In his deadline preview episode of the Bobcast ahead of the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on February 26, TSN Insider Bob McKenzie discussed the Toronto Maple Leafs’ potential plans when it comes to buying or selling, moving out a contract, addressing the defense, and perhaps adding a fourth-line centerman.
On whether the Leafs are buyers or sellers this deadline:
In my opinion – strictly my opinion – the foundation of the Shanaplan is that Toronto expects to be a very good, contending team for a good many years. There is no question they are hoping to do some damage this year, and maybe they could.
If there is a deal that makes sense right now, they’ll absolutely jump in and do it. But I don’t get the feeling that the Leafs feel as though they are just one piece away from the puzzle like a lot of teams that have gotten good suddenly or not so suddenly – but that feeling of you suddenly wake up overnight and, “Boy, the Toronto Maple Leafs are good,” or, “The New Jersey Devils are good.” These are teams that are on the rise.
I don’t think they want to weaken themselves in the very short term by trading pending UFAs like Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, or Leo Komarov. I guess it’s possible. Dave Poulin told me that he’s had some calls from people asking – other teams – about Leo Komarov. Maybe they do move one of these guys; they could, but I’d be really surprised.
If these guys walk as free agents at the end of the year, so be it. I think the Leafs have young players in the organization who can come behind them and replace them. But maybe not yet to the full extent.
A guy like Uncle Leo – Mike Babcock likes the way he plays. He’s on the fourth line now, but he’s really kind of made for playoff-style hockey. To that extent, I think it’ll be all hands on deck for the Leafs.
On offloading a contract with the team currently at the 50 SPC limit:
I do believe that Lou Lamoriello would like to offload a contract or two before the deadline. The Leafs are at the 50-contract limit, so whether that means moving a Josh Leivo or Nikita Soshnikov, or trying to find a market for Matt Martin, if Lou can increase his flexibility by dealing one of those contracts – even if it is a bit of a soft deal – I think he could do that.
On whether the Leafs are going to be able to address their defense before the deadline:
The big question in Toronto is always, “What about the defense? What about the D?” I think the Shanaplan is that they don’t have a #1 defenceman, per se. They don’t have a Drew Doughty or an Erik Karlsson, or a stud #1. I think the Shanaplan right now calls for having a couple of #2s, a couple of #3s, a couple of #4s, and not having #5s and #6s so much as a whole bunch of defencemen in your top six who are all making between $4-6 million and are interchangeable parts. Look at defense by-committee, but not low-end committee… in that mid-to-upper range, but not with a stud #1.
The undisputed top four for the Leafs on defense is Rielly, Hainsey, Gardiner and Zaitsev. I think Travis Dermott could emerge and ultimately take over Hainsey’s spot over time in that top four and fit that profile, but for now, the immediate emergence of Dermott has given them a bottom #5-6 that includes Dermott, Borgman, Polak, Carrick, even Justin Holl was up for a while, and if they need Rinat Valiev to come up, they can.
The question for me is: Can they upgrade their 5-6-7 roles with someone better than Dermott, Polak, Carrick or Holl or Valiev in trade? Then the question becomes not so much if you can do it in trade but at what cost? If you’ve got to pay a significant price – if someone is asking for a Connor Brown or a Kasperi Kapanen or someone you put value on for many years – I believe the Leafs will hang tough with Dermott and Borgman and Carrick and Holl and Valiev and their depth options there. That’s just a guess on my part.
On the Leafs looking to upgrade at fourth-line center:
I do believe that if the Leafs can find the right experienced fourth-line center, that would be a move they would make, not unlike the move they made for Bryan Boyle last year. Dominic Moore may be the answer there for the balance of this season, but if the right guy comes along at the right price at the right time, I could see the Leafs doing that.