Despite the huge cap hit that William Nylander’s new contract carries due to it being signed so deep into the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs still have plenty of cap space. In fact, as the trade deadline approaches at the end of February the Maple Leafs could spend almost as much as anyone in the league in pursuit of a Stanley Cup. A lot of that is thanks to some key players—Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen in particular—still being on entry-level contracts, something that will not be true a year from now. That gives the Maple Leafs an unlikely window to go hard after rental options this year, but that’s not exactly what GM Kyle Dubas is thinking.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (subscription required), Dubas explains that Toronto doesn’t really believe that there are many options on the rental market that could “really change the dynamic” of the team and instead would be looking for trade options that come under contract beyond this season. As we noted yesterday in a piece surrounding Matthews and Marner, acquiring longer-term pieces could be very difficult without any cost certainty for those two. However, if the Maple Leafs get one or both under contract over the next two months they would know exactly what kind of player they can bring in at the deadline.
It’s interesting that the team doesn’t see much value in the rental market, given how exciting it could appear to other clubs around the league. Names like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin, Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Wayne Simmonds, Jeff Skinner, Erik Karlsson and others are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and though not all will be dealt by the deadline there is still quite a bit of talent available—especially at forward. Perhaps that is where the Maple Leafs lack of interest comes from, given their obvious needs on defense. The rental list on the blue line is much shorter than up front, and might not have a fit for Toronto.
Even with Dubas’ expressed disinterest, there are bound to be rumors of the Maple Leafs involvement on some of the big names towards the deadline. If the team doesn’t get any cost certainty in regards to Matthews and Marner by then, perhaps those rumors will have some weight. Otherwise, Toronto seems like they are quite willing to slowly gather assets that can help them over the next few seasons and not just for a few months down the stretch.