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Making the Trade Target Board about the Leafs

Where should the Leafs go shopping?

Edmonton Oilers v Nashville Predators
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 13: Mattias Ekholm #14 of the Nashville Predators skates in warm-ups prior to the game against prior to an NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Bridgestone Arena on December 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

We are about two months away from the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3rd and Frank Seravalli has posted his list of 25 names on the trade block. Seeing as the Leafs are Cup contenders and are sitting third in the league standings, let’s have a look at which players on this list fit what the Leafs want.

Players to Avoid

Right off the bat, there are some constraints holding the Leafs back from acquiring certain players that narrow their list of options. Let’s go through these first.

Purchasing Power and Cost

The Leafs, as currently constructed and heading into next season, don’t have the purchasing power or cap space. That means they can’t bring in some of the trade targets with multiple years of control and who have big raises coming their way in the near future. They simply can’t do it without trading the likes of William Nylander (team-leader in goals) or Mitch Marner (team-leader in assists and part-time defender). Or, even if they make the cap work, it would cost a significant section of the farm. The fact the Leafs have their core locked up and fewer prospects than most knocks out some of the following players from consideration:

Not options: Timo Meier, Erik Karlsson, Brock Boeser, Jakob Chychrun

The Back to Excited boys talked about acquiring Meier, who would be a perfect fit for the Leafs if his qualifying offer this summer wasn’t $10 million. There’s no way to acquire him without trading away one of the big forward contracts at pennies on the dollar because every team would know the Leafs would need to trade someone.

Erik Karlsson would be great, but his contract is a true albatross, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And it would be hard to convince me Boeser is better than Nylander at the same price point, so I don’t see a trade there.

And even if the Leafs want a player like Meier, or even Jakob Chychrun, they would have to out-bid a lot of teams with more assets to spend, and fewer dollars tied up on their cap. It’s like the Debrincat trade to Ottawa, the Leafs had no chance to make that deal and give him that contract. The Leafs are at a disadvantage compared to teams like LA, Anaheim, Minnesota (once their buyout cap hits go down), and Buffalo. Toronto would be bringing a butter knife to a bidding war.

Splurging, just ‘cuz

For a team that has Auston Matthews and John Tavares, how much extra value would need to be sacrificed in getting a player at a premium position if that player isn’t going to play that position? When Team Canada has no salary cap or trade cost, it’s easy to throw out 10 centres into a lineup. Plus, considering the reputations of Horvat (Canadian team fame, “stoic leader”, puts up with JT Miller), and O’Reilly (champion, faceoff king) the prices are going to be extraordinary.

Not options: Bo Horvat, Ryan O’Reilly, Jonathan Toews

The only way this works is if Dubas pulls a fast one on his GM counterparts, and there’s a plan in place among his stars and the star centre he’s acquiring about who’s going to play where. Because I assure you none of them will play on the third line. Would Matthews be willing to move to the wing? Would that have a positive or negative impact on his game?

Blacklisted

I have no qualms in blacklisting either player on Chicago, hence why I didn’t talk about Toews above. And it seems Kane is earmarked for the Rangers, anyway.

Overpaid, Overrated

The Panthers paid a first round pick for Ben Chiarot last spring and it actively made that team worse. Kyle Dubas’ job is to not repeat the mistake GMs make every year (including himself in 2020).

Not options: Joel Edmundson, Jake McCabe, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nikita Zaitsev

Players like Edmundson and McCabe, who live on both ends of the defense spectrum, can be found at much cheaper prices. I don’t see what either bring that Benn and Timmins don’t. Edmundson is a big part of the reason why the Canadiens are so bad. Ditto Ottawa and Zaitsev (Cody Ceci for one year doesn’t seem so bad now, eh). Jake McCabe was a big part of the reason why Chicago was bad the year before. None of these players are worth the short-term risk.

Gostisbehere is interesting because he’s second on the Coyotes in points and is a capable second pairing offensive defenseman for your power play. Problem is, players like that always cost too much because teams are paying for points, and they won’t be getting the same points on a deeper team. When the points go away, where is the value?

Now let’s get into the players the Leafs would actually want. I’ve split them up into four categories: top-six winger, defensive defender, offensive defender, depth.

Leafs Trade List

Top-Six Winger

Adding a top-six winger is about as obvious of a call as you can get. The Leafs have four forwards locked into the top-six, with two spots wide open. Michael Bunting is currently taking up one of those spots and making a great case for staying. As is Calle Järnkrok, who has looked strong in his return from injury. But the Leafs can always do better.

This position doesn’t always need the biggest star, but someone that has the right qualities to be a good fit. This will come down to Dubas’ pro scouts to find guys (like how they found Bunting, Järnkrok, and others) in the past.

