Toronto Maple Leafs' Jake Gardiner
Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

In today’s Leafs Links, Elliotte Friedman discusses the possibility that pending-UFA Jake Gardiner could still sign back in Toronto, the likelihood of Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev trades, and whether Ron Hainsey will return for another year. Bob McKenzie also addresses the Jacob Trouba-for-Nazem Kadri rumours and much more.

Friedman discusses possibility of a Gardiner return (31 Thoughts)

On the 31 Thoughts podcast, Elliotte Friedman discussed whether Jake Gardiner returning as a Leaf is totally off the table, the markets for Marleau and Zaitsev, the likelihood of a Ron Hainsey return, and the number of calls on Nazem Kadri.

On whether Jake Gardiner could return:

I’ve heard some interesting things about Jake Gardiner. One of the kind of interesting things that is happening in Toronto is the whole Marleau/Zaitsev thing. One of the reasons he was going to be out in Toronto was they just didn’t have the cap room to keep him. All of a sudden, there is some interesting stuff happening in Toronto. If they move Marleau and if they move Zaitsev, depending on what they do, they could have some cap room. I think they want to bring Gardiner back. I think in a perfect world, he wants to stay. I think I’d have to see what is going to happen with all of the other moves to see if it would be possible.

Some guys have said that they think Montreal might be in on Gardiner. I don’t know about that one. I’m not as sure about that. But I think there is always time for puck-moving defensemen in this league, and I think he’ll have no problem finding a spot. Chicago at the combine, people said they were kind of downplaying their interest in UFA defensemen, but I don’t know if anyone is buying that as much.

On the Patrick Marleau situation:

The Marleau thing — Nick [Kypreos] mentioned on the show on Saturday that the family is going back home and he wants to go back there. I think it is really complicated. What I was told on Sunday is that this is a much tougher deal than you realize, at least at this time. It could always change, but at this time.

What Colorado did last year with Orpik is that they traded for him, they got Grubauer with it, and then they bought out Orpik, right? I think that is what a couple of teams have suggested that they would be willing to do: They will trade for Marleau and buy him out.

He’s an over-35 contract, which adds complications, but I think what it says is that they don’t necessarily want Marleau the player but they’re interested in the asset that comes with him. If that kind of trade is going to have to happen, who is Toronto’s Grubauer? What are they giving up to get somebody to take Marleau?

I am not convinced Colorado and Arizona are willing to do it unless there is a steep price. It’s only one year. What I’ve heard with the Kings is they want you to take somebody with term. Why would Toronto want to do that?

On Nikita Zaitsev:

I think he gets dealt. Teams are always looking for right-shot D. Zaitsev — the issue there is more term than money with the five years left. I just think that because you’re always looking for defensemen in this league, there is a fit there. Again, it just depends on how the return looks. How much do teams want Toronto to eat of it?

You are not going to need a huge sweetener to make it happen. I think there are people who believe that Zaitsev was just really unhappy in Toronto and a quieter change of scenery will be better for him. But I just believe that they will be able to make that one work.

On whether Ron Hainsey could also be gone as a UFA:

All of a sudden, this has turned into an even more interesting offseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs. We knew there was the whole Mitch Marner thing, but now you add Marleau, you add Zaitsev… For a team that was sixth in the NHL last year, there is going to be a lot of change.

I think they will try to bring [Ron Hainsey] back for a year. We will see if it works, but I think they will try to bring him back for a year. Suddenly, you are kind of looking at last year’s roster and this year’s roster and saying, “There could be a lot of change here.”

On the level of interest around the league in Nazem Kadri:

I think there are a lot of teams looking at Kadri. I don’t know if Toronto is going to do it, but there are a lot of teams looking at Kadri. Now because of what happened in the playoffs again, there is that, but the one thing I know about it is that Mike Babcock loves centers. They are pretty thin at center if Kadri is traded and they don’t get one back. He’s always looking for centers and he’s a big believer you’ve got to have them. If he goes, you’ve got Tavares and you’ve got Matthews, so I think you are OK in your first two, but then what are you looking at for #3 and #4?

I could see everyone in Western Canada being in on [Kadri]. Winnipeg is looking for a left-shot center.

McKenzie on Kadri for Trouba trade rumours (TSN1050)

Bobby Mac downplayed the Kadri-for-Trouba deal not as an unworkable hockey deal but as an unlikely business deal on First Up this morning.

On Sean Avery’s “reporting” of a Trouba-for-Kadri done deal:

When you hear things like that — and hey, listen, lots of times things happen in the NHL and we’re not aware of them and other people are — and somebody comes out of the blue with something, you do a quick check to see if there is anything to it. Did that, and there wasn’t.

They’re interesting names because if you ignore the salary cap implications or the fact that Trouba is a year away from unrestricted free agency and that he’s not likely to stay in Toronto long-term, and if he did, it would be at a number that wouldn’t make sense for the Leafs… If you suspend your beliefs on all of that stuff for just a second, from a pure hockey perspective, do the Toronto Maple Leafs want a 25-26 year old right shot defenseman that is both good offensively and defensively who is big and strong and fast and skilled and a top-pairing defenseman? And would they trade Nazem Kadri for that if they were getting it long term? I think in a heartbeat. But if you can’t ignore the reality.

