It’s a unique feeling in Toronto this year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in solid playoff position and unlikely to fall out, and general manager Dave Nonis won’t even consider selling off any of bodies.
The pending unrestricted free agents are likely going to stay – and more may even be added to the mix.
But it’s not so much “going for it” as “staying with it” as Nonis wants to improve his team in both the short and long term making what he hopes will be “a hockey trade” rather than one organization dumping a body.
“We’re not trying to sell off players for future assets,” Nonis said on Monday after the team finished practice. “We’re either going to, likely, add a piece or two or stand pat. I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t move players or even UFAs, but we wouldn’t move them for draft picks. The players have worked hard to try and get themselves in position. And if we make deals now, by and large those will be for pieces that can help us.”
In pretty much every recent season, the Leafs have been no hopes or small hopes at the deadline – which is looming on Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET – but that’s obviously not the case this year.
The Leafs are currently in sixth in the East, nine points up on ninth place and within five points of the Northeast Division lead. They’ve taken points out of eight straight games in solidifying their position and now have an 82-per-cent chance of finishing fifth or sixth, according to sportsclubstats.com.
That has put all eyes on Nonis for these next three days, as even if making a huge splash isn’t in the cards, the league’s biggest hockey media market generates the most attention near deadline day.
Despite all the talk recently that the Leafs could land Roberto Luongo or Miikka Kiprusoff, however, their GM sounded like a man prepared for minor tinkering if there’s no big deal he likes.
“It’s not a priority,” Nonis said of adding a goalie. “It’s the same as every other position. If we can add a goaltender that strengthens our group and helps the guys that we have here, then we would look to do it. If not, as we’ve said all along, we think we have two NHL-calibre goalies. They’ve proved that so far this year, and goaltending hasn’t been an issue.”
As for how disappointed he would be if he doesn’t make a move at all, Nonis said, unequivocally, not very.
“I wouldn’t be disappointed at all,” he said. “When you’re making trades just to make yourself feel good, it’s not something anybody wants us to do. We’re going to explore a lot of different areas. I believe we’ll have something to look at by the deadline that we’ll have to make a decision on.
“But if there isn’t something there that’s going to help us now and more importantly in the future then we’ll go with what we have. A lot of teams are saying the same thing right now. It’s not a year where there’s a lot of players available. Some players, it’d be a reach just to say that they can help you. So to give up assets for players like that isn’t something we’re prepared to do.”
Transcript of Nonis’s comments:
Any dance partners as the week progressed?
Nonis: Not yet. Calls have picked up but it’s been relatively slow so far. I expect that as it usually does, the day before, you start to get some meaningful conversations.
How different is the deadline this year?
Nonis: It’s a little different. We’re not trying to sell off players for future assets. We’re either going to, likely, add a piece or two. Or stand pat. I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t move players or even UFAs but we wouldn’t move them for draft picks. The players have worked hard to try and get themselves in position. And if we make deals now, by and large those will be for pieces that can help us.
Could adding a veteran element be beneficial?
Nonis: No question. The only problem is the price tag for the veteran element is those young players we talked about. That’s not a situation that we have a whole lot of time for. We do have some players that have some playoff experience; we want to make sure those guys lead down the stretch. If we can add some depth and get a veteran presence at the right price we would do it but not at the expense of young players.
Do you want to add players with term or are rentals a potential?
Nonis: Either one would be fine. I would prefer actually a hockey trade where we’re giving up some assets and getting assets back. Difficult to find that right now. The rental market, I don’t think it’s actually even defined itself yet. There’s been a couple high-profile guys that have gone, but the mid-range or depth, there hasn’t been a lot of those players that have been moved. Usually once the price is set, the rest of the guys will follow. If the price makes sense for us, we might choose to do something.
Has how the team played the last couple weeks changed your evaluation?
Nonis: A little bit. It changes what you think you have… It’s a shortened season and there’s still a significant amount of games left. But where we sit right now, that’s because of the guys in the room and just to move them out wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense unless we can help the group. I think everyone understands that. To move players out for draft picks, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us.
How much of a priority is it to add a goaltender?
Nonis: It’s not a priority. It’s the same as every other position. If we can add a goaltender that strengthens our group and helps the guys that we have here, then we would look to do it. If not, as we’ve said all along, we think we have two NHL calibre goalies. They’ve proved that so far this year, and goaltending hasn’t been an issue. So it’s really not any different than any other position… It’s not like we’re not comfortable with the two players in net. They’ve done a good job both of them.
Has Reimer’s recent play made you more comfortable?
Nonis: He’s had this play before. It’s not new for him. I think he’s just getting back into a bit of a groove… He seems to be getting more comfortable in the net right now. His play has been very good. There’s no reason why that can’t continue. Even if we brought another goaltender in, James has done a good job to show us he can play a lot of games and play at a high level.
How disappointed would you be if you didn’t even make a trade?
Nonis: I wouldn’t be disappointed at all. When you’re making trades just to make yourself feel good, it’s not something anybody wants us to do. We’re going to explore a lot of different areas. I believe we’ll have something to look at by the deadline that we’ll have to make a decision on. But even if there isn’t something there that’s going to help us now and more importantly in the future, then we’ll go with what we have. A lot of teams are saying the same thing right now. It’s not a year where there’s a lot of players available. Some players, it’d be a reach just to say that they can help you. So to give up assets for players like that isn’t something we’re prepared to do. There’s so many teams that are in it still. And even some of the ones that aren’t are happy with their young players and their core and aren’t willing to move players. So it’s a pretty thin group right now. That can change in the next 24 hours, but there’s not a lot of players on the market.
Are you likely to hold onto the veterans you have in the minors or move them to new NHL homes?
Nonis: We would entertain that. If there was a situation where we could put them with an NHL team… If that’s something that makes sense, then we wouldn’t hold them back.
Is adding experience in goal part of your thinking?
Nonis: Experience and depth. We feel like where we are with our goaltending with the Marlies as it’s been pretty good. But there’s not a lot of playoff experience with those goalies. We’d like to get them some… If we had someone there that played a lot of playoff games, some NHL playoff games, and was a real good third, then we wouldn’t be in the market at all. But having someone there that could help in the event that we would need them would just make sense for us. But I have to caution everybody that it’s only if it makes sense for us and if the price tag is reasonable. If not, we’re comfortable with what we have.
How much do you read into 36 games?
Nonis: Everyone’s played 36 games so you can only compare us to the rest of the league… There’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of games to play in a shortened season. That’s one of the reasons why you have to be cautious in what you do at the trade deadline. We think it’s important to evaluate everything because it can affect the rest of the year and going forward.
Is patience part of this as well?
Nonis: There’s always an urge to try and do something. There’s a want to do something, I think that’s natural to want to add. But you’re better to take a long walk down the block before you make a big move that’s going to suck some of the future out of your team. Some of our better players this year over different stretches have been our younger players. We’ve given them an opportunity and they’ve stepped up and done it. So I think you have to be really careful with where you are in the cycle of your team. We said early on we want to make sure we’re showing progress; that’s the biggest target for us. You don’t want to set yourself back so ultimately you’re not progressing as an organization.