With the Maple Leafs now four games into the season, suffering a somewhat lackadaisical loss to the high flying Colorado Avalanche the other night, I have never seen so many chutes opened and panic buttons being mashed by both fans and media alike after one loss. Trade speculation began in reckless abandon yesterday morning on sports websites across Canada surrounding Jake Gardiner, while fans seemingly have forgotten in its entirety that the team is still missing three regular players to Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) in Kulemin, Fraser, McLaren; Clarkson to his 10 game suspension and finally McClement for personal reasons (birth of their first child, congratulations btw!). Fans were calling into radio shows denouncing the team as terrible and undeserving of their first three victories all the while making it sound like it the team was attempting to close a playoff position in the late stretch.
With all the commotion it really surprised me how much trade speculation was actually being brought up so earlier on in the season but with some teams struggling right out of the gate and desperate to make significant impact moves via trades, perhaps some of these fans actually had a fair point. Perhaps the Maple Leafs indeed do have assets in the likes of Jake Gardiner and James Reimer right now whereby the options should be weighted and would be worth perhaps investigating the potential returns on. (this being pure speculation of course with no basis or merit to what follows below)
Rumour has it that Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis received quite a number of inquiries about Gardiner’s availability last year to which he responded that he was not looking to trade the 23 year old defenseman and that if he were, it would most certainly take a young elite forward in return. You can imagine that the phone calls have since dwindled pretty dramatically. However with teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes and even the Philadelphia Flyers showing signs of deficiencies on the back end, would any of these teams consider making the aforementioned bold move? Gardiner is in the final year of his contract making $875,000 and is most likely due a pay raise although he is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA). Any trade discussion would most likely have to be open to including John-Michael Liles as well to balance the books cap hit wise (three years remaining on his $3.875 deal). What the Maple Leafs brass most likely has to ask themselves however if Gardiner is really viewed as the potentially elite defenseman outside of Toronto? Morgan Reilly looks to be another incredibly gifted smooth skating offensive defenseman that although young (19 years old) could potentially have a higher development ceiling that Gardiner. Here is hoping that the Maple Leafs truly wait to see what they have with Gardiner before making any considerations although perhaps there are some viable trade scenarios whereby both teams win out in the short term.
Would the Edmonton Oilers ever possibly consider Sam Gagne an expendable piece before his No Movement Clause (NMC) kicks in next year? Would the Carolina Hurricane consider asking Jeff Skinner to waive his NMC to come to Toronto? Perhaps Philadelphia would roll the dice (again) for a trade scenario that would include Sean Couturier? Perhaps the Calgary Flames with Brian Burke’s influence throws together a package of a prospect(s) or prospect/pick that makes sense given his intimate knowledge of what Toronto’s most pressing needs are? Perhaps the Colorado Avalanche take Gardiner , another player to be named later and salary (Liles) for Paul Stastny? More questions than answers I know, just wish we had a better understanding of how other teams/fans value players to get a more appropriate idea when throwing out these ‘what if’ statements given that it always has to seem like a good idea on the other side of the table before a trade can be truly consummated.
With respect to Reimer, it should be pointed out that the Leafs would have to be seriously desperate to move him at any point in the near future without first determining what kind of goalie they have in Bernier and vice versa. That being said however a team like the Edmonton Oilers, who’s GM has openly indicated that he not opposed to making bold moves this year may have significant enough interest in Reimer (or Bernier) especially given the recent play of starting net minder, Devan Dubnyk. Would including Gardiner in a Reimer/Bernier trade scenario (with Liles) possibly yield Sam Gagne, a prospect and Dubnyk? The Maple Leafs are in an enviable position right now in terms of having two goalies who are well on their way to becoming legitimate starting goaltenders in the NHL and all it will take is time for another team to lose a goalie to significant injury or poor play to see the trade market heat up.
So plenty of debate to be had but after four regular season games it really is too earlier to determine whether a trade would help and or hinder the Maple Leafs this early on in the season especially given the potential growth the players mentioned still have yet to go through. If they are playing steady hockey with a full roster and are still struggling then perhaps they look at making an adjustment but I for one am hoping they don’t. There is still too much possible upside for both Gardiner and Reimer right now and a trade now could potentially home back to haunt the Leafs in a big way. As always food for though.