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Maple Leafs Trade Talks - Are Kulemin and Gunnarsson on their way out?
Steve Minakakis

Maple Leafs Trade Talks - Are Kulemin and Gunnarsson on their way out?
Toronto is one of the best places to play hockey. If you're a professional hockey player, how could you not want to play in Toronto? The city is always in a buzz about the Maple Leafs, whether they're doing well or struggling. Could Nikolai Kulemin or Carl Gunnarsson be on their way out?

North York - January 8, 2012 - Toronto is one of the best places to play hockey. If you're a professional hockey player, how could you not want to play in Toronto? The city is always in a buzz about the Maple Leafs, whether they're doing well or struggling. Although sometimes playing in Toronto may bring a lot of heckling and grief your way (see Andrew Raycroft, Brian McCabe and many others) for the most part, this is the place to play.

Another good thing about Toronto from a management perspective is that players don't often step into their GM's office and demand a trade. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Back in the John Ferguson Jr. era, where he threw around no trade clauses like they were pieces of candy, we saw many players veto possible trades that were orchestrated by Toronto's GM. The only players that usually want out of Toronto are the ones that get boo-ed every night and endure months of heckling from Leafs Nation. Those players, like Andrew Raycroft, usually haven't played well in a while and likely wont be much help to the Maple Leafs going forward, so trading them isn't a bad idea.

So, we've established that most players would enjoy playing in Toronto. Since that is the case, Toronto always has the opportunity to hold on to players who's trade value may be lower at this time, because of their struggles on the ice. This affords the Leafs the opportunity to trade such a player at a different time when they are playing better and their trade value has increased.

Why am I saying all of this? To dive right into it I'm referring to Nikolai Kulemin. His offensive struggles have been well documented this season. Coming off a break-out year last season, many expected similar numbers (60 points) from Kulemin. At the half-way marker of the season he only has 16 points in 41 games. He's on pace for only half the points he had last season. So, why trade him now? Sure, he isn't scoring as much, but he is by no means a liability on the team. He is one of the best defensive forwards on the roster and can easily play a defensive third-line role if his scoring slump continues. If the Leafs really want to trade Kulemin, now is not the time. I think we can all agree that a 32 point season for him would be well below average. I don't expect him to throw up 60+ points every season, but he's a very talented two-way player.

I also think trading any first round picks is completely off-limits. The Leafs have traded enough top picks. It's too early to tell where this team will end up in April and if we drop to the bottom ten without a first round pick again, we're losing both in the short and long term. Another player that must be off-limits for Brian Burke is Nazem Kadri. At the start of the season I had almost given up all hope on Kadri. He looked too weak to play in the NHL, every time he took a hit, he would turn invisible for the rest of the game. So I was more than pleasantly surprised with his play since his last call up. He's playing a lot stronger, he's setting up plays in the offensive zone, and he isn't trying to make something out of nothing that ends up with the puck in the back of our own net. When the end of his shift is approaching, he dumps it in and heads off. There's no doubt that he's a really skilled player, but it was always some of the little things with Kadri that would bother me. He has cleaned up well in most of those areas.

If the Leafs want to pick up a big player, they need to shed some salary first. I really like the speed of a guy like Lombardi, but when you look at the roster, he's simply not needed. He makes 3.5 million against the salary cap for both this year and next year, so he won't be an easy player to trade. But if the Leafs find a team that's interested in taking Lombardi and his salary from us, and also find a trade for one of those big named players that are being rumoured, such as Getzlaf, Ryan, and Staal, that fits with what the Leafs are willing to give up, then pull the trigger.

Also, what's Joe Colborne's value in a possible trade? He's a former first round draft pick that is only a few years away from making it into the NHL in many people's minds. I would rather trade him than our next first round pick, and you would probably get more value for him. I wasn't impressed with his speed when he was called up and for a player with his size he was letting himself get pushed around. I haven't by any means given up on him as a player, he's definitely got the potential to become a good NHL player.

Another name being thrown around is Luke Schenn. I can't imagine Burke honestly trading Schenn. Schenn is his kind of guy - a big defenseman who isn't afraid to throw his body around. His puck handling skills are definitely not as good as we would have liked to see from him at this point in his career, but I think once he regains his confidence, he could be a very talented defenseman. The only way you trade Luke Schenn is if you get a very good player in return without crippling the rest of the Leafs roster, or shipping off several prospects. That being said Schenn does make over 3.5 a season and trading him would free up some valuable cap space.

How about Clarke MacArthur? He's at a reasonable 3.25 million dollar per year against the salary cap. He's proven he can score, but this year has fallen off a bit. He has 12 goals and 9 assists for 21 points in 34 games with the Leafs this season. He's the type of player many teams would look at for some secondary scoring. If I'm Brian Burke, he's a player that I'd be willing to trade to trade in a package to get something bigger in return. He would likely be more valuable than Nikolai Kulemin, and would free up more cap space.

But please, oh please, don't trade Carl Gunnarsson. He's so calm and collected in the defensive zone. He makes his other defense partner look at least three times better when he plays with them, whether it was Phaneuf, or Schenn, or whomever. He's a good puck moving defenseman, and he's usually reliable in the defensive end. The one knock I have on him is that sometimes he doesn't wrap the puck around the boards as hard as he should and turns the puck over. That's not really a big problem when you look at all the good he brings to the team. What drives his value even higher is his attractive contract. He is set to make 1.325 this year and next year before becoming a restricted free agent.

In conclusion, the Leafs already have a top scoring line and two good secondary scoring lines. If they are going to grab an elite forward, they should be looking at trading one of their secondary guys, mainly someone like MacArthur, who's value is still close to where it should be, as opposed to a guy like Kulemin who is really struggling. Keep your draft picks and keep your players who's value is much lower than it should be.

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