You guys remember Keaton Middleton? Fourth round pick in 2016, big guy, immediate write-off by all of us? Well, he made his NHL debut last night for the Colorado Avalanche.

Signed to an ELC earlier this month, Middleton, 23, played his first game for the Avalanche wearing number #67 in their 2-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks. He was a late addition after Jacob MacDonald got suspended and Bowen Byram was placed under COVID protocols and was the 14th defenseman to play games for the Avs this season. In those 10 minutes, he took a penalty and was below 40% in shots and xG.

He is the fifth Leafs pick to play in the NHL, after Auston Matthews, Carl Grundstrom, Adam Brooks, and Yegor Korshkov. I still have hope for Nicolas Mattinen.

Did you believe in Middleton in 2016?

Not a chance302
Yes, I am lying to try and sound smart89
Yes, I genuinely believed he would’ve been valuable to the Leafs90

Meanwhile on the Leafs, the team has decided to go full LTIR, placing Frederik Andersen and his $5 million on the Long Term Injured Reserve retroactive to just after his last game, and trading for injured forward Riley Nash and his $2.75 million from the Columbus Blue Jackets. A real Clarkson-for-Horton deal.

In the moves, two things seem plausibly clear — because nothing is ever truly clear, not even drafting big slow defensemen and knowing they’re going to be a bust. First, the Leafs now have the space to acquire some talented skaters at the trade deadline. Second, one of those acquisitions will probably have to be a goalie. CapFriendly is still working on getting the right numbers from the Blue Wizard known as Pridham, but the LTIR pool money is likely to be around $7.75 million.

When it comes to the goalies, things are more worrisome than they were before. With Andersen likely done for the season and potentially even the playoffs, and Jack Campbell playing great hockey once a week when he’s healthy, Michael Hutchinson is basically the team’s 1B goalie. He was supposed to be that for the Marlies! With this trade, the team can’t go into the short/medium term without replacing Freddy Andersen. Basically, there is now a big red sign on the door of MLSE that reads “GOALIES WANTED” and all the GMs know it. I assume Dubas has a trade lined up this weekend, or this is all really confusing.

It’ll cost the Leafs about $4 million or less for the forward or defenseman they desire. Taylor Hall is the most expensive commodity out there and has a cap hit of $4 million at 50% salary retention. This has become standard for all the selling teams at the trade deadline. They have space they’re not using, salary money is small, so there’s no reason not to do it. All the other players the Leafs have been interested can currently be had for less than that number (Mikael Granlund, Mattias Ekholm, David Savard, Nick Foligno, etc).

At the low end, the Leafs have about $3.75 million to spend on a goalie. None of these players cost that much, even before retention, so there’s lots of “cap space” to go around, possibly enough for a second skater addition. Here’s a list of possible (well performing) candidates and my quick thoughts on them as potential suitors.

David Rittich - 28, $2.75 million, UFA

He’s probably the best goalie available in terms of performance and workload. The Leafs have seen him a lot this season so he’s a known commodity, and the Calgary Flames are absolutely selling.

Linus Ullmark - 27, $2.6 million, UFA

My candidate as a free agent 1b to sign in the offseason. He’s a good goalie who’s been a bright spot for one of the worst franchises in NHL history.

James Reimer - 33, $3.4 million, UFA

I don’t see this happening since the Canes are a legitimate contender this season. We can’t give them Andersen anymore, but I put him here because he’s James darnit Reimer.

Jonathan Bernier - 32, $3 million, UFA

Again, I can’t see Bernier ever wanting to come back here, but it would be extremely funny.

Chris Driedger - 26, $850,000, UFA

Incredible numbers in both the AHL and NHL, he’s a player lots of teams want to be their goalie for the present and future. He’s currently being sandwiched by Sergei Bobrovsky, his massive contract, and star prospect Spencer Knight. A perfect opportunity.

Anton Forsberg - 28, $700,000, UFA

Mildly better than Hutchinson, about as good as Aaron Dell, not waiver exempt. I don’t see much reason to get him unless everyone else is off the board. He’s cheap and I would’ve liked him ahead of Hutch and VV on the depth chart.

Which goalie do you want?

Big Save Dave133
Linus van Pelt171
Optimus Reim69
Nelson Mandela19
I don’t know a joke for Chris Driedger225
Not That Forsberg9
Jonas Gustavsson26
Someone else49

Various Leafs and Branches

Leafs Acquire Riley Nash From Columbus For Conditional 7th | by: AT Fulemin and Katya

Maple Leafs can add players for free with this one neat trick | by: Katya

Here’s the official update on William Nylander.

Star prospect Filip Kral made his AHL debut last night. I’ll have a report on him in the Marlies Monday on Tuesday. Just kidding, Monday. [ed. We’ll see!]

Sometimes we forget Nick Robertson is a literal teenager.

Leafs prospect Mikko Kokkonen has signed a new deal with the Lahti Pelicans in the Liiga. This is a better team than Jukurit, so perhaps he’ll see the playoffs next year. His future in North America has taken a hit since we can’t see him until next spring.

The Nashville Predators should probably stop trying to make the playoffs and just sell.

Mike Hoffman is also available for trade. He was replaced with Kyle Clifford last night, who is making about half of what he demanded from the Leafs last spring.

Anyone want a free Nikita Gusev? Although, he’s probably going to end up in Tampa with his buddy Kucherov.

Breaking news, Devil commits murder.