The Toronto Maple Leafs are in an interesting spot heading into the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. They don’t have many forwards, and they have a lot of defenseman (one of whom is going to be taken). Looking at the lineup specifically, there is a big question mark on the Leafs third line, or as many as three if you don’t like the internal options. Regardless of the method, the Leafs need to find some scoring talent for the bottom half of their lineup; Jason Spezza can’t do it all on his own.
The Leafs have as many as two forward protection slots available after Alex Kerfoot and before unworthy depth players like Pierre Engvall. There is a real opportunity here to weaponize those slots to teams unwilling to give up their eighth forward for nothing. I’ve compiled a list of those teams and the useful players the Leafs could get back for dimes on the dollar (no one uses pennies anymore).
The Leafs won’t be able to get any of these players for free, that’s what Seattle gets to do, so there will be players, picks, or prospects going back the other way. The main player on the block in my books is Ilya Mikheyev, who is exempt for the draft because he’s only played two professional seasons. The Leafs give up a third liner, but get back (in most cases) a better third liner.
The other option is picks (which the Leafs have very few of) or prospects (of which are very young and far from the NHL). There is the option of trading some older Marlies, but beyond Nic Petan, the Leafs have gotten rid of a lot of the players from the last competitive Marlies team in one form or another.
These types of trades aren’t unheard of as a couple of them happened at the Vegas Expansion draft, in both cases for a mid-late draft pick. The Leafs, having so few picks, would obviously be in a different situation.
Carolina - Jesper Fast/Warren Foegele
Jesper Fast has been a favourite of mine and Carolina is in the exact situation the Leafs can exploit. Fast is a better player than Mikheyev, particularly a better history of scoring and being a good finisher around the net. He could be a candidate to move into the top-six should injuries happen, and it would affect the third line less than promoting Kerfoot up to the wing.
The Canes have as many as eight forwards they’d like to protect before Fast (from Sebastian Aho to Morgan Geekie) but it sounds like Warren Foegele is on the outs elsewhere, making Fast next in line. Maybe the Kraken take Foegele, or maybe the RFA winger is the guy the Leafs can get a hold of. Either way, the Canes have too many forwards.
Calgary - Andrew Mangiapane
A non-QO UFA target last summer for many Leafs fans, Toronto has the chance to get him again via trade with Calgary, who also has more forwards than they can handle. From Matthew Tkachuk down to Dillon Dube, I think the Flames would much rather protect someone like Mikael Backlund instead of Mangiapane. Maybe they’re able to get Milan Lucic to waive his NMC, but there is never any guarantees of that.
Minnesota - Ryan Hartman/Marcus Foligno
Again, the same story for Minnesota, who have a choice to make between Hartman and Marcus Foligno. They’re in a real tough spot and might just bite the bullet of a first round pick to protect fourth defenseman (because the first three all have NMCs) Matt Dumba. IF that fails, it might even be open season on forwards if they decide to go 4/4/1. Getting Mikheyev back to fill out the numbers would be a nice consolation prize.
It would be pretty funny to try the other Foligno brother out after the disaster of last season.
Colorado - Joonas Donskoi/Nazem Kadri/Valeri Nichushkin
Another team with four important defenseman and a cadre of forwards. The only good thing for Colorado is they’ll only have to give up one player. Currently it’s a fight between Devon Toews and Sam Girard for the third defense slot, and between Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, and Valeri Nichushkin for the seventh forward spot. Or potentially all three on the outside if they go 4/4/1.
The bridge is burned between Kyle Dubas and Nazem Kadri, people can argue who lit the match on their own. I’d be into either Nichushkin or Donskoi, both of whom are top-six calibre players. Heck, if the Leafs were feeling risky, that could be the 1LW problem solved right there.
Nashville - Nick Cousins, Colton Sissons, Luke Kunin
The Predators are in a real mess. Their defense is great, with youngin’ Dante Fabbro on the outside of the conventional protection list. Meanwhile, there are a lot of good to meh forwards all in a mess for the middle of the lineup. I don’t know who gets protected, but there’s a big list of players potentially on the block including Colton Sissons, Nick Cousins, and Luke Kunin if the team goes 4/4/1.
Or they could give up their first to protect Fabbro, or trade Mattias Ekholm to the Leafs. Your choice :)
What team could you see the Leafs trading with, if any?
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