Howard Berger praised Leafs’ management and their willingness to “think outside the box” with regards to player movement in a recent article. He revisits the Ilya Kovalchuk speculation and the article does beg the question of whether the Leafs were (or are) seriously interested. They do have a bit of cap room to play with, and are undoubtedly a team on the rise. Without taking a massive paycut, and with the New York area teams reportedly backing away, it does limit Kovalchuk’s potential landing spots were he to make an NHL return. A long-term deal would almost certainly be out of the question, but he could provide a noticeable veteran presence up front and would immediately catapult the Leafs into a dominant offensive team. With youngsters Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews all looking to build upon their immensely successful season, the grizzled Kovalchuk could serve as a stabilizing mentor.
- Also mentioned in the article is potentiality of trading Nylander going forward. Berger cites the Chicago Blackhawks model of 3 core players – 2 forwards and 1 defenseman (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith) – as what GM Lou Lamoriello should seek to mimic. The core of Marner, Nylander, and Matthews needs a solidifying defensive force to round out the group (so the theory goes) and Berger believes Nylander is the weakest of the three. This would certainly be “outside the box”, but there is little logic in forfeiting an explosive talent up front merely because of contract concerns, at least at this early stage. As the Pittsburgh Penguins are proving this off-season, a solid group of defenseman is enough to overcome the absence of a marquee name.
- In spite of all the smoke that constantly surrounds the Maple Leafs in their hockey-crazed media market, management has been relatively conservative in their rebuilding approach. It seems unlikely that Toronto will make a massive transaction and will instead quietly build upon last season’s advances. Although they have been known to venture outside the league for help (Nikita Zaitsev, Leo Komarov), Kovalchuk will likely require too much money and term. If the team were to trade a forward for defensive help, it would almost certainly be a non-core piece at or near the age of 30. Komarov is likely too integral to the team’s leadership and mentality to be shipped off for anything short of an overpayment. Fellow 2018 UFAs Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk are the obvious candidates for movement, with van Reimsdyk more likely to attract attention due to his greater goal-scoring prowess.