In recent years, the Maple Leafs have been looking to build through the draft and have held onto their top pick. That may not be the case this season, however. In the latest TSN Insider Trading (video link), Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported that GM Kyle Dubas is open to moving his first rounder between now and the trade deadline.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie followed up on that report in an appearance on TSN 1050 (audio link), noting that their target would be an impact defenseman and that it’s likely that one of their young wingers in Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson would be gone as a part of any deal as well.
Making a deal like that would certainly involve a defender that is either signed or is under team control for multiple years which falls in line with Dubas’ stated preference to avoid the rental market. It would also give them some insurance for next season as it’s unlikely that they will be able to retain pending unrestricted free agent Jake Gardiner.
Both Kapanen and Johnsson are slated to become restricted free agents this summer with the latter also having salary arbitration eligibility. Kapanen sits fifth on the team in scoring with 28 points in 45 games and is set to earn a sizable raise on his entry-level salary of just over $830K. With Toronto’s other prominent RFAs this summer in Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, they may not be able to afford to give Kapanen that type of pay increase.
Johnsson had a quiet start to the year but is up to a respectable 21 points in 40 contests. Between that and the arbitration eligibility, he’ll certainly earn more than his current $787K salary but likely not as much as Kapanen would be able to get.
A package of one of those youngsters plus Toronto’s first rounder may be enticing to some rebuilding teams and with the Maple Leafs looking to shore up their back end, that may be enough to land a blueliner of note as they look to make a push in the Eastern Conference.