From the Jets side of things and in Trouba’s case as well, he’s a year away from UFA. He is not showing an inclination to sign a long-term contract and stay with the Winnipeg Jets, so they’ve got to presume he’s going to free agency. They are talking trade right now. He is legitimately in play and they are trying to see what they can get for him. But because he is one year away from UFA and he holds all the cards in terms of where he fits long term, the Jets are not likely to get back the kind of return that they’re going to love just in the same way the Sentaors didn’t get back the kind of return they loved on Erik Karlsson when you get these guys who are one year rentals a full year out.

If the Jets do trade Trouba, the problem they’re going to run into is it’ll be like a first round pick and a real good prospect or player, and the Jets, who want to win a Stanley Cup right now, are going, “A first round pick doesn’t help me right now and a prospect doesn’t help me right now,” unless they can parlay them into other elements. I think the Jets, in some ways, if they could get a center like Kadri on that contract in terms of where they’re at in competing for a Stanley Cup, they’d probably do it in a heartbeat.

The Leafs would probably do it in a heartbeat just from a pure hockey point of view to get a right-shot defenseman, but it’s not just a hockey deal. It’s a business deal, and from the business side of it, it probably doesn’t add up.

On the reports of the Vancouver Canucks’ interest in Nikita Zaitsev:

I think the Vancouver Canucks are looking at their defense and are probably in the mode where they’re going to have to start to reconstruct it. They’ve already started. Quinn Hughes is going to be the centerpiece, although he’s very, very young. The two fixtures on the Vancouver Canuck blue line have been Alex Edler and Chris Tanev. Edler’s contract is up and he’s a UFA. Are they going to get him signed or not get him signed? We assumed, at the trade deadline when he wasn’t moved, that it was just a formality that they would get him signed to a long term deal and he would be that veteran mentor that is going to stay with the team even though they’re in a bit of a rebuild or whatever. And yet that hasn’t happened yet. Is it possible that Edler is going to leave? I don’t know. I haven’t checked on any of that lately.

Tanev is a defenseman who has been injured a lot and his name has been front and center for quite some time now. I know a year ago the Leafs talked significantly about the possibility of Tanev, but I think the Canucks and the Leafs have a pretty wide gap in terms of perceived value for a trade.

They’re in a mode where they’re looking at any and all defensemen. If you’ve got a guy like Zaitsev who is on the market, there would be no doubt in my mind Vancouver would call and inquire about that. I think they are calling and inquiring on everybody because, as I said, their defense is very much in a state of flux.

On whether the Leafs are shopping Nazem Kadri and whether they feel they can trust him after the second straight postseason suspension:

I don’t think they were happy with how things ended with Kadri. I don’t think that and that alone… I don’t think they sat there after that and said, “Okay, he’s gone. We are getting rid of him no matter what.” They would only trade Nazem Kadri if it made absolute sense in terms of getting back other pieces that make them a better hockey team.

They know, and part of the trepidation on any Kadri deal, is that everything fits. Tavares – Matthews – Kadri, 1-2-3, is as good as it gets at the center-ice position. The minute you take Kadri out of the equation and presumably use him to get a defenseman, your defense gets better, but now you’ve got a hole at the third-line center. Some people will say you could play William Nylander there — maybe you could, maybe you couldn’t. I’m not sure, but in terms of championship aspirations, that sounds like an experiment that doesn’t put you that much closer to winning the Cup or contending for the Cup. And yet I don’t know if you can trust Nazem Kadri. It’s been two years in a row that he’s been suspended in the first round against the Boston Bruins.

I think when I look at the Leafs now, I see Tavares, Matthews, Rielly, and assuming he gets a contract out of the way, Mitch Marner. Those are, in my mind, the four guys that are absolute unutouchables on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. I don’t think they are eager or keen, nor does it make sense really, to trade a Freddy Andersen or William Nylander, but I think it would behoove the Toronto Maple Leafs organization to keep an open mind on everything outside of Tavares, Marner, Matthews and Rielly. I don’t think they are going to get an offer for Freddy Andersen, and if they do they better get a better or as good goalie back, so it’s probably fantasy to even talk about it, but in terms of classifying players, I would put Nylander and Andersen in a category of, “Not eager to trade them.” They’d be selling low on Nylander and still think they can make this work with him, and they’re going to hope the World Championship performances are a sign of things to come next year.

Beyond those players, whether it’s Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen or Nazem Kadri or anybody on the team, they’ve got to at least be open minded on the idea as a trade. I would suggest that the two forwards they would probably get the most calls on — I wouldn’t say they’re shopping them at all, but the two guys they are most likely going to get the most phone calls on are Kadri and Kapanen because of the relations between what they earn… Kapanen needs a contract, obviously, but a bridge deal is going to be under three, a long term deal could be in the 3s or 4s, and he is a good player with the speed and people like that. Kadri is on a very favourable contract and he provides a very specific service in terms of being the third line center on a good team. They’ll get lots of calls on those guys and I think they’d consider anything and everything because they have to look at the global picture of their defense and their team and where they are at and how they, in the immediate and near future, get better.

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