In a jam-packed edition of Leafs Links, we have the latest on Jason Spezza’s future in Toronto, the Leafs’ deadline ambitions and possible fits, the other teams interested in Mikael Granlund, the price of Taylor Hall at the deadline, and much more.
On the Leafs Nation post-game show after the Leafs‘ OT win over Ottawa, Chris Johnston provided his latest insights on why the trade market hasn’t kicked off yet and what needs the Leafs are prioritizing before April 12.
Columbus has won some games in the last few weeks. I think it has changed some of what they might do. Nashville is a little less incentivized to sell, although they still have to stay ahead of Dallas and Dallas has lots of games in hand.
My sense of the trade market:
1) The prices are high. That is one reason a trade hasn’t happened.
2) Some of the teams that have rental-type players who might move before the deadline have started winning games.
3) There are situations like in New Jersey with Kyle Palmieri, who I think the Leafs would very much covet, where I think there is very much an effort to try to get him extended. It is possible if not likely that he is going to sign a new contract in New Jersey rather than be traded.
There are a lot of dynamics at play. I am a little more bullish than some of my colleagues. I do think we are going to see a lot of movement up to April 12th. I do think the Leafs are going to make good on Kyle Dubas’ promises or comments and they are going to get into the action here as soon as it gets started.
On what the Leafs most want to add by the deadline:
I think they want a guy with a bit of edge. I think Palmieri or Nick Foligno — those are the guys they would actually prioritize. I just don’t know if those players will be traded. I think the Leafs recognize that the games are going to be hard in the playoffs. They are going to need someone to push through. Even though they have added Simmonds, Bogosian, and some of those guys, I think they want to get a little tougher to play against.
In his weekly hit on The Instigators, Elliotte Friedman suggested that Taylor Hall likely does not have first-round-pick value in a trade right now with how the season has transpired in Buffalo.
I don’t see [a first-round pick return] right now. The only way that changes is if there are two or three teams that say, “We absolutely have to have him.” He is a rental unless he is signed to an extension. You are going to have to believe it is all going to change that quickly. If it is to Canada, it is through the quarantine. It makes it tougher. I really do believe that it is going to make it hard. For some of the younger players that have term, it is not going to be a problem and affect anything, but for the rentals, it affects it a little more.
Friedman on how the Sabres’ miserable performances recently have impacted trade value:
One of the things I have begun to wonder — and I wonder about it from the reverse point of view, because I have heard it applied positively to Reinhart — is that the way this is going, the way the guys are playing, and the fact that the Sabres are not playing very hard, in a lot of cases, it is going to affect the want. This is a buyer’s market. It is not a seller’s market. You are going to have the option of things you want to do depending on the price and how people are playing.
I know that there are a lot of guys on Buffalo who are available and who would want to move, but you’ve got to compete. The [Pittsburgh loss] was a really dreary game. I do think that affects some guys’ trade value. I heard real compliments about Reinhart — that he was really competing hard at a time when it wasn’t very good. I think people have noticed that. But I think there needs to be more of those.
On Hockey Central, Chris Johnston discussed the price of Taylor Hall and whether or not Jason Spezza will return as a Leaf next season.
Johnston on the likelihood of Hall moving before April 12:
I can’t imagine he is a Buffalo Sabre on April 13. I would never say never because there are something like 18 teams within a million of the cap ceiling right now, so I do acknowledge it is not just cut-and-dry that you can ram that contract in anywhere. Even with the season that he has had personally, the acquisition cost probably isn’t going to be that high on Taylor Hall because he controls his destination to some degree with the no-trade clause and there are only so many teams that can make it work.
He is a very marketable asset. There is very little risk for the acquiring team. Since I don’t expect the cost will be all that high, I think he’ll be traded, and why wouldn’t he be? I think he is going to work with a team to make it happen.
Johnston on Spezza’s next contract and the likelihood of a return to Toronto:
I would be stunned if he didn’t [return]. There is a different dynamic with Spezza. Why even sign that contract before the expansion draft? He wants to play in Toronto. The Leafs will probably want to keep him, especially with how he has produced in 10 minutes a night. He has 19 points in 32 games. With all of the intangible qualities he brings, why wouldn’t you do this again?
The impression I got from Jason — and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him in a fair amount of time with the state of the world right now — is that it is Toronto or bust for him at this stage in his career. His family likes living in the city and is probably going to live here long term after his playing career is done. He is performing well enough and the fit works here in Toronto.
Don’t expect that contract to be announced any time before late July, but I do think he will be back here for at least one more year.
