We must all be gluttenous when it comes to torture. We hang around on social media, we listen in on talk radio, we tune into the game an hour early so we could hear any opinion on what might happen over the next two weeks. We allow ourselves to get attached to the idea of certain players coming in. We allow ourselves to fear the loss of players we’ve watched flourish (at least at some point) in Blue and White. And when it’s all over, more often than not, we’re all left disappointed. And then, when the trade deadline rolls around again next February, we’ll all be just as excited to see what happens, once again.
Kyle Dubas got out in front of the deadline for the second straight season, acquiring Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the LA Kings for Trevor Moore and a couple of draft picks. This addressed two pressing concerns, in a capable back up goaltender and some added toughness up front. Whether Freddie plays the bulk of the remaining games or not, whether Clifford slides into the middle six, or plays less than ten minutes a night on the fourth line going forward is irrelevant. Those needs have been met, and the option is there should Sheldon Keefe need to use it.
With the trade deadline two weeks away from this coming Monday, the only real pressing concern left is the acquisition of a right side defenceman. It’s a matter only further complicated by injuries to Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci as well as the strong play of Rasmus Sandin. In the beginning of the season, it would be fair to say most were comfortable with the depth The Leafs had on the blue line, but their play to this point has left much to be desired.
Rasmus Sandin may be playing his way into a full-time role on the Leafs blue line, and with Morgan Rielly on the mend, even with Cody Ceci out long term, some one is playing for their job.
Before we take a look at what I think are viable options over the next seventeen days, lets talk about the guys we could see sent out before February 24th:
Frederik Gauthier – C – 24 – 48 GP, 6 G, 4 A – $675,000 – RFA 2020
The Goat has had something of a tumultuous tenure in Leafs Nation. Most figured him to have been drafted too high to begin with, and so expectations right from the get go have likely been too lofty for him to ever reach. He’s begun to struggle to stay in the line up, and hasn’t done much of anything to be noticed, good or bad, when he has been there. He’s good on the draw and strong defensively and has a long history of winning at every level he’s played at. While there likely isn’t much value to him, it would be surprising if there wasn’t a suitor out there willing to send a late draft pick in order to solidify their bottom six.
Dmytro Timashov – RW – 23 – 35 GP, 4 G, 5 A – $694,000 – RFA 2020
Timashov has been a bit of found money for The Leafs this year. As a fifth round pick who put in plenty of time with The Marlies without showing any exceptional ability, not many assumed he would make the team out of camp. He’s been in and out of the line up all year, and has chipped in with some offence here and there. He’s shown a willingness to get dirty, and be physical in the corners despite his small stature. I’m sure The Leafs would be happy to hang on to him and see what another summer of hard work, and another year of maturity could do for him, but it’s been well documented that he’d like to get the chance to play more regularly if it becomes available. We’ve seen in the past that Kyle Dubas has catered to guys in his situation and it would be surprising if he was still a Maple Leaf the night of February 24th. At 23, I have a hard time believing there aren’t suitors looking at him as someone who could produce more by playing more minutes with more skilled players.
Jeremy Bracco – RW – 22 – 44 GP (AHL) , 4 G, 30 A – $843,000 – RFA 2020
Many Leafs fans have been waiting for the emergence of Jeremy Bracco for several years. An elite passer with good speed and vision. He’s excelled at times in the American League and has likely been on the edge of a call up for the last two seasons. And yet, he’s been passed by time and time again. This is likely due to the skill set he brings. Players like Timashov and Engvall have excelled in more defensive, energy type roles, where Bracco plays a relatively one dimensional game. He does most of his damage on the powerplay, and with the cast of talented players currently residing on the top two units with the Leafs, it seems unlikely he’ll ever get a chance to shine there. At times, he can disappear during even strength play, and his effort level has been called into question countless times. However, there is likely still a fair amount of outside interest in him because of his ability to move the puck around the offensive zone. I would be surprised if any deal for a defenceman didn’t include Bracco going the other way.
Kasperi Kapanen – RW – 23 – 53 GP, 10 G, 20 A – $3,200,000 – RFA 2022
It’s almost crazy to think with the other names on this list so far, Kapanen is the same age. He has elite speed, and a good skill set to go along with it. His puck possession can be great at times and he can play in all situations. He’s signed to a reasonably priced bridge deal and should only get better over the next few seasons. So why would The Leafs be willing to trade such a player? It’s easier to come to that conclusion when you’ve seen his inability to flourish with the top six. Through sheer depth of talent, he’s become a third liner on this team. Given his current ability and potential to improve, his trade value is likely higher than almost any other player the Leafs might be willing to move. Especially after the loss of Trevor Moore in the Campbell/Clifford deal, it would mean there’s an opportunity for someone to step up and take on a more meaningful role on that third line, but the need for a defenceman could far outweigh the need for a third line winger in the current landscape. Recent reports of Kapanen butting heads with Sheldon Keefe could make it even easier to let the young Fin go at this juncture.
Andreas Johnsson – LW – 25 – 39 GP, 7 G, 13 A – $3,400,000 – UFA 2023
Johnsson might be an easier asset to give up than Kapanen. He’s two years older, he was taken in the seventh round and until a stand out season with The Marlies where he was the best player on the ice every night during a championship run, there wasn’t much hope for him ever being an impact NHL player. He scored twenty goals last season and found a home in the top six, playing with Auston Matthews, but a foot injury has derailed his season and dampened his production. You can see flashes of the play which earned him a lucrative new contract, but the consistency hasn’t returned just yet. He doesn’t play on the PK like Kapanen and might be easier to replace because of it. But it’s for all of these reasons, his trade value will come in short of Kapanen’s and make him a less likely target for other teams. Still, he’s a strong playoff performer and plays with great energy. Most teams would likely look at him as an upgrade over someone in their current top six.
Alex Kerfoot – C/LW – 25 – 49 GP, 8 G, 13 A – $3,500,000 – UFA 2023
A dark horse in the rumour mill is Alex Kerfoot. Since coming over from Colorado he’s struggled to find chemistry with one particular line, or even one individual line mate. He’s had moments where he’s looked good and moments where he’s been invisible. He brings as much speed as anyone and plays with an edge despite his size. Being able to play in the middle or on the wing could make him an attractive piece for any team looking to get younger and faster. With the play of Pierre Engvall this season, and his move to the middle over the last few games, Kerfoot could become a target of any team looking to unload a blue liner on the Leafs.
Travis Dermott – D – 23 – 40 GP, 4 G, 4 A – $863,000 – RFA 2020
I understand this might be an unