In the latest episode of the 32 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman threw the cat amongst the pigeons with a report from a source suggesting that Kyle Dubas has considered the possibility of an aggressive move for San Jose’s star winger Timo Meier.
Dubas ruled out the idea of moving first-round picks or top prospects for a rental in yesterday’s media availability, but Meier’s pending RFA status with a $10 million qualifying offer places him in a murkier territory where he is neither a rental nor is he a sure thing to be a long-term fixture in Toronto (given the Leafs‘ cap structure around four marquee forwards, three of which require a raise in the next couple of seasons). Meier’s contract status opens up some interesting possibilities knowing the Leafs would own his rights past the end of the season, notes Friedman:
Friedman: I think the Devils have said to the Sharks, “before you do anything on Meier, make sure we get a final shot at this.” That is kind of the word around the league right now.
I think they have competition. Just in conversations on Thursday, people think there are a bunch of Eastern teams after Meier — a group of them, and maybe a smaller group — one or two — Western teams.
What everyone is trying to think about here: Who is in it to sign Meier, and who is in it to rent Meier? It is complex. As everyone knows, Meier has a $10 million qualifying offer for next year if you are not signing him long-term.
People are wondering what New Jersey is thinking here. One guy said to me that there are teams out there who think that Toronto, at the very least, has considered, “Do we go get Meier for this run, and then sort it out later?” Basically, punt the decision to the summer, and say, “Alright. We bring him in. We see how it goes. We see who has a good playoff and who doesn’t, and we figure this out in June.”
I don’t know if Toronto is thinking about that, but I would bet at the very least, knowing the way Dubas thinks, he has at least thought about the idea.
Here is the flaw in that theory: Dubas had a media availability on Thursday and reiterated what a lot of us believe: He is not dealing his best prospects and picks for a rental. If you trade for Meier, it doesn’t mean he is a rental, but in Toronto, it doesn’t mean he is a long-term guy, either. You are kind of in purgatory there.
The only way you consider that if you are Toronto: At the very least, if you can’t keep him, you are flipping him for what you traded.
I am quoting Doug MacLean: I don’t know if it is true, but I am just telling you what I heard. This one person told me that there are teams who think Toronto has, at the very least, considered this.
It’s certainly a tantalizing thought from the Leafs‘ perspective: After paying up to acquire Meier at the deadline, can they reasonably expect to recoup a package somewhat similar in value in the scenario where they can’t make Meier work as a long-term cap commitment and are forced to trade his rights in the summer? They’d have added a true first-line-calibre offensive producer and play driver for this upcoming playoff run at a potentially minimal — or at least palatable — net asset cost.
At the very least, it would seem to behoove Dubas to explore that avenue as earnestly as possible. Whether he is willing to bet a package of Matthew Knies plus-plus on the hypothetical that he can recoup enough value in the summer to justify a large expenditure of futures is really the big question. There is no doubt Meier stands a cut above the rest of the options as a legitimate needle-mover at a position of need for the Leafs on the left wing, but there is potentially a ton of competition driving up the bidding war at this deadline ahead of the playoffs as compared to the uncertainty of the market in the summer.
Friedman: Toronto has good prospects, and they have some picks. They don’t have a lot of capital, but they have some. Everyone knows what we are talking about here: We are talking about Knies. We are talking about Topi Niemela. We are talking about a high pick. Toronto has some of that capital, but not a lot of it.
There are two reasons that people think Toronto is considering this. Number one is because Kyle Dubas is in his final year. I don’t buy that. I don’t think he is doing anything stupid that could taint his resume for a long time. Number two, Toronto has a really good team. The way this is set up, they are going to play Tampa. It is a night scenario for the Maple Leafs just because of who they’ve got. As a couple of guys have said to me, “You take your shot with a really good team.” They have a good team.
I told this theory about Toronto to a couple of other teams, and they said it is a good theory, and they wonder if Winnipeg would consider doing the same thing. They have a good team. I have wondered if they are going to be more in the JVR conversation, but when I said Toronto — and the fact that Kevin Cheveldayoff was down in Tampa the other day for Tampa-San Jose — I had a couple of teams say, “I wonder if there is any chance Winnipeg would be considering the same thing.”
The other interesting nugget from Friedman concerning Meier was his suggestion that Meier is open to sitting down and hashing out a reasonable long-term contract with a team he views as a contender in the years to come. Of course, with a $10 million QO in his back pocket, the possibility that Meier would be handing out major discounts on that figure on a long-term contract is pretty unlikely.
The Leafs will have a quite bit of cap flexibility heading into the 2023 offseason, but they have hypothetical extensions on the books for William Nylander and Auston Matthews when projecting the 2024-25 cap picture, with Mitch Marner following a year later.
Friedman: The one thing I will say: There certainly seems to be a feeling out there that if what he feels is a legit contender wants to sign him long term, he is prepared to be reasonable. It is not going to be inexpensive — it is still a big contract — but it is not eleventy billion dollars. He is willing to look at this.
A few other tidbits from Friedman on other Leaf-related matters:
Friedman on Vladislav Gavrikov’s suitors — Leafs among them
Friedman: Timmins’ [new contract] is one that is easy for them to handle. He was a great bet when they made the deal, and I think the contract is a great bet.
In a lot of ways, they can’t do a lot of their long-term business until they know what Matthews’ number is going to be. They are going to be careful, I think, until that occurs. Also, what happens in the playoffs could determine a lot of their decisions.
Gavrikov’s market — I think it is LA if they don’t get Chychrun, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton. Those are the teams I think are probably around Gavrikov. I think there are a few more because he has shown some indication he is willing to sign for a bit of term if he thinks you are a contender.
I think Toronto is in that group, but the other thing is: I really think Toronto is looking at forwards. I think they are trying to find another forward out there — someone who they think can make a difference for them.
How high can Dubas go here on a forward? I think that is what they are trying to figure out, too.