Get a goalie. Any goalie.
That is the chatter surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the NHL trade deadline Monday – and understandably so given the struggles of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson of late.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, in particular, would love to have some help between the pipes, especially after he essentially threw in the towel on both goalies after a week of losses.
But with teams’ asking prices for those in goal sky high and Toronto’s playoff chances sinking, the wiser move may well be to become one of the league’s few sellers, offload some dead weight and begin preparing for next season.
Even if that means giving up on the 2012 postseason.
After another dismal showing in a 4-2 loss Saturday to the Washington Capitals, the Leafs’ playoff hopes are sitting right around 30 per cent, according to sportsclubstats.com.
If the season ended on Sunday night, meanwhile, their first-round pick, which they remarkably still own, would be 10th overall. (It’s also improving by the game, with the sixth or seventh selection not out of the question come early April.)
The talk filtering out of the Leafs’ camp on Sunday was that teams with goaltenders to deal weren’t willing to do Toronto any favours. Adding the type of stopgap solution general manager Brian Burke had mused about last week, in other words, may not be possible for a reasonable price.
There are also likely to be far more options available in the summer, with teams such as the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators – all of whom boast solid backups – wanting that insurance behind their No. 1s in the playoffs.
Besides, pinning all of the Leafs woes over the last few weeks on only the goalies is far from fair.
This is a team that’s scored just 17 times in its past nine games, in part because of a power play that has been ice cold since mid-January (firing at 10.3 per cent over the past 20 games).
This is a team with more defensive breakdowns many nights than contending teams have in a week or two, with blueline veterans Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles, among others, struggling mightily so far in the second half of the season.
This is also a team that, after a 9-3-1 start to the season, has played at just a 77-point full-season pace and at this rate would finish with just one more point than they had last season.
Wilson took the easy road Saturday in fingering Reimer for the loss, especially given the rest of the team’s performance fit with a regular pattern of listless starts and rallies that came too little, too late.
Whether Burke will oblige him by adding short-term help in goal, however, is anything but a sure thing.
After all, for the non-contenders, deadline day is usually one dedicated to selling off unwanted assets – not adding – and Toronto certainly has no shortage of those.
If there are takers, why not move out salaries such the $11.25-million (U.S.) tied up next year in three of their highest paid forwards: Tim Connolly, Matt Lombardi and Colby Armstrong?
(As an aside: How telling was it that Armstrong’s brother, Riley, tweeted during the game Saturday that “a coach has to know how to motivate his players and you can tell the fire is gone” in a thinly veiled reference to Wilson?)
Why not get assets for any and all underperformers and attempt to rework the team’s offensive and defensive depth at the draft and in free agency?
While test driving a No. 1 goaltender over the final 20 games has some benefits, it’s also become clear over the past three weeks that the Leafs need upgrades at every position going into next season.
And Monday is as good a time as any to start down that path.
Which Leafs could be on the move?
Luke Schenn – Stay-at-home defenceman looks a step slower than last season and has fallen into only third-pairing duty all season. Still just 22, Schenn’s development seems to have stalled, and he could be moved for help up front. Chance he’s dealt: 30 per cent.
Jonas Gustavsson – One way or another, The Monster’s time in Toronto appears to be over. An unrestricted free agent this summer, he could be moved in a deal for a goaltender or even placed on waivers. Chance he’s dealt: 30 per cent.
Mikhail Grabovski – Stuck in a contract impasse centred around both dollars and term, Grabovski may be moved for a draft pick if his asking price remains too high to be re-signed. Chance he’s dealt: 25 per cent.
Colby Armstrong – General manager Brian Burke would be wise to get out from under the final year of the beat-up veteran’s $3-million (all currency U.S.) contract if possible. Several playoff teams are rumoured to be interested – although having recently been a healthy scratch, he wouldn’t fetch much at this point. Chance he’s dealt: 15 per cent.
Nazem Kadri – The former seventh overall pick once again has close to a point-a-game in the minors but hasn’t impressed at the NHL level and could be packaged in a deal for more immediate help. Just 21. Chance he’s dealt: 5 per cent.
Clarke MacArthur – Burke’s best free-agent signing in Toronto continues to be the subject of trade rumours, although he’s provided decent production given his modest $3.25-million salary. Chance he’s dealt: 5 per cent.
Mike Komisarek – A regular healthy scratch these days and with a huge $4.5-million cap hit the next two seasons, Komisarek is only being moved if it's for another terrible contract that Toronto can buyout or bury in the minors. Even then, that’s a difficult deal to pull off. Chance he’s dealt: 2 per cent.
Jake Gardiner – The rookie defenceman has had his name thrown in almost every rumour out there – and other teams are interested – but Burke will hang onto him at almost all costs. Chance he’s dealt: 0 per cent.