This season, the most important date for the Toronto Maple Leafs is March 3, 2010—in other words: this season’s trade deadline.
If it wasn’t for the swap of this year’s first round draft pick (along with this year’s second and next year’s first) in exchange for Phil Kessel, most would say that the day of the draft—June 25 and 26—would surpass that in importance.
But however you feel about Toronto’s situation—whether you’re happier with Kessel or you’d rather see the Blue and White with a chance to draft the game-changing Taylor Hall, forward Tyler Seguin, or the premier blueliner Cam Fowler—the day that situation will change, if it does, is most likely the Trade Deadline.
That’s when, if Brian Burke chooses, he can try to sell the farm for the second straight year in hopes of clearing the cap and preparing for free agency and stockpiling draft picks and getting the Leafs back into the first round.
Sidenote: While many go on and on about the opportunity the Leafs’ would have had to acquire a talent such as Taylor Hall, I think that Cam Fowler would be just as big an acquisition, especially with the potential of him lining up alongside Luke Schenn, although you couldn’t go wrong with either Windsor star.
But to put this in perspective, let’s give a little bit of draft history. Since 1990, teammates have been drafted in the top ten picks twelve times. The most recent example is last year when John Tavares went number one to the New York Islanders and Nazem Kadri went number seven to the Leafs, both of them London Knights.
Brandon Wheat Kings’ teammates Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie went at number five and eight last year, marking just the second time since 1990 that two sets of teammates were chosen in the top ten.
In that time frame, no teammates have been chosen at number one and number three. We’ve had first and sixth (2007), first and fifth (2006), and first and ninth (1990), but never first and third.
For argument’s sake, we’ve also had teammates taken two and three in 1999—the Sedin Twins—as selected by then-Canucks GM Brian Burke. This really had nothing to do with the article….it’s just interesting.
But like last year, you have to look at what exactly the Maple Leafs have to sell.
The most marketable pieces that the Leafs have—defenseman Tomas Kaberle and Kessel—are unmovable. Burke has said that Kaberle earned his no-movement clause an earth-shattering deal may not even be enough to convince Burke to approach the 11-year Leaf.
And Kessel? Unless Burke can get three first rounders in return, the Leafs’ have a better chance of coaxing Patrick Roy out of retirement than seeing Kessel leave.
Jason Blake still has two years on his contract, and even though his salary is only $3 million, his cap hit is $4-mil—a number that’s tough to swallow for any team when you don’t know whether the cap is going up or down in the future.
Meanwhile Nik Hagman, a holdover from the Cliff Fletcher era, has been one of the leading goal scorers for the Leafs over the past two years, ranking second in that category with 40. While he’s movable (and affordable/attractive at $3-million a year), it’s hard to tell the direction Burke will take with the Finnish winger.
The man who leads Hagman in goals over the past two years by one (41) though, may be an attractive pickup for a playoff-bound team. Alex Ponikarovsky has developed into a solid winger, as he’s four goals away from his fourth 20-goal season in the last five years.
Poni will also get his first taste of unrestricted free agency following this season, and it’s hard to see Burke letting anyone skip town for free if he’s got no interested in keeping him around.
The same can be said for Matt Stajan. Stajan is on pace for his first 20-goal season and a career-high 59 points, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a consistent target for trade rumors and hot and cold reactions from Leaf fans, while Lee Stempniak (on pace for his first 20-goal season since 2006/07) could be gone as well thanks to his impending unrestrictedness.
But the name that intrigues me the most is Ian White’s.
For a player who was told a 5-foot-10 defenseman weighing 190 pounds wearing lead shoes would have trouble making it, White has flourished. For a guy who had to battle his way to get into Ron Wilson’s defensive rotation (even spending a few games on the wing last season and scoring a few goals), he’s earned his time.
But that three-year deal that White signed in 2007 is reaching it’s end after this season, and his rights can still be controlled as a restricted free agent.
Compounding all of that is the fact that, at just $950,000, he’s probably the most affordable defenseman with 40-point potential this season.
Sidenote: Here’s the list of cheap, potential 40-point defensemen this year: Drew Doughty, 35 points, $875,000; Tyler Myers, 27 points, $875,000; Marc-Andre Bergeron, 25 points, $750,000; Michael Del Zotto, 24 points, $875,000; Anton Stralman, 24 points, $665,000.
You want to know how many of those guys are available? Assuming White is, there MAY be two. And that’s assuming Montreal slips further than two points out of the race for eighth in the East and starts selling.
The troubling thing is that while the Leafs’ have some defensive depth on the farm (Phil Orsekovic, Jonas Frogren, and Carl Gunnarsson—who’s still up with the parent club), there’s really no dynamite offensive option that’s on the rise in Toronto other than Juraj Mikus with 16 points in 38 AHL games.
At 25 (26 in June), White is the youngest offensive defenseman the Leafs have that’s NHL-calibre, or even NHL-ready.
Kaberle, despite his offensive genius, will be eyeing an expiring contract after 2010/11, and he’ll be 32 at the start of March. Francois Beauchemin is 29, but he’s never had more than 36 points in a season (2005/06) and has never posted back-to-back 30-point campaigns.
Then again, White doesn’t have a 30-point campaign either, but he does have a 10-goal season to his credit, and he may have two of them in a row—neither being a stat Beauchemin can flaunt.
So what do you do? One of the easiest to move and most valuable players you have on your roster if you go the trade route is also one you can control for one more contract, and the one who’s given you some of the most consistent efforts offensively from the blueline in his 20+ minutes the past two years.
Then again, White will be due a big raise this year. The days of him making six digit pay checks will be over and that may play in to his future with the Buds as well.
Despite all of his perceived shortcomings, Ian White has become an NHL-level defensemen, proving (for this year at least) the critics wrong that said he couldn’t replicate his success.
The choice Brian Burke has, is whether White continues to replicate that success in Toronto or a new market come March.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile or you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out his previous work in his archives, and over at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game!