The NBA Trade Deadline is today and many expect the Toronto Raptors to be sellers. For Leafs fans, it’s just another reminder that the NHL trade deadline is coming up in three weeks and nothing’s happened yet. The time for the Leafs to make an early move is mostly over, as is the all-star weekend and bye week. I can’t help but feel resigned to wait until the first few days of March for us to know the Leafs plans.
According to insiders, the Leafs are looking at everyone. A lot of discussion is on whether the team will get a forward or a defender at the deadline, but the reality is they hope to pull in the best player available at both positions and hope to fit them within the cap space they have left over right now.
I’ve seen some very silly trade proposals from radio stations or other team’s athletic writers where the team’s third line and top depth scorers is conveniently thrown out with the bath water of cap space. There’s really no need to sell any contracts at this point. With the right retention, the Leafs can bring in over $12 million in contracts; more than enough for anyone they want to acquire. And if you think you’re thinking what I’m thinking, no you’re not. That player is so washed, rinsed, and hung to dry I’d rather be forced to play Leafs-era Joe Thornton on my fourth line.
In terms of who the Leafs are actually interested in, let’s discuss. Travis Konecny has been coming up as a middle six forward for us ever since he and Dermott made the league. He’s simply not on the market. Ditto for Mattias Ekholm, who is truly the Leafs solution to their middle pair defense post-Muzzin and with TJ Brodie on an expiring contract next season. But he’s not on the market either as the Predators think they can get a pair of playoff home games instead. That’s the weak Western Conference for you.
While the Leafs have been “in on everybody” there’s really been only a handful of names they’ve consistently asked about and been in the running for up to this point. Here are those four players.
The Leafs have been mentioned as having interest in the top free agent this deadline, and if extension talks fall apart before he gets traded, that will be to Toronto’s benefit. If the Leafs can find a way to afford and out-bid their opponents for Timo Meier, they will do it. I don’t think it’s possible for them to out-bid some other teams, but stranger things have happened. Just don’t ask them who’s defending next year.
Toronto has been in on ROR from the start and I think he’s going to be the guy they get. Hyper-competitive, versatile, excellent defensively, and a play driver. O’Reilly hasn’t missed more than 10 games since the shortened 2013 lockout season. And for what it’s worth, he’s a captain and a champion.
McCabe the younger (29 years old now) has grown on me the more I’ve looked into him. He’s only ever played on god-awful teams throughout his career. Chicago and Buffalo, yikes. And for most of his years in the league he’s had to play against top competition next to some of the league’s worst defenders in Rasmus Ristolainen, Seth Jones, and Jack Johnson. A real murdered row. This poor guy might be pretty good, maybe he just needs a good home to go to.
If the Leafs get him, he’s their Justin Holl replacement for next year and can hopefully help out for this run, too. I can’t see him as the same calibre as Muzzin was — that’s Ekholm — but he’d be useful.
Gavrikov is the best defender on the market right now, and I think that says more about the market than it does about Gavrikov. He’s a steady, second pair, left shot guy who can give you minutes and keep the puck out of the defensive zone. On Columbus, he’s been noted as trying to do too much outside his abilities when a lot of the defense was injured (namely Zach Werenski). He won’t have that problem in Toronto if one of the dozen coaches they have remember to talk to him.
The benefit of getting Gavrikov is his very manageable $2.8 million cap hit that can be halved, and can potentially come with a Gustav Nyquist free of charge. Long story short, Nyquist is injured for the rest of the regular season but should be good for the playoffs, meaning he can go on LTIR and be a net zero on the cap and be activated once the cap melts away in the playoffs.
My Extended Shortlist
If you haven’t read Katya’s article on Ivan Barbashev, you should now.
Completely shunned out of Edmonton, I think this is another kid with a European name needing a fresh start in a place that welcomes him. The benefit with Puljujarvi is that even if his offensive game is gone forever, he’s a really good defender in the neutral and defensive zones. Active stick, good on the body, good motor. If his name was Steve Smith and not a first round pick he’d be beloved in Edmonton.
Bad news, I doubt the Oilers will ever want to send him to another Canadian market for their own egos.
Maybe it’s just the caveman in me, or modern me acknowledging the playoffs go back to caveman times every year when it comes to officiating, but Edmundson is a pain in the ass to play against when the refs let him bend and break the rules. I wouldn’t look at him for anything but a third pair role or if they miss on every other defender they’re looking for (ie. McCabe goes to Edmonton, Gavrikov goes to Boston, as reports are saying).
Edmundson’s limitations are very clear (puck moving, mobility) and it makes the Leafs defense much less flexible in terms of deployment. But there’s a reasonable chance it works. The cost just can’t be the Ben Chiarot unprotected first level. Maybe the Habs can take back some spoiled cheese?
In the end, I expect the Leafs to get their impact forward (Meier or O’Reilly) with double retention to get the cap hit under $2 million, and using whatever’s left on the best defender they can afford without a first round pick. Perhaps that’s when they dip into their prospect pool a little more.
Hayley Wickenheiser talked about the prospects in the system and it was interesting to hear which players had been given specific feedback on what the team wants to see out of them and the others. This article definitely came at a good time to help market the prospects. Way to be a team player, Wick.