Toronto can win Stan­ley Cup now if GM makes right moves at trade dead­line

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Michael_Traikos

The ques­tion for gen­eral man­ager Lou Lamor­iello head­ing into next week’s trade dead­line isn’t whether the Toronto Maple Leafs are buy­ers or sellers. It’s whether the last two weeks have con­vinced him the team should be con­sid­ered a Stan­ley Cup con­tender.

The Leafs, who en­tered Wed­nes­day’s game against the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets with the third-best record in the Eastern Con­fer­ence, have won eight of their last nine games. Dur­ing that span, they have de­feated the best team in the NHL (Tampa Bay) and last year’s Stan­ley Cup run­ner-up (Nashville), with the only loss com­ing against the mighty Bos­ton Bru­ins, who Toronto could meet in the first round of the play­offs.

With one of the league’s hottest goalies, a healthy back end that is click­ing and three for­ward lines that are deadly, you could make the ar­gu­ment Toronto is one or two pieces away (a third-pair­ing de­fence­man and a third- or fourth-line cen­tre) from po­ten­tially go­ing all the way.

“Has the team put pres­sure on Lou?” asked head coach Mike Bab­cock, when ques­tioned about the trade dead­line. “If you think any­thing we do is af­fect­ing the way Lou sleeps, it’s not — un­less we don’t play well with­out the puck.”

Here’s the co­nun­drum: The Leafs might be ahead of the curve, but they are still in a re­build­ing mode. Their best play­ers are un­der the age of 21 and still on en­try-level con­tracts. There’s a be­lief that you let this group take you as far as they can and then build on it for next year.

And yet, one look at the Oil­ers’ fall from grace after los­ing in Game 7 of the sec­ond round tells you the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity can shut pretty quickly, es­pe­cially when your top young play­ers start get­ting new con­tracts.

Toronto is a year away from that, which is why I be­lieve the Leafs should strike while the iron’s hot and get the pieces they need to try to win a Stan­ley Cup to­day — as long as they aren’t giv­ing up the farm (i.e. 2017 first-rounder Ti­mothy Lil­je­gren) in the process. Next year, you prob­a­bly won’t have James van Riems­dyk or Tyler Bozak or Leo Ko­marov, who be­come un­re­stricted free agents.

Then again, there could be kids com­ing up (Nikita Sosh­nikov and Josh Leivo) ready to take those play­ers’ places any­way.

“No one’s lost sight of any­thing that’s gone on,” Bab­cock said. “The stand­ings don’t af­fect our plan. Our plan is to build a prod­uct here that we can be proud of, to give our­selves a chance to knock on the door ev­ery year so when you ar­rive at train­ing camp you know you’re in the play­offs. We’re not at that stage yet. That’s the fo­cus of our plan.

“Do we want to win to­day? One hun­dred per cent.”

An­other thing that might be af­fect­ing Lamor­iello’s de­ci­sion to make a deal is the stand­ings.

As with last year, when the sec­ond-place Pitts­burgh Pen­guins were forced to play the third­place Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets in the first round of the play­offs, it’s be­yond silly that the Leafs will likely get the Bru­ins or Light­ning in the open­ing round.

If the for­mat were 1-ver­sus-8, like it was be­fore 2014, Toronto’s first-round op­po­nent would be the sixth-place Philadel­phia Fly­ers.


The best trades are usu­ally de­scribed as a win-win for both teams. The four-player trade that sent Dion Pha­neuf to Los An­ge­les and Mar­ian Ga­borik to Ot­tawa is what you would call a lose-lose.

At US$7 mil­lion per year, Pha­neuf was over­paid as a sec­ond-pair­ing de­fence­man in Ot­tawa. Even with the Se­na­tors re­tain­ing 25 per cent of his con­tract, he is still over­paid as a sec­ond-pair­ing de­fence­man in Los An­ge­les.

Of course, Ga­borik is nowhere near worth $4.875 mil­lion.


It’s un­fair to ques­tion or crit­i­cize Black­hawks GM Stan Bow­man for sign­ing Jonathan Toews ($10.5 mil­lion) and Brent Seabrook ($6 mil­lion) to con­tracts that no longer make fi­nan­cial sense. After all, those play­ers did win three Stan­ley Cups for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

But Bow­man doesn’t get a pass on trad­ing Artemi Pa­narin (15 goals and 46 points) to Colum­bus for Brandon Saad (13 goals and 24 points). That could be the rea­son the team misses the play­offs.

Mean­while, I don’t know what’s more sur­pris­ing: that Dun­can Keith is still with­out a goal or that he’s a mi­nus-13. The lat­ter stat might not mean as much these days, but this is un­charted ter­ri­tory for Keith, who hasn’t been near this bad since he was mi­nus-11 as a rookie.


If you think the Matt Duchene trade looks bad for the Se­na­tors to­day, just wait un­til this year’s NHL draft, when the team has to de­cide whether to send its firstround pick from 2018 or 2019 to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the deal. Luck­ily for Ot­tawa, the team put in that pro­vi­sion. But based on where the Se­na­tors are head­ing, next year’s pick could be even lower.


On pa­per, Evan­der Kane should be at the top of the list when it comes to trade dead­line rentals. The prob­lem is, hockey is about more than just stats.

While the 26-year-old winger has 18 goals and 38 points for a poor Sabres team, there is still the per­cep­tion that Kane comes with bag­gage. I’m con­fi­dent some­one will trade for him, but like Pitts­burgh ac­quir­ing Phil Kes­sel, it will have to be a team with a strong dress­ing room. Who knows, it could be the move that pushes a team over the edge.


That the New York Rangers de­cided to pack it in had a lot to do with this year’s draft, which is be­ing hailed as one of the strong­est in years. The chance to se­lect Swedish de­fence­man Ras­mus Dahlin, a gen­er­a­tional tal­ent, could cause other teams to take a chance in the draft lot­tery rather than as an eighth seed.

But it’s not just Dahlin who has every­one ex­cited. The three play­ers con­sid­ered next in the draft or­der — for­wards An­drei Svech­nikov, Brady Tkachuk and Filip Zad­ina — are all ca­pa­ble of jump­ing to the NHL next sea­son.

If you think any­thing we do is af­fect­ing the way Lou sleeps, it’s not — un­less we don’t play well with­out the puck.


Maple Leafs gen­eral man­ager Lou Lamor­iello has a play­off team al­ready, but now he has to de­cide whether this bunch has reached the fringe of Stan­ley Cup con­tention a few years early and act ac­cord­ingly at the up­com­ing NHL trade dead­line.

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