On NHL Network, EJ Hradek and Elliotte Friedman discussed the Leafs’ deadline ambitions with April 12 a little over two weeks away.
Hradek on New Jersey’s Miles Wood as a fit:
I was talking to someone in the business today who I really value their opinion. A name they threw at me — and I don’t think he is available, but — Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils. He is big, strong, disruptive. He gets to the net.
I think the Toronto Maple Leafs have plenty of high-end skill there. I think they just need more guys that can move around your lineup, play in different situations, and can stir the pot a little bit. When that name got brought up, I thought, “That could be a good fit for them.” The problem would be that I think the Devils are not interested in moving him, but you never know.
Friedman on the Leafs’ dreamworld wishlist:
They’ve lost a couple of players on waivers in the last couple of weeks to Vancouver in Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd. I think part of that is because Wayne Simmonds is back and healthy. I think also part of that is to create cap room.
I think they are going to go big up front. Mikael Granlund is a possibility, but if you were to Toronto, what you would wish for? If I was Toronto, I’d be wishing for Filip Forsberg. I just don’t think that is going to happen.
On Leafs Lunch, Pierre LeBrun the Leafs’ strong link to Mikael Granlund, whether the Predators are rethinking if they’re going to sell, and whether Rickard Rakell could be a fit for Toronto.
LeBrun on the constant buzz around the Leafs and Granlund:
They talked to his camp as a free agent, which is where a lot of people are trying to draw lines. That is not a bad thing to do — if you know that when players are free agents, certain teams put in calls, it is something to file away in the notebook. There is the versatility that he brings as someone who can play both center and wing — he played both in Minnesota — and he is also a pending UFA.
You may remember that Kyle Dubas talked about it being a unique time where he might be looking more at a rental than a hockey deal. That doesn’t mean they won’t do a hockey deal — I still think there is a chance the Leafs could do that still, depending on how things play out — but there is a better chance than normal of a rental for Kyle Dubas, who I don’t think is a big fan of rentals, but in this case, it would fit their situation moving forward.
The Predators keep winning games. They may be going from clear sellers a month ago to, “Give us a second here to think,” as things keep tightening in the Central. Same with Columbus, who has Nick Foligno and David Savard.
There is obviously still a chance those guys get moved, especially for a Jackets team that spent quite a few picks going for it a few years ago. But if the Jackets are sitting in a playoff spot two days away from April 12th, I don’t know if they can move their Captain. A lot of things are different, but the one thing that still has an impact on the deadline is the teams’ performance over the next few weeks.
LeBrun on whether Rickard Rakell could be a target for the Leafs:
The player I believe is a better fit [than Granlund], but I don’t think the Leafs and Ducks have a fit in one another, is Rickard Rakell — a player that is not a rental. That may not fit Kyle Dubas’ eye, but it is a player who — I think — is better than Granlund. It is going to be a high price. You are talking a first-round pick plus a top prospect to get in on Rickard Rakell, or something in that ballpark. That may not be something the Leafs are ready to do. To me, he is a better fit than Granlund, in my opinion.
Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth period discussed the possible suitors around the league for the services of Mikael Granlund and Kyle Palmieri.
Granlund is a smart, speedy forward who could definitely help a bunch of teams here. I hear a team like Toronto, even with the border restrictions, is in on him. St. Louis is really banged up with so many injuries up front. He would help.
The other team: Despite the great success story in Minnesota this year, they have the worst power play in the league. Granlund could help that unit in the postseason.
Bernstein on the possible fits for Kyle Palmieri if he is moved by New Jersey:
His goal production isn’t there this season, but this is a perennial 25-30 goal scorer. He could certainly help the Islanders who lost Anders Lee to the ACL injury. He can play both sides. He would fit well with Barry Trotz’s system.
Other team with challenges on the wing is the Boston Bruins. They are doing it differently this year and are not scoring a lot of goals. Especially with the challenges Jake DeBrusk is having on the wing, Palmieri could be a great addition on the second or third line.
Keefe on Tavares: “Despite the fact that offense has been a little harder to come by this season, he is giving up significantly less than what he did last season” (TSN1050)
On an off day for the team, Sheldon Keefe joined Leafs Lunch to discuss what he’s liked and disliked about the season to date, John Tavares’ play and production this season, Jason Spezza’s offensive contributions of late, and more.
Keefe on Tavares’ play and production:
Certainly, he would expect to be able to produce more at 5v5. We would like to have more production from him and his line for sure at 5v5. As we look at his overall production and points, power play and even strength combined, he is hovering around the point-per-game neighbourhood. He is a strong week away from being around a point-a-game, which I think we would take. If you really break down his numbers, he would be leading a lot of teams in the league in scoring with his production. Certainly, I think he has an expectation to be able to find ways to produce more.
