Who should the Maple Leafs be willing to trade to land a franchise player?
Ok, anyone except for Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner.
By anyone, I mean anyone else.
Package the rest however you like but spare those three because each has the chance to someday be as impactful a player as anyone you are likely to get.
So would you deal James Reimer, Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri or the superb Joffrey Lupul. Got to give to get, baby.
Franchise players in their mid 20s are usually a bargain.
Was a 26-year-old Paul Coffey a fair deal for Craig Simpson?
Was a 27-year-old Wayne Gretzky worth Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and three first-rounders?
Were the Phoenix Coyotes wise to trade 26-year-old Teemu Selanne for Oleg Tverdovski, Chad Kilger and a second-rounder?
Did the Leafs do all right in the Dion Phaneuf deal?
Look, you win trades and you lose them. Windfalls are often the result of dumb luck. The Tampa Bay Lightning had no idea they were getting a Hall of Fame player in Martin St. Louis when they scooped him off the Calgary Flames’ waiver wire?
For that matter, did the Leafs know they were getting a potential generational talent in Gardiner when they insisted he be included in the deal that brought Lupul to Toronto? While you are at it, raise your hand if you thought Lupul would be sitting among the NHL’s top half a dozen scorers with the season heading into the homestretch?
People are the one thing harder to forecast than weather.
But Sharks GM Doug Wilson is still living off the decade-old deal in which he traded Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart for Joe Thornton. Were any of those three ever projected to be better than Thornton? Hell no.
It’s true. The team that comes away with the best player on trade day usually benefits the most. The only modifier to that formula is when two comparable talents are traded to maximize the prime of each player (see rule number two).
Here are five hard and fast rules the wise general manager should always observe when pondering a deal to land a franchise player. Don’t look for these in any book. I made them up.
- The Gretzky Rule: This seems obvious but it bears repeating. If you are trading for a star player in his prime years, (and the importance of that caveat cannot be overstated) always get the guy who is the best player that day. Once again, let’s turn to that hallowed hockey analogy: fruit. It’s okay to give up a whole bunch of apples to get a pumpkin.
- The Iginla-Nieuwendyk Rule: Remember time is the commodity you are often trading for. The Flames knew they were giving up an excellent player in Joe Nieuwendyk when they traded him to Dallas for Jarome Iginla. The Stars got their Stanley Cup. The Flames landed a franchise player. There were no losers in this deal, just two winners. Is it probable, not possible but probable, that one of the players you are trading will be as good as the guy coming back? If it is, the only reason to make the deal is time. The player you are getting must hit his prime along with the rest of your team and therefore may be more valuable than the player who will take two, three or even five years to reach that level of proficiency. I am likely all alone in this but I think Gardiner will be one of the best defencemen in the NHL for multiple seasons. For that reason, I wouldn’t trade him. I think the same thing of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.
- The Kessel Rule: Include draft choices but avoid using them as the prime ingredient. Go ahead, Google the Phil Kessel trade. It came down to Kessel for Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight. That’s an extreme deal because whether it be pork bellies or hockey players it’s ludicrously difficult to trade a clearly-outlined future for three unfathomable ones. But Kessel is among the league-leaders in goals with 30, 10 more than Sequin and the Leaf winger hasn’t slept through his alarm once. Brian Burke didn’t trade apples for apples or even apples for pumpkins and that is risky. But right now the deal doesn’t look half bad, despite the Bruins’ surprisingly handsome return.
- The Forsberg Rule: Don’t’ worry about an excess of star players at one position. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby co-existed nicely. Same thing for Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Acquire skill. The rest will sort itself out.
- The Doug Wilson rule: Relax. Salary cap considerations mean a team giving up a stud player will want cheaper players in return. Not many fans remember what teams surrendered to get a star player, only what they got.
All this is in no way a repudiation of the players the Leafs would hand over to land a franchise player. Instead, it’s recognition of that player’s high level of performance or potential.
There are maybe 10 franchise forwards in the NHL. Media reports indicate that one, Rick Nash, is available.
You know the fruit dealers’ credo: history favors the bold.