The Toronto Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best roster because they have the most elite players and the best depth.
A lot of Toronto Maple Leafs commentators have ignored this fact because otherwise they need to confront their wrongness on the Leafs studs and duds salary cap philosophy, which, in the copy cat NHL, will soon become the main approach teams take to roster building.
The Leafs depth is such that if fully healthy, they will most likely leave Rasmus Sandin and Nick Robertson in the minors. If fully healthy, they have Wayne Simmonds, Nick Robertson, Alex Barabanov, Nic Petan, Travis Boyd, Jason Spezza, Jimmy Vesey, Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Engvall competing for four spots at the bottom of the lineup.
Therefore, if they are going to upgrade heading into the playoffs, it really only makes sense to do so if the upgrade is significant. This is why all current trade rumours are so silly.
Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Rumours
The NHL is a professional league with a salary cap. This means that there are very small margins of difference between players to start with. The NHL is made up of about 1000 players, about 100 of which are elite at any given time, as measured by wins above replacement.
Over the course of a full season, the range of these 100 players goes from being worth one win over a season to about five for whoever ends up deserving the Hart Trophy. The other 90% of players are worth between zero wins and .99 wins, on average.
This doesn’t mean that there is no difference between players or that it’s not worth it to upgrade the bottom of your roster. What it does mean though is that it is expensive in the NHL to get only slightly better, and therefore you should channel your money and resources into elite players.
Is Eric Staal better than someone in the Leafs top nine? Is Mikael Granlund? Probably a little bit. The question is, how much better? The answer is, probably not enough to be worth pursuing.
According to the Jfresh Player Cards (which convert many different stats into an easy to view summary of a players talents over the last three seasons) Granlund has been better than 75% forwards, while Staal is better than 91% over the past three seasons. The thing about Staal though, is that he is 36 and his production and numbers are way down this year.
If you can add either player on the cheap, then who cares? If its inexpensive, then it’s worth the risk, especially since both of these guys were really good players until very recently.
Neither players is going to push Zach Hyman or Joe Thornton out of the top six though, so why not set your sights higher? It’s smart of the Leafs to collect cheap quality players because the odds are that some of them will vastly outperform their expectations (Joe Thornton so far for example).
I have no problem adding more depth. If Eric Staal can be acquired for a low draft pick, go for it. The thing is though, the Toronto Maple Leafs have assets to trade and are on the verge of a Stanley Cup. This means it would be sensible to trade for someone who is going to make a big difference, and not just another marginal player.
And full disclosure, I am just basing this off Staal’s age and the probability of decline. The Leafs are going to be far more informed that I am, and they may have reason to believe he can contribute. Like I said, for the right cost, go for it. My point here is just that given the Leafs can get to the Final Four without facing either Tampa or Boston (instead of both of them, which would be the probably path if the divisions were normal) they should be going for it this year.
There will never be a better time to take a big swing.