clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Maple Leafs Off-season Game Plan: Post Tavares Edition

New, comments

Now that the Leafs have signed John Tavares, where do they go from here?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Edmonton Oilers
Matt Martin is reportedly receiving plenty of interest around the league, and the Leafs could look to move his $2.5 million cap hit sooner rather than later.
Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

It is safe to say that Kyle Dubas’ to-do list is a little bit shorter after signing John Tavares. The Maple Leafs can now run a trio of Tavares, Matthews, and Kadri down the middle, which provides them with a playoff-bound lineup on July 3rd. However, Toronto’s front office is not going to take the rest of the offseason off, and there’s still plenty of time to make their roster even better.

The Leafs could use another fourth line centre to compete with Par Lindholm, and possibly an extra depth option on the wing. Everyone would like to add a top four defenceman, especially one who right-handed, but this could be pushed back until the trade deadline. Additionally, the Leafs have a surplus of goalies at the moment, and it seems like one will likely be moved in the near future. This post will go over a handful of offseason targets, and suggest a few other orders of business.

Matt Martin

It seems likely that the Leafs will trade Matt Martin sooner rather than later:

Martin carries a $2.5 million cap hit through the 2019-2020 season, and while the Leafs could afford to keep him this season, they will certainly be tight for cap space next offseason. The 29-year-old winger could attract teams that were interested in Ryan Reaves before he re-signed with Vegas. Elliott Friedman reported that Reaves met with Calgary, Vancouver, and the New York Rangers. Plus, Larry Brooks confirmed that Martin is in demand on the trade market.

Toronto would be wise to move Martin while there is plenty of interest. A poor season from him could make it difficult to move him next July, and the Leafs will not want to risk having his $2.5 million cap hit on the books in a season where they will need every penny they can get. There’s just $2.5 million remaining in actually salary over the remainder the deal, rather than $5 million as his cap hit suggests, so the Leafs could conceivably land a third round pick in return.

Making an Addition on the Back-end

This seems to be a hot topic, as Toronto’s forward group is largely set in their top nine, and there certainly is not a lack of options in goal. First, your evaluation of Toronto defence is largely tied to you opinion of Jake Gardiner. There are still plenty of Leafs fans who see him as a defensive liability, and if you see him as a net negative, you probably aren’t a big fan of Toronto’s back-end whatsoever. However, those who have seen Gardiner’s impact on both shot attempt differential and goal differential can objectively say that he’s a strong contributor:

Gardiner and Morgan Rielly both scored over 50 points last year, and Travis Dermott looked extremely promising in his 44-game stint. With Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev in the fold to help kill penalties, this group is fairly well-rounded. It’s worth pointing out that they were a 105-point team with largely the same group last season. Still, making a significant addition could really round out the roster nicely.

The first player who I would be targeting is Rasmus Andersson of the Calgary Flames. He’s a heavy, but offensively-talented, right-shooting defenceman who is the same age as Travis Dermott. The Flames already have T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Michael Stone on the right-side, and while Andersson is almost certainly NHL ready, there does not appear to be a spot for him in Calgary’s lineup. While many Flames fans would like to see Andersson in the NHL lineup over Stone, Calgary just signed Stone to a three-year extension last summer, and he played all 82 games in 2017-18.

The Flames are in need of a backup goalie, and their starter is a 36-year old Mike Smith who has just one year remaining on his contract. After his terrific season in the AHL, the Flames could have interest in Garret Sparks, who could audition to be Smith’s future replacement. Calgary could also use help on the left-side, and the Leafs carry plenty of depth here with Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen in the fold. Either player could be added to sweeten the pot in any potential deal.

Andersson is a talented offensive defenceman, who was recognized as the top offensive defenceman in his conference back when he was in the OHL, and scored at an incredible rate of 0.7 points per game in the AHL last season. Over the last 10 years, the only under-22 defenders to outscore Andersson on a point per game basis (minimum 20 GP) are: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan Murphy, Brandon Montour, Mark Barberio, John Carlson, Adam Clendening, Derrick Pouliot, Justin Faulk, Shea Theodore, Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen, Sebastian Aho, Tim Erixon, Sami Niku, and Torey Krug. At 6’1” and 214 pounds, he’s certainly able to play a physical game, and could develop into a solid NHL defenceman for years to come.

