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Daniel Winnik #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre February 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Abelimages/Getty Images

Two draft picks is two draft picks – that's the bottom line.

There has been some confusion in the wake of the Toronto Maple Leafs moving out Dan Winnik, who had been a terrific foot soldier all year.

He wasn't traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday because he didn't play well. He did, putting up an impressive 25 even-strength points in 58 games and working his tail off night after night on a bargain-basement contract.

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He also wasn't traded to bring back Zach Sill, the minor-league body the Leafs accepted in the deal.

Winnik was traded because the Leafs want to draft and develop – and in order to do so, they need picks.

Lots of them.

In this case, they got what will be middling to late ones in the second round (in 2016) and the fourth (this summer). It's not a sexy return, but Winnik's not a sexy asset. He's a second- or third-line guy who will fit in marvellously with the Penguins for a couple of months but whose value was set by the market.

Four teams were very interested. Pittsburgh – a team in win-now mode, as usual – outbid the others in terms of futures.

"Everyone wants first-round picks in this draft," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said of the trade market, which has been surprisingly active around the league. "It's a good draft, but there's always a premium on picks."

Most importantly from Toronto's perspective, Winnik would have left for nothing in the off-season, something that has happened far too often to this franchise (i.e., Mason Raymond and Nikolai Kulemin a year ago).

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These are the easy trades for the Leafs. They're the equivalent of tee-ball, with the parameters set by the suitors and little that can go wrong.

The X factor is if you can hit on some of these picks, whether they be the late first-rounder from Nashville or these longer shots from the Pens.

With Toronto already moving their three marquee rentals – Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and now Winnik – there aren't many of those easy calls left. Everything from here is going to be exponentially harder, with more moving parts and potential pitfalls.

"Moving big names or big players is difficult during the season," Leafs GM Dave Nonis explained minutes after the Winnik deal was announced. "But that really hasn't changed. If there's an opportunity to improve, then we would look to take advantage."

"Improve" isn't a term to be taken literally. Moving Franson and Santorelli for a pick and prospect doesn't improve the Leafs this season or next, and neither did Wednesday's deal with Pittsburgh. This has become all about the future – perhaps even the distant future, in the case of picks that won't be made until 16 months from now.

It's become about getting what they can for diminishing assets when they can and hopefully build a better foundation than the rotting one currently in place.

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It's about long-term thinking – longer term than the Leafs franchise has ever employed.

How that new mindset affects the rest of what Toronto does between now and Monday's 3 p.m. trade deadline is tough to forecast. Even in rebuild mode, it's highly possible the Leafs aren't able to deal any of their other pieces in the next few days, as all the big names come with big term, and big term isn't what's likely to move right now.

Trading a Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul or Tyler Bozak is going to take some real finesse and ingenuity, especially to get back something decent.

Even if the Leafs do make a trade in the coming days, it could be one that looks ugly at first, one that doesn't net much in return but helps set the table for a summer of major retooling.

It could make the two draft picks they got on Wednesday look pretty good.

And, in this context, they are.

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