Why Did The Leafs Trade For Grabner?
Most of you have already heard the news by now, but if you haven't, here's what transpired. During the annual Media Day, the Leafs traded forward Taylor Beck and Carter Verhaeghe, defensemen Matt Finn and Tom Nilsson, and goaltender Christopher Gibson to the New York Islanders in exchange for forward Michael Grabner.
Upon first glance, the trade comes as a complete shock. It seems weird that the Leafs were ok with giving up a bunch of prospects that seemed to have a future with the Leafs for proven player in the middle of his prime.
The trade goes completely against the rebuild, right? Well not exactly.
See, prior to this trade, the Leafs were in a jam in terms of the number of players under contract. Under the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the maximum number of players an NHL team can have under contract is 50. This includes the main team of 23 players and 27 prospects in the farm system. The Leafs had 49 players before the deal was made and now have 45 contracts.
The choice of these five particular prospects can mean only one thing: the Leafs decided that they did not have a place in the teams future plans. While Finn, Verhaeghe, and Gibson have shown promise to be solid players in the future, the problem that persists is that these players have fallen through the ranks of the the best players in the system by the team. Now that they are gone, they each have a better chance at making it to The Show in a different environment.
Speaking of Gibson, his departure clears up the goalie situation down in the farm that came about the last few seasons. Last season alone, the Leafs had three quality goalies with a legitimate chance in making the NHL in Gibson, Garret Sparks, and Antoine Bibeau. A team can only keep so many goalies in their farm system and the development of one goalie cannot be hindered simply because there is too many players in the way. With Gibson out of the picture, expect Bibeau and Sparks to be given an increased role for the Toronto Marlies this year.
In addition, the Leafs have recently signed three players (Devin Setoguchi, Curtis Glencross, and Brad Boyes) to PTOs with the intention of not only filling out the roster but also giving the best prospects more conditioning in the minors. Although it would be nice to see the likes of William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and Connor Brown in a Leafs uniform this season, it is better that their development is not rushed for the sake of filling out the roster right now.
But out of all the potential reasons that this trade was made, the most logical one that I could think of was that this trade helps the team prepare for the Trade Deadline next year by acquiring another trade asset.
Think back to last season when the Leafs traded away Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson. All three players had one year remaining on their contracts and on a team with no intentions of keeping them because of their new rebuild. While all three players were decent additions that could provide some offence, they were either heading into their prime or in the middle of it with trade values at a decent amount.
Franson and Santorelli turned into Brandon Lesipic, a 1st round draft pick, and Olli Jokinen (who was later traded for a roster player and a draft pick). Winnik turned into two draft picks (one of which was traded to acquire Martin Marincin) and a roster player that would leave at seasons end (Zach Sill). The first round draft pick eventually became two secound round draft picks (Travis Dermott and Jeremy Bracco) and a third round pick (Martin Dzierkals). Essentially, the Leafs moved three players away and got back five prospects and one draft pick. That to me is a great way of rebuilding the team from the ground up.
This season, a very similar situation has arisen but with more players to work with this time around. In addition to Grabner, the Leafs have Glencross, Boyes, Setoguchi, Mark Arcobello, Nick Spaling, Matt Hunwick, P.A. Parrenteau, and Winnik (who was brought back during the offseason) as potential trade chips that can turn into even more prospects and draft picks. While it's no guarantee that all of these players will result in a quality return or even be traded, this list shows the commitment the Leafs have in getting the team back to respectability and have a unique way of doing so.
This brings us back to Grabner and his place on the team this coming season. He's a former 30 goal scorer who's place on the Islanders was lost due to the high amount of players trying to make the main team.
The main qualities that he brings is speed and has a nose for the net (essentially an offensive player who is fast). However, he is not likely to be used as a top six forward and more as a third liner on a scoring line and can easily provide at least 15 goals and 30 points or more.
While the scouting report doesn't seem very mind blowing, the main fact is that Grabner could provide the Leafs with a solid return should these choose to trade him at the deadline. At worst, he could bring in a prospect and a third and fourth round pick. At best, he could net the Leafs with a secound round pick from a contending team.
No matter which way you slice it, the Leafs made this trade with the intention of preparing for the coming months while committing to the plan set this past January. Although it is tough to see some of the prospects mentioned in the trade gone (especially Matt Finn and Carter Verhaeghe), I'm excited to see what Grabner has to offer during his short time here.
The future of the Leafs has become more exciting and hopeful with each passing day. Today's trade is further proof of that.