Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Shouldn’t Give Up Top Prospects
One reason to trade prospects and go all-in is that the Toronto Maple Leafs core isn’t guaranteed to be around forever, both Auston Matthews’ and William Nylander’s contracts will expire two seasons after this one.
Mitch Marner’s and John Tavares’ will be up the following year after that and both Tavares and Morgan Rielly aren’t getting any younger. Many would argue that you can’t waste time and you must move all your chips to the centre of the table and go for it.
Although I understand this and agree with this approach sometimes, I don’t think the Leafs are at that desperation point just yet.
Their key star players are all 25 years old or younger, Rielly is only 28 and Tavares is the oldest of the bunch at 31. I do see the point with Tavares but as the second line centre, it’s not like his role is as crucial to the team as Marner or Matthews and as an elite player, they typically are able to keep their play up to a level higher as they age.
On top of this, with the apparent near NHL readiness of some of their prospects, it makes sense to keep them around to be solid NHL contributors on their ELCs or cheap second contracts. Both Sandin and Liljegren are playing regular NHL minutes and doing quite well and at $925K or less, you can’t beat that value.
You also have Robertson who is getting a chance to audition in the Leafs lineup and prospects Knies and Nick Abruzzese are rumoured to be getting an NHL chance as soon as next month. Additionally, with the Leafs cap structure, it makes the ELC players even more valuable as you need to find cheap players to fill larger roles when you allocate half of your cap space to your stars. Filling in your roster with the cheapest possible deals can be a key component to taking multiple runs at a cup.
If you are able to integrate players like Knies and Robertson into your top-nine forward group over the next couple seasons on their ELCs, it could be a game changer for the Leafs. It allows you to allocate your cap space in other areas to shore up your roster, the flexibility that could be used by Dubas and Pridham alone is worth it. Not to mention, if you feel confident enough that any of these players could step in and be an impact player for multiple cup runs before they can even negotiate a second contract, they’re way more valuable than a single cup run of a top-four defenceman or second line winger.
You don’t have to look far to see how valuable these types of players are to winning in a cap system. Tampa Bay had Ross Colton on a cheap second contract last season when they won the cup. The season before they had Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and Mikhail Sergachev on ELCs and they had Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy on great value second contracts. You also had the Blues with; Robert Thomas, Vince Dunn, and Ivan Barbashev on ELCs and Jordan Binnington on a cheap contract as well. Some other notable examples in recent years are Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray on Pittsburgh. You also had Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky on Washington and the list goes on.
Most or all of these players were key contributors on their cup winning teams and even if they weren’t, playing NHL minutes on a team that wins the cup is a pretty great accolade in and of itself. Each roster spot costs money and the less money you have to spend to occupy those spots is an immensely valuable commodity and should be treated as an asset in it’s own right.