With the trade deadline fast approaching, we continue our look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we keep going with the Atlantic Division, here is a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have already made a major move. GM Kyle Dubas got a jump start on the deadline market and acquired Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin two weeks ago. It was a much-needed addition of a top-pair caliber defender to a team that had concerning depth. However, Toronto also surrendered their 2019 first-round pick and arguably two of their top five prospects in the process.
With a major asset added and significant trade capital lost, should Dubas and the Maple Leafs refrain from making any more moves? Absolutely not. Toronto has the luxury of cap space this season and it will be a very, very long time before that happens again. The team must be mindful of entry-level bonuses and the cap impact next year if they carry over, but should take advantage of this opportunity to spend. As good as the team has been this season, there are still holes in the lineup that can be filled. The Leafs are also trying to hold off the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the divisional race, but almost surely will face one or the other in the first round of the postseason and then, if they’re lucky, the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. The Atlantic Division is stacked and if Toronto wants to take advantage of a strong roster and ample cap space before an impending salary crunch potentially reshapes their roster this summer, they should be all-out buyers at the deadline. A Stanley Cup title is within reach, but reinforcements would certainly help.
34-18-3, second in the Atlantic Division
Deadline Cap Space
$20.09MM in full-season cap hit, 1/3 used salary cap retention slots, 46/50 contracts per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2019: TOR 2nd, TOR 3rd, STL 4th, TOR 4th, TOR 5th, DAL 7th, TOR 7th
2020: TOR 1st, TOR 2nd, TOR 3rd, TOR 4th, TOR 6th, EDM 7th, SJ 7th, TOR 7th
The Maple Leafs are more likely than not going to make several smaller moves as the deadline approaches rather than another Muzzin deal. Fortunately, that means that the team can likely get away with making young roster forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson and top prospect defenseman Rasmus Sandin untouchable.
However, everything else will still be on the table. That includes more draft picks, although the team’s second-round selection this year will likely be difficult to pry away after losing their first-rounder already. More so, it includes several other intriguing prospects that belong to the team. Some believe that another high-end defensive prospect, Tim Liljegren, is also an untouchable for the Leafs, while others say that he can be had in the right deal. If Toronto is pursuing one of the top names at their positions of need and no longer has a first-round pick this year to offer, Liljegren could be the next-best thing to sellers. Fellow AHL defenseman, Calle Rosen, is having quite a year for the Marlies and could also draw interest. 2017 second-round pick Eemeli Rasanen, currently skating in the KHL, is an interesting trade possibility, as is OHL standout Mac Hollowell, a fourth-round pick last year.
Up front, Jeremy Bracco has established himself as the next impact young forward for the Maple Leafs, if he can survive that long. Bracco, a 2015 second-round pick, is enjoying a point-per-game campaign with the Marlies that is sure to have caught some eyes around the league. Toronto would hate to part with an affordable scoring option for next season, but offering up Bracco could go a long way in trade talks. Trevor Moore could also fight for a spot on the Leafs next year, but is older and has less upside and would hurt less to part with. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is an intriguing junior prospect to keep an eye on, too.
The Maple Leafs are hoping that Boston College goaltender Joseph Woll, a 2016 third-round pick, will turn pro after his junior year and provide some upside and talent in the AHL. However, does that make Woll untouchable? If Toronto thinks he may return for his senior season at BC, they could be willing to move him. The team may also feel more strongly about another goalie prospect, WHL star Ian Scott, as their keeper of the future, making Woll more expendable. It’s doubtful that the team moves Woll, but there are factors that could convince them to part with the promising netminder for the right return.
Then there is a subset of the players that Toronto is hoping to use as trade chips at the deadline. While there are positions of need at the deadline, cap space moving forward is the most important asset for Toronto. The Maple Leafs have a near-impossible cap crunch coming this off-season and could benefit from moving out expensive long-term contracts for extraneous players. Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is the main target; the 27-year-old has five seasons remaining at $4.5MM AAV and has regressed greatly this season. The Leafs will move him if at all possible. Forward Connor Brown, signed through next season at $2.1MM, has also seen his production slip this year and could be used in a hockey deal for a similar style rental.
1) Fourth-line Center: Last season, the Maple Leafs traded for Tomas Plekanec at the deadline. The year before, it was Brian Boyle and Eric Fehr. This is a team that loves to strengthen their checking line, particularly down the middle, and that is a need once again this season. It could be a need that is met very cheaply by any number of veteran two-way centers on expiring contracts. Players that fit that description aren’t often hard to come by. In fact, Fehr may even be available again if the Minnesota Wild fall out of the playoff race. Toronto has been connected to the Detroit Red Wings’ Luke Glendening, but the term on his contract is a concern. Another interesting possibility is the Chicago Blackhawks’ Marcus Kruger.
2) Right-shot Defenseman: Even after acquiring Muzzin, there is still talk that the team would like to add a natural right-handed defenseman. The team has decent depth in right shots in Zaitsev, Igor Ozhiganov, and Justin Holl, but the thought is that they could acquire an upgrade to that group, effectively making them all backup options in the postseason. How much trade capital the Leafs want to spend on a yet another defenseman remains to be seen, but a physical veteran like the New Jersey Devils’ Ben Lovejoy or the New York Rangers’ Adam McQuaid would be a good fit.
3) Depth Forward: Reiterating the intro, if there is cap space available – in consideration of bonus overages – the Leafs need to use it. Another rental forward, even without an obvious fit in the lineup, would come in handy. The team has previously been linked to the Carolina Hurricanes’ Micheal Ferland and the New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello, among others. If they can make it work to add another scoring forward like that, they may as well pull the trigger. Any team in the Atlantic Division can use all the help they can get surviving the postseason.