It sure looks like this going to be an active trade deadline.
There are plenty of quality forwards available and the buyers and sellers are more established than usual. Several rebuilding teams have held their players out of the lineup to protect them from injury — usually a clear sign that we’re going to see a trade.
With so many quality players available, this shapes up as a buyer’s market. Mark Stone and Artemi Panarin are in a league of their own, but beyond them, there is a large group of available forwards with minimal separation between them. Second round picks will be given away like candy.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Leafs‘ options.
Toronto’s Unpredictable Deadline Day
On one hand, the Leafs can do nothing and say that Jake Muzzin was their trade deadline acquisition. On the other hand, it’s going to be difficult to sit and watch every other contender get better.
The Bruins and Lightning are bound to make an addition, while the Muzzin trade is old news by now. By standing pat, Toronto’s odds of winning the Stanley Cup will be lower on Tuesday than they were on Saturday.
The Leafs no longer have any glaring needs. Kyle Dubas already addressed the back-end, and unless he can pull off another blockbuster, Toronto’s defense is likely to remain unchanged. A high-end winger would be nice, but they don’t have a 2019 first-round pick to trade and it’s tough to envision someone getting bumped from the top-nine.
It’s also tough to envision Dubas overpaying for a forward like Wayne Simmonds or Kevin Hayes. However, I wouldn’t completely rule out a major trade for a more controllable player like Colin Miller, Josh Manson, or Chris Kreider. I will be surprised if they give up a haul for a rental, but the Leafs could certainly sit back and go bargain hunting. If the prices are too high, they can simply stand pat and do nothing. When it comes to the Leafs at the deadline, it feels like just about everything is possible at this point.
Acquiring a Fourth Line Center
I do not want to give up a second-round pick for a fourth line center. Upgrading from Dominic Moore to Tomas Plekanec was not worth a second-round pick, plus the Leafs are already without a top-50 pick in this upcoming draft. If the price is that high, I am fine with playing one of Frederik Gauthier or Par Lindholm on the fourth line, as long as they are surrounded with talented wingers.
That being said, if the Leafs can upgrade their fourth-line center situation for a more reasonable price, I am all in. I’m not convinced Par Lindholm, who has one goal in 61 games, is a replacement-level player at this point. He’s completely invisible on most nights and simply cannot be counted on to provide secondary scoring.
Frederik Gauthier has two goals in 52 games. While many will say, “It’s not his job to score”, he’s an NHL forward, and scoring always needs to be considered as a portion of a player’s value. I think he’s fine defensively, but I wouldn’t say that he’s anything special in that regard.
Derick Brassard scored at a 52-point pace last year and carries a long track record as a 45+ point center. His trade value is at an all-time low right now and he could be a major upgrade for the fourth line. It’s going to be difficult to outplay the first line of Boston or Tampa Bay, so it’s up to the second, third, and fourth lines to give Toronto an edge. If the fourth line cannot contribute much offensively, that puts a lot of pressure on Matthews and Kadri to score in bunches.
Tomas Plekanec played over 10 minutes in every playoff game last year, including the nights where Kadri was in the lineup. Adding Brassard could allow Babcock to give Kadri extra shifts with Matthews or Tavares while creating a fourth line that could add substantial secondary scoring.
Acquiring Riley Sheahan would probably be even cheaper than Brassard. Either player would be an upgrade on their current options and both look to be available. I wouldn’t be interested if the cost is a second-round pick, but I’d be calling the Panthers to try to score a bargain.
Keeping an Eye on Boston and Tampa Bay
Since the Leafs have already made their big move, the biggest question at the deadline becomes: “What will the Bruins and Lightning do?”. With names like Mark Stone, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin out there, this is quite terrifying. Both teams are bound to do something, so Leafs fans will hope that these teams only acquire marginal upgrades.
Going all-in makes quite a bit of sense for both teams. The Lightning are the best team in hockey, and while they will be a contender for years to come, they may never be as good as they are this year. They are tough enough to beat as it is; adding another star would further solidify them as a Cup favourite.
The Bruins have a 33-year old Patrice Bergeron, a 31-year old Tuukka Rask, a 32-year old David Krejci, and a 41-year old Zdeno Chara. They have plenty of young NHL talent to offer in a big trade and also have their first and second round picks to offer. It’s easy to envision them making a huge offer for a player like Kreider or Zucker and they will boast an awfully impressive roster if they can add secondary scoring.
My hope is that the Lightning and Bruins add a player like Wayne Simmonds or Micheal Ferland, and that’s it. However, I think they are both in a position where it makes sense to do more than that.
That’s a scary thought for the Leafs.
- Colin Miller has been a healthy scratch in Vegas recently. I firmly believe that Dubas will at least make a phone call. Miller was named the captain of the Soo Greyhounds while Dubas was with the team, and the Leafs would certainly love to add a talented right-shooting defenceman. The Golden Knights scratched Tomas Tatar down the stretch last year before moving on from him in the offseason. I’d be looking to take advantage of them here. A Miller for Zaitsev swap would be an amazing move for Toronto, even if the Leafs need to retain $500k per season or throw in extra pieces to make it work.
- I’ve written about this a few times now, but I firmly expect Connor Brown to be traded this offseason. The Leafs have plenty of options on the wing, so he could easily be available at the deadline for an upgrade. Teams like Ottawa would probably prefer to acquire draft picks, but teams that are looking to bounce back next year could have interest.
- The Washington Capitals have done it again. After stealing Michal Kempny last year, they’ve now done the exact same thing with Nick Jensen. They also got quite the deal on Carl Hagelin. Now that Dubas has made his big move, I’d love to see him take a similar approach by looking for bargains.