MONTREAL - Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was asked Saturday morning whether approaching the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline as the coach of an obvious seller is a strange experience considering it's pretty much the first time he's been in this situation.
Babcock was quick to correct his questioner.
"Not pretty much," Babcock said. "It is."
A series of trades by Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello has stripped Babcock of his captain, Dion Phaneuf, defenseman Roman Polak, forwards Shawn Matthias and Nick Spaling, and goaltender James Reimer, who was traded Saturday to the San Jose Sharks.
There should be more to come before the deadline Monday at 3 p.m. ET.
This is the new normal for Babcock, who hasn't missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004 but is all but guaranteed to go through it for the second time in his NHL coaching career this spring.
Babcock is in many ways the Maple Leafs' biggest star, and his primary mandate this season could be seen as making the players on expiring contracts look as attractive as possible to the other 29 teams in the NHL so they can be turned into future assets at this time of year.
That's exactly what he's done, and Lamoriello acknowledged that in discussing the Reimer trade Saturday. He said the fact Babcock and his staff have allowed the Maple Leafs to remain relatively competitive despite an injury-depleted roster has given management the confidence to move forward with these trades.
"It allows you to make some of these decisions because we know we'll be able to play with anybody on any given night," Lamoriello said. "These decisions are made for today and tomorrow, or you can reverse that and say tomorrow and today. Because today we're finding out about people we have in our organization, whether they can do the job or not do the job. We're also preparing for the future by acquiring picks or acquiring assets."
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There are four impending unrestricted free agents remaining on the Maple Leafs after the trade of Reimer on Saturday: forwards Michael Grabner, Brad Boyes, Mark Arcobello and PA Parenteau.
Parenteau is by far the most intriguing of the group. He left the game Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens in the first period with an upper-body injury but said afterwards it was soreness from spasms in his neck he began feeling Friday morning in the gym and that the injury was not serious, so it shouldn't impact any plans the Maple Leafs have of trading him.
Parenteau admitted prior to the game that it was a challenge to block out all the trade rumors and just focus on hockey.
"For sure you follow it a little bit when they're talking about your future," Parenteau said. "You want to know what's going on. But at the same time, I'm trying to block it out."
Parenteau has 16 goals and 32 points in 60 games, making him one of the most productive rental players available on the trade market. He struggled with the Canadiens last season and never earned the trust of coach Michel Therrien. He was quick to credit Babcock for creating an environment for him to succeed in Toronto.
"I think he deserves a lot of credit," Parenteau said. "I had a good meeting with him when the season began, and we established what I needed to do to get ice time and to have success. I think it's worked well so far. Mike and I have a good relationship."
If Parenteau and others are traded prior to the deadline, the Maple Leafs will get an opportunity to continue the evaluation process with the young players in their organization. Toronto has been reluctant to call up some of their better prospects with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League because they are the top team in the AHL, but trading Reimer will force them to do so with goalies Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau.
"These are all things that are in the process and you can't do it when you have two goaltenders here in the NHL," Lamoriello said. "I can remember back many years ago when we had to find out about a young goaltender in the minors in New Jersey. That seemed to work out pretty well."
Lamoriello wasn't necessarily comparing Sparks and Bibeau to Martin Brodeur but emphasizing that the Maple Leafs won't know what they have in either goalie until they give each a chance at the NHL level.
Other Marlies players will surely follow as Lamoriello continues the process of turning the Maple Leafs veterans into future assets.
And once those turn into present assets, Babcock will be able to return to that place where he feels most comfortable: the playoffs.