Andersson would become a cost-controllable young asset during the next few years, which is particularly appealing to a team that will need all the cap space they can get. Toronto could make a strong push by including their 2019 first round pick in a package for Andersson, but I’m not sure if this would be necessary. The Leafs could tempt Calgary with Sparks, a 2019 second round pick, and either Matt Martin, or the pick they receive from another team for Matt Martin. Nevertheless, if Rasmus Andersson is in fact blocked in Calgary, the Leafs should be all over the chance to acquire a right-shooting, NHL-ready, and offensively-talented defenceman. Toronto’s first round pick isn’t quite as valuable as it used to be, and I expect the Leafs to be open-minded if the right deal comes along.

The Search for a Fourth Line Centre

At the last two trade deadlines, the Leafs have traded a second-round pick to rent the services of a fourth-line centre. While Tomas Plekanec and Brian Boyle are fine players, Toronto will surely be looking for a more permanent option, and one who they who they can acquire for nothing but cash.

The first name to look out for is 25-year-old Nick Shore, who split last season between the Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, and Calgary Flames. He’s been a regular on the penalty kill over the years, owns a career mark of 50.3% in the face-off circle, and could bring some size to Toronto’s lineup. While he hasn’t been a big scorer at the NHL level, he’s been buried lower in the lineup throughout his career, and scored over a point per game rate in his final season in the AHL back in 2014-2015.

Another option could be 28-year-old Derek Grant, who established himself as a NHL contributor last year with 24 points in 66 games. His most common line-mates were Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, so grain of salt, but he is certainly a proven scorer at the AHL level. Grant is 6’3”, owns a career mark of 53% in the face-off circle, and is a regular on the penalty kill.

Other free agent options include Mark Letestu, Antoine Vermette, and former Maple Leaf Matt Stajan. Letestu is just one year removed from a 35 point season, but would have a tough time earning an opportunity to play on the powerplay. Vermette is one of the league’s top face-off specialists, and could simply be used for defensive zone face-offs, not to mention Toronto’s other three centres would likely limit his minutes. Finally, it would be a fun homecoming for Stajan, who is used to receiving limited minutes in Calgary.

Calvin de Haan, Depth Options on the Wing, and Final Thoughts

One player who seems to be at the top of everyone’s wish list is Calvin de Haan, a defenceman who played with Tavares in both New York and Oshawa. He’s 27, and while he’s a left-hand shot, he’s certainly talented enough to move someone over to the right-side. If the Leafs can sign him for a bargain price, they should certainly look to do this. However, there seems to be plenty of interest in him around the league, and the Leafs don’t have much space to sign a player to a multi-year deal. He’d be a great addition, but I am not so sure if the two sides can make this work.

The Leafs could use an extra depth option at left wing, especially if they trade Martin. Anthony Duclair would be a terrific addition, as I have no idea why he did not receive a qualifying offer from the Blackhawks, but he may look to go elsewhere and earn a larger opportunity. I wouldn’t be shocked if Dubas looked to re-unite with Daniel Winnik, who would be a natural replacement for Leo Komarov, and could help the team defensively. Still, I am a huge fan of Trevor Moore on the Marlies, and I would love to see them rewarded with a NHL opportunity in a depth role. Carl Grundstrom looks like he could be ready by mid-season, and Josh Leivo deserves more than 16 games next year if the Leafs plan on keeping him.

Ultimately, the rest of the offseason may be filled with under-the-radar types of deals, but a small addition or two could add needed depth or help Toronto’s long-term cap situation. The hardest part of the offseason is over, and now the question becomes: who wants to come to Toronto to play with Auston Matthews and John Tavares? It will certainly be an interesting couple of months.