As rumoured at different times in the past, the Maple Leafs are interested in Columbus left-shot defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, Elliotte Friedman reported in the January 21 edition of the 32 Thoughts segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek described the current asking price as a first-round draft selection plus an additional mid-round pick, similar to the price paid by Tampa Bay in 2021 for Gavrikov’s former defense partner David Savard (a first and a third) or that Florida paid for Ben Chiarot at last year’s deadline (a first, a fourth, and a B- level prospect).

Friedman also noted that Columbus is willing to grant suitors permission to talk with Gavrikov about a contract extension. The 27-year-old blue liner currently earns $2.8 million a season and is a pending UFA.

If he is giving up significant futures in the way of picks or prospects, we know GM Kyle Dubas’ preference is to target non-rentals if he can, so it would not be surprising if any trade the Leafs seriously pursued was premised on potentially extending the player. Which naturally branches into the conversation about Jake Muzzin’s uncertain future.

Muzzin’s playing future is in serious doubt with one year remaining on his $5.65 million contract, and Justin Holl’s contract is expiring this offseason. Gavrikov could give the Leafs a credible top-four shutdown defenseman who can slot into the mix with the currently-under-contract Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Timothy Liljegren, Mark Giordano, and Rasmus Sandin. Also worth noting: Brodie will be due up for a contract after next season and will be 34 years old; the same goes for Giordano at age 40. At 27, Gavrikov would fit a need long-term and has plenty of good hockey still ahead of him.

As for the stretch drive and playoffs, he could potentially fit nicely on a shutdown pairing with Holl, shifting Giordano to anchor another pairing and giving the Leafs another defenseman Sheldon Keefe and Dean Chynoweth can trust with tough assignments as they stare down what promises to be a brutal playoff path through the Atlantic Division.

Gavrikov has been something of a well-kept secret down in Columbus for a number of years now. He is a 6’3, 220-pound 20+-minute-per-game defenseman (22:19 this season, a career-high) who is sound defensively with the ability to handle tough assignments capably and log big minutes on the penalty kill, where he is fourth in the NHL in shorthanded time on ice per game this season.

While Gavrikov is on pace for fewer than 20 points this season, he scored five goals and recorded 33 points in 80 games last year, 25 of which came at five-on-five. He’s not a dynamic offensive driver off of the backend, but he’s far from a zero offensively, finishing inside the top 35 in five-on-five points among NHL defensemen last year.

Anyone who remembers the series against Columbus in the Covid bubble playoffs will recall the difficulty the Leafs experienced breaking through at five-on-five with Gavrikov on the ice alongside partner David Savard. In 90 minutes of 5v5 ice time, that pairing outscored the Leafs 4-0 at 5v5, including 2-0 in its 30 minutes against Auston Matthews’ line.

The big question marks, of course, are the acquisition cost and the cost of a potential extension. Either or both may price the Leafs out, and Kyle Dubas may opt to spend his assets on an impact forward instead. Arguably, though, both are needs, especially beyond this season.

If it doesn’t work out as a deadline add, it may be something Dubas revisits in the summertime if Gavrikov were to reach UFA.