4th liner at worst). Although I can’t help but wonder why the Ducks were willing to give him away for so little, it’s hard not to like the fact that Nonis is attempting to acquire a young center with real upside in exchange for a bunch of assets which appear very unlikely to turn into impact players.
One other point that occurs to me based on this is that the Leafs now have 7 centers who are capable of playing at an NHL level when healthy: Bozak, Kadri, Bolland, Holland, McClement, Smithson and Smith. If we write off Smith and Smithson as guys who can be sent down to the Marlies when Bozak, Kadri and Bolland get back, what does this mean for the five who remain? I have heard that McClement can play wing, but that might not be a preferred option either. It has occurred to me that part of what this move says may be that McClement’s status on the Leafs is in jeopardy. Although it was difficult to imagine that the Leafs wouldn’t re-sign him beyond 2014 at the end of last season, they’ve since brought in Bolland, who can do McClement’s job on the penalty kill while scoring some goals and now Holland at the same position as well. McClement has also not had a good start to the season with no goals and one assist in 19 games and the Leafs’ penalty kill becoming a serious area of concern of late. I’m not saying that they should trade him right now, but signs are clearly starting to develop that McClement may not have a long-term future on this team given that he’ll likely demand an increased salary on a team that’s already facing a cap crunch this offseason. Keep an eye on him over the coming months.