I don’t know who needs to hear this; but there’s no wrong way to be a fan. Be emotional, be irrational, get excited, dream big. Go crazy in any way you see fit. It’s okay. Really it is.
Now that the ground rules are established, and in the spirit of fanaticism—here’s some names for us all to chew on as everyone’s favourite time of year begins to wind up; trade speculation season. Before it builds up to the crescendo that is the February 24th trade deadline, let us beat on this dead horse a while.
Most would agree there are two major areas of concern for the Maple Leafs; a top four, right handed shooting D, and a back up goalie who doesn’t give you a heart attack. A third area, which could be just as important as the others, is the second line (for lack of a better term) left wing. Yes, there have been several players who have had some success there, but as of yet, no one has been able to stick with the kind of effectiveness that Zach Hyman has shown. Short of cloning Zach and having him in on the ice for forty minutes a night, I’m going to suggest a few options, some risky, some obvious, and some maybe even a little bit unlikely. The Maple Leafs’ salary cap situation is well documented and they’ll have to move salary or part with additional assets to convince teams to retain salary if they are going to make any significant acquisitions before the deadline, but here are some potential targets leading up to February 24th:
Blake Coleman – 28 – New Jersey Devils – C/LW/RW – 2021 UFA – $1,800,000
Coleman checks all the boxes. He’s fast, he has skill, he can score, he’s physical, he wins puck battles. More than that, rumours of the Devils moving him have swirled around all year. He comes with a relatively low cap hit and another year of control. He plays in all situations and fits in on any line. The market for a player with his skill set might drive the price up, but as often is the case, you have to pay for quality.
Miles Wood – 24 – New Jersey Devils – LW – 2022 RFA – $2,750,000
Wood offers many of the same tools as Coleman, albeit with less consistency. He’s younger, he’s signed for more term, but with a higher cap hit. He’s big, physical, has blazing speed, and even though he has just 7 goals so far this season, he has shown an ability to score in the past.
Chris Kreider – 28 – New York Rangers – LW – 2020 UFA – $4,625,000
Chris Kreider could be the crown jewel of the 2020 trade deadline, and without a first round pick, The Leafs might be behind the 8-ball from the get-go. Still, if the Rangers slip out of the playoff picture, and aren’t able to get Kreider under contract, he could wind up being the missing piece in the top six. He’s a perfect combination of size and speed, skill and strength and has a proven track record of success with other highly skilled offensive players.
Craig Smith – 30 – Nashville Predators – C/RW – 2020 UFA – $4,250,000
Smith is a bit of an odd fit. He’s a natural centre with some experience on the wing, however that experience is predominantly on the right side, as he’s a right handed shot. He’s very solid defensively, plays in all situations and scores with consistency. He’s an expiring contract and works out to be a pure rental, but if he could manage to get comfortable on his off wing he fits in nicely for a team who has struggled to prevent scoring chances at times.
Marcus Foligno – 28 – Minnesota Wild – LW/RW – 2021 UFA – $2,875,000
Marcus brings us back to the topic that just won’t go away; do the Leafs need to be tougher? While he doesn’t come with the skill and scoring potential of the others, he can skate well for a big man, and can be a nightmare to play against. He’s responsible defensively and wins puck battles in all zones. He’s not likely to be a fit in the top 6 but he’s got 9 goals on the season and brings a physical element that this Leafs team lacks.
Jason Zucker – 28 – Minnesota Wild – LW/RW – 2023 UFA – $5,500,000
The cap ramifications to fit Zucker into the line up are much different than any of the other forwards listed here. He’s signed for three more seasons, and would increase the total payroll for a forward group that is already very top heavy. However, Zucker has been a consistent producer and has plenty of speed and skill to fit nicely on either of the Leafs’ top two lines.
Kyle Clifford – 29 – Los Angeles Kings – LW – 2020 UFA – $1,600,000
For many of the reasons Marcus Foligno makes sense, Kyle Clifford fits into this line up whether he can fill the Zach Kassian role of riding shot gun or not. He provides size, physicality and can still chip in with some offence here and there. He’s another pure rental, but also wouldn’t break the bank to acquire from a rebuilding team in California.
Sam Bennett – 23 – Calgary Flames – C/LW/RW – 2021 RFA – $2,550,000
Let’s be honest, Bennett hasn’t been good. There hasn’t been much reason to suspect he will be good. He’s played well enough to stick around at the NHL level, and shown flashes of a very full tool kit. He could be a prime candidate for improvement after a change of scenery, but with a cap hit of $2.55M, he holds very little trade value. He plays with an edge but has the speed and skill to hang with the Leafs other talented forwards.
