SHORT HILLS, N.J. — At a time when Dave Nonis believes there are more big name players available on the NHL’s trade market than ever before, the Toronto Maple Leafs are wide open for business.
The message to other general managers around the league?
If a player is currently on the Leafs roster or in the team’s system, he’s available.
“We can’t say that there isn’t a player that we wouldn’t move if it didn’t benefit our team,” Nonis said Friday from Toronto’s draft headquarters. “I think all of our players understand that and they expect it. We want to become a championship team. We want to be a team that has a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
“If we’re lopping off four, five or six guys that we’re totally unprepared to move then we’re limiting our chances to get better.”
One big name you can expect to remain in Toronto through a busy off-season is Dion Phaneuf.
The Leafs captain has been mentioned in some recent trade rumours, but Nonis indicated that he hasn’t received many inquiries from other teams about the veteran defenceman.
And he certainly didn’t sound like he was looking to send him out of town.
“He’s done a very good job for us,” Nonis said of Phaneuf. “I think Dion gets a bad rap by some people in Toronto, but he took a big step for us last year and he was a significant part of our team.
“I don’t envision moving Dion, I think he’s going to be here.”
Of course, that could change with one phone call.
There is expected to be an unprecedented among of roster movement around the league over the next few weeks.
Some teams have already started announcing compliance buyouts and a number are trying to trade big contracts with the salary cap set to drop to $64.3 million next season.
Against that backdrop, Nonis seems to be waiting patiently in the weeds.
The Leafs are fairly well-positioned under the cap and the GM made it clear he’s not looking to make any changes just for change sake. However, that doesn’t mean an intriguing proposition won’t emerge during the draft weekend in New Jersey.
“There are more names … thrown out than I’ve seen before,” said Nonis. “There are more big, significant names with fewer teams willing to take them, which is not normally the case. Usually when you get big names put out there, there’s a lot of teams that are trying to pounce on it.
“That’s not the case right now.”
The level of unpredictability around the league comes at an interesting time for the Leafs, who are coming off their first playoff berth in nine years. It also the first full off-season since Nonis took over and there seems to be no shortage of opportunity for him to put his stamp on the team.
Toronto currently has 12 free agents on its roster — forwards Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur are both unrestricted — but Nonis didn’t expect to complete any signings ahead of Sunday’s draft.
His biggest concern is tying up too much cap space with his own players and getting hamstrung from completing a larger transaction down the road. That philosophy is believed to have kept a large gap in contract talks with Bozak even though the Leafs hope to resign the 27-year-old centre.
“We like him, we’d like him to remain a Leaf,” said Nonis. “But we have to look at the amount of money that we have under the cap — not the amount of money we could spend, the amount we have under the cap. How do you allocate that and be competitive?
“That’s the No. 1 focus for us.”
It is a question that every NHL team is asking itself internally while heading into the first summer in history where the NHL’s salary cap will drop. While that will have a precipitous effect on some rosters, Nonis is trying to seek out the opportunity it is bound to create.
“That $6 million coming off the table makes it a lot more difficult (to make moves) than most people would expect,” he said. “I think everybody is starting to come to the realization that it will be difficult to do.”
The Leafs management group spent Friday afternoon huddled in a boardroom with scouts in preparation for a draft that will see them pick 21st overall in the opening round.
Nonis also continued to work the phones.
Over the past few days, he has spoken with the 29 other GMs and the trade talk was expected to continue — with the Leafs being open to whatever direction the conversation goes.
“I think it’s a foolish word in pro sports — untouchable,” said Nonis. “Very few players I think around the league are untouchable. There has to be a price tag for everybody.”