SHORT HILLS, N.J. – Dave Nonis is trying to make a deal at the NHL draft, but the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager is finding the landscape for trading has become more difficult.
The constraints of the salary cap dropping from US$70.2 million to $64.3 million could make it harder to make trades this weekend, even for big-budget teams like the Maple Leafs. Some big-name players are available in talks, according to Nonis, but the interest isn’t there.
“I think it’s the financial aspect of making a deal and the realization that everyone is coming to, which is, it’s hard to make some of these things fit,” he said. “The cap jumping down, it has a significant impact on what teams can do.”
What the Maple Leafs would like to do is find upgrades to a team that made the playoffs and lost in the first round to the eventual Eastern Conference-champion Boston Bruins. Though Nonis wouldn’t comment on centre Vincent Lecavalier, having $19 million in cap space could make Toronto a landing spot for a prominent player, either through a trade or free agency.
“If we can make it fit,” Nonis said. “We’re no different than any other team. We have to operate within that same framework, and that six million bucks coming off the table makes it a lot more difficult than most people would expect. I think that everybody is starting to come to the realization that it’ll be difficult to do.”
As difficult as it might be to pull off a bevy of trades, Nonis said he won’t make moves just for the sake of change. He’s looking for upgrades.
“We’ve had some players that took a pretty significant step forward last year, and I’m happy with the group in general, the core group,” Nonis said. “I think it’s going in the right direction.”
At the centre of that core group is captain Dion Phaneuf, a subject of some trade rumours this week. Nonis said Phaneuf hasn’t been a player generating a lot of talk and implied he’s not eager to get rid of the defenceman.
“I don’t envision moving Dion. I think he’s going to be here,” Nonis said. “With that said, we can’t say there isn’t a player that we wouldn’t move if it actually benefited the team. I think all of our players understand it and they expect it.”
Nonis scoffed at the word “untouchable,” even as it relates to prospects within the organization. If the Maple Leafs want to be a Stanley Cup contender, he said, they cannot limit their opportunities to get better.
“I think it’s a foolish word in pro sports: untouchable,” he said. “Very few players, I think, around the league are untouchable. There has to be a price tag for everybody.”
Certainly the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick at No. 21 has a price, as well. Nonis would like to move up but acknowledged that if that’s not possible scouts believe they can find a “quality player” at that spot.
Toronto has some depth of defensive prospects and seems well-positioned for a draft that’s top-heavy with centres, but Nonis said the team will take the best available player, regardless of position.
“You really want to make sure you hit on your first-round pick,” he said. “The odds are obviously much better. But once you get 2 through 7, you might change your philosophy a little bit. You might go by position or skill-set. Someone has something that stands out that you think you’re missing as an organization. You do approach it a little differently.”
Nonis has plenty on his plate before July 5, including pending unrestricted free-agent centre Tyler Bozak. He reported there wasn’t much progress on a new deal for Bozak and doesn’t expect that to change by the end of the weekend.
“There’s a lot of moving parts right now in terms of teams trying to move players,” Nonis said. “It’s not that we’re not trying to focus on getting Tyler signed because he still is a player we’d obviously like to have, but it’s not a priority between now and Sunday.”