Options: Anthony Duclair, James van Riemsdyk, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev, Gustav Nyquist, Andreas Athanasiou

Duclair is the most obvious fit for his contract $3 million x 2 years) and his success as a top-six shooting threat with skill. The Panthers are 7th in the Atlantic, so even if they weren’t in cap hell (they’ve had to play with short roster multiple times this year, though no one in the media’s seemed to notice or care) they should probably try to get a first round pick for this summer. They traded their first for Ben Chiarot last spring, lol.

JvR is a known commodity, a lovely player on and off the ice, who hasn’t seen much decline in his game. He’s been producing despite being on the hot mess Flyers. If you’re looking for a net-front winger with size, hands, and some rush skill left, look no further. Do you think Tavares can play a good Bozak?

Tarasenko may be out right now, but his injury isn’t expected to keep him out for the trade deadline. He may not be as good as William Nylander, but he’s a top-notch scorer.

Ivan Barbashev: Russian Kerfoot, anyone?

Nyquist is at the top of the second tier of wingers, according to Seravalli. He won’t cost a first round pick and it’s good to see his game hasn’t imploded like the rest of the Blue Jackets have. Athanasiou is around there, as well. Picking between these guys will come down to who fits best, an area I’m not going to pretend I have any expertise on.

Defensive Defender

This category was always a quiet need for the Leafs, but not possible to fulfill until Mattias Ekholm came onto the market.

Mark Giordano has been excellent playing a second pair (and for a time, first pair) role for the Leafs. But going into the playoffs, or at the very least down the stretch, there are ways to upgrade.

Options: Mattias Ekholm, Vladislav Gavrikov

I see both Ekholm and Gavrikov as upgrades on Giordano in the lineup. It’s possible because of the cap hit for Ekholm and the relative obscurity of Gavrikov that neither player will cost too much, but they’ll be smart moves for the Leafs if they want a second pair defensive body that can push Giordano down the lineup where he can be even more effective. As for Ekholm’s contract in the medium future, we already LTIR’d Muzzin.

Brodie, Ekholm, Giordano, Liljegren, Benn is a very strong defensively-minded group. Paired with four puck-movers in Rielly, Holl, Sandin, Timmins. Not everyone will get to play, but injury insurance is necessary.

Offensive Defender

Similar to wanting an upgrade on Giordano on the defensive end, finding an upgrade on Justin Holl on the offensive side is worth getting if it’s within the Leafs price-point. Holl has been excellent this year, but I don’t want to expect him to keep that up considering his true ability as a 4/5 offensive guy.

Options: John Klingberg, Ryan Merkley***

Klingberg is going to try free agency again after missing the opportunity for a big contract last summer. He won’t get that contract with the Leafs, but he would be a premium rental on a team where the defensive side of the defense has been solidified, while offensive side might not be as set in stone. Recently-engaged Morgan Rielly has been injured this season and has been a #1 offensive defenseman in both the regular season and playoffs. However, neither Holl or Rasmus Sandin has brought the high-end ability to follow-up Rielly. Klingberg can do that, especially next to a defensive guy like Brodie, Giordano, or Liljegren. The Leafs can afford to do this, so they should be looking into it.

***Has Merkley, who was a petulant child to say the least in the OHL, grown up? Where is he as a person and where is his character right now? Those questions would need to be answered (and not Boston Bruins answered) before considering acquiring a guy who’s asked for a trade. Is he Conor Timmins? Is he more? Is he needed if the Leafs already have a Timmins? I don’t expect enough questions to be answered in time for the trade deadline for this to happen.

Depth (solved)

Sheldon Keefe couldn’t have asked for better defensive depth this season, with Benn, Mete, Timmins, Král, and Hollowell all stepping up as playable defenders. I don’t see much need to get a defender that would slot in behind Sandin or Liljegren on the depth chart. They might be getting that guy back already with Carl Dahlström coming off SOIR.

Dryden Hunt and Joey Anderson are the current 12/13th forwards for the Leafs, with Nick Robertson coming back from injury and Matthew Knies signing after his college season also there to plead their cases for jobs. Kyle Dubas did his job well, he’s found depth that is inexpensive, useful, and playable by the temperamental coach. Pontus Holmberg being the posterboy for all three.

Poll

What is your #1 priority at the trade deadline?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    A star top-six winger
    (426 votes)
  • 38%
    A 2nd tier top-six winger
    (556 votes)
  • 22%
    Defensive defenseman
    (322 votes)
  • 2%
    Offensive defenseman
    (36 votes)
  • 7%
    Do nothing, this team is playoffs ready
    (112 votes)
1452 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the Leafs trade their first round pick?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Yes, they can’t leave the deadline with it
    (146 votes)
  • 47%
    Yes, but not on just anybody
    (570 votes)
  • 24%
    No, they won’t need to
    (301 votes)
  • 15%
    No, never give up a first
    (190 votes)
1207 votes total Vote Now