The interesting part of it for me: Despite that, one of the areas I have really challenged John on this season is to take significant steps in his play defensively and how he plays without the puck. I think, despite the fact that offense has been a little harder to come by this season, he is giving up significantly less than what he did last season. He has been far more responsible helping our team lead the way defensively. The combination of his and Auston’s commitment to defending has been something that has probably not been getting enough attention to help our team succeed.
I thought John, when he was producing at a higher clip last season, defensively, there was a lot of growth that needed to happen there. He has been committed to it from day one. I don’t think he has been getting enough attention for that fact.
Keefe on his biggest like and biggest dislike about his team’s performance this season:
What we’ve loved is just the energy and the camaraderie that has developed throughout our team. We have a group of guys that genuinely like being around each other and enjoy this journey they are on here. I think that is something a lot of teams say, but I feel like this team really is different.
That was a real focus in the offseason for us: looking to create that type of environment, bringing in additional leadership and personalities, and those kinds of things. I think that has served our team well. We have had success as a team. We have also gone through a tough stretch here recently. The spirit of the team has remained strong. That would be the thing that I’ve loved the most and I believe sets us up for success and gives us a chance to continue to build through the remainder of the regular season and have ourselves prepared to compete in the playoffs.
I would like to see us get better at continued detail and consistency with how we play without the puck. At the same time, we are looking to find ways to generate more goals and more consistent offense when it is difficult. We have seen a ton of very strong goaltending performances here of late from the opposition. That has been challenging on us to score and generate the necessary offense. That is probably a big reason why we failed to win games for a stretch of time there. We lost so many games by one goal. We couldn’t get enough to go over the line. That is something we have to do a better job of.
At the same time, sometimes it is not the goalie, it is the defending that is happening in front of the goalie that makes it hard to get Grade-A chances and secondary opportunities to get on the inside. Of course, our special teams have taken a significant dip here of late, too. There are definitely things to continue to work at and get better with. We feel confident in our group. Whether it is the power play or the penalty kill, at different times, both have been very, very strong for us and a big reason for our success. We just have to continue to work at it.
Keefe on the amount of communication with Kyle Dubas: “We probably talk less than you’d think because of the trust [level]” (SN590)
Making his radio rounds today, Keefe discussed the challenges with ice-time allocation, his relationship with Kyle Dubas, evaluating a player in-game versus on video, and more on Hockey Central.
Keefe on whether he ever gets sick of talking to Dubas after all of these years:
If I were to answer and say I was sick of him, it probably wouldn’t serve me too well. The true answer: No, of course not. We do have a lot of great history together. That is one of the greatest joys for me is to have some consistency there from one level to the next and have that history. We have been through so much together.
It is all great. I think we have a great understanding of it. Probably the greatest understanding is that we can talk when we need to talk and there are things to talk about, but I have a job to do and he knows that and trusts that I am going to do the right things to help the team grow, develop, and meet its potential. I have great trust that he is doing his thing and that management is hard at work to give us every opportunity to have success. We have probably talked less than you’d think because of a lot of that trust.
Keefe on the challenge of ice-time allocation:
It’s probably the greatest challenge a coach has: managing all of those things. You’ve got 18 skaters that all have certain expectations themselves of what they should be getting in terms of ice time. I have my own expectations in terms of what they need to be effective. I do acknowledge it is difficult. I have lived this as a player, too. It is difficult to sit on the bench for long periods of time and not be as involved in the game and have some consistency there. You are managing that — personal expectations.
You also need to have your best players play in the best situations possible — o-zone starts, coming out of TV timeouts, all of these kinds of things. You have a plan going in, and it is difficult to adhere to that. You don’t know what is happening in the game.
Especially if you are playing on the fourth line, I can’t tell you how many times I have the fourth line called up and ready to go, there is a whistle and a TV timeout, and they miss their turn. Now your top guys are fresh again so you are going with them. Those guys might have gotten a shift, but they lost it. Another shift then goes to the top people because they are rested.
There are a lot of things that happen. You have to do your best to manage it, especially in a schedule like this. We have to find pockets of time where we can get more from the bottom of the lineup and a little bit less from the top, and manage the minutes accordingly. Are you trailing? Are you leading? So many things affect the final outcome, but the general thing is that you try to get your best players on the ice as much as possible and keep everybody engaged at the same time.