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TJ Brodie – 29 – Calgary Flames – RD – 2020 UFA – $4,650,400
We know the Leafs have had interest in Brodie in the past, as recently as last summer. In another world, Nazem Kadri is wearing red and Brodie is already a Maple Leaf. We don’t live in that world though. Brodie is a left handed shot, but he’s played almost exclusively on the right side with Mark Giordano. With the Flames battling for the Pacific division lead, they’d likely be looking for scoring help now so any deal involving Brodie probably costs the Leafs a player from their current roster. It gives The Leafs another expiring UFA on the back end, but in the short term it would go a long way towards solidifying blue line for a playoff run.
Josh Manson – 28 – Anaheim Ducks – RD – 2022 UFA – $4,100,000
Manson plays on Anaheim’s top defensive pairing with Hampus Lindholm and while he doesn’t provide much offensive ability, he has put up solid underlying numbers on a team that has struggled this season. At 6’3″ and 225 pounds, he plays with a physicality that can make life difficult for opposing forwards and would add a stabilizing presence on the right side of Toronto’s defensive unit.
Travis Hamonic – 29 – Calgary Flames – RD – 2020 UFA – $3,857,143
Hamonic is a 6’2″, 205 pound right handed defenseman who plays a physical, shut down game. The Flames, ready for a playoff run of their own, might be more interested in re-signing him than moving him, but their need for scoring could outweigh that if they don’t think an extension is in the cards.
Matt Dumba – 25 – Minnesota Wild – RD – 2023 UFA – $6,000,000
Dumba has long been the holy grail for many Maple Leafs fans. It’s been the better part of two decades since a right handed defenceman as good as Dumba has dawned The Blue and White. He’s a bona fide top four player who contributes in all situations. It’s been a down year for him offensively but he has scored at least 10 goals in each of the last four seasons, including 12 in just 32 games last season. He skates well, he competes hard, and he moves the puck. Dumba would be a massive addition for the Leafs, both now and moving forward.
Alexandar Georgiev – 23 – New York Rangers – G – 2020 RFA – $792,500
There’s no secret, Georgiev is the ideal solution to the Leafs goaltending instability. He would be an immediate upgrade at the backup position and has the potential to perhaps replace Andersen eventually, or at least be a stop-gap solution if Freddie moves on when his contract expires. While goaltenders typically don’t bring in much at the trade deadline, the goalie market does seem to be warmer than in previous years. For teams looking to shore up the goaltending position, Georgiev will likely be at the top of every list.
Ryan Miller – 39 – Anaheim Ducks – G – 2020 UFA – $1,125,000
Miller isn’t the All-Star he once was, far from it. But he still provides solid goaltending at a manageable cap hit and could be acquired cheap. The Ducks aren’t in a position to make a run and Miller doesn’t have many years left to play for a ring.
Craig Anderson – 38 – Ottawa Senators – G – 2020 UFA – $4,750,000
Wouldn’t it be strange to see Anderson alongside Andersen in a Maple Leafs jersey? He hasn’t hid the fact that he would prefer to be traded to a contender. He’s a positive presence in the locker room and provides a wealth of experience. While he hasn’t played well in recent years, his struggles have directly coincided with the Senators downward spiral.
Casey DeSmith – 28 – Pittsburgh Penguins – G – 2022 UFA – $1,250,000
DeSmith appears to be the odd man out in the Penguins’ three-headed goalie monster, and a decline in play from him couldn’t come at a worse time. It could diminish interest in him and open the door for Leafs to swoop in and buy low on a guy with some promise. While he doesn’t stand out as a guy who could take the reins in the long run, he definitely solidifies the position right now.
Of course, it remains entirely possible that we don’t see any movement of magnitude and the team stays the course. We watched the St. Louis Blues – caught in purgatory at the 2019 trade deadline – do almost nothing for fear that if they picked one side of the fence or the other, it would be the wrong choice. The Leafs have improved their play significantly after a poor start, and it stands to reason that they may already have the pieces in place to take that next step, moving beyond the first round and sending the Big Bad Bruins packing. Maybe the difference last year could have been as simple as an additional five minutes per game from the team’s best offensive player.
We will find out sooner or later, and in that time we’ll be irrational and manic. We’ll be high and low. We’ll go off the rails here and there. But it’s okay. It’s all part of the roller coaster ride. Try and enjoy yourself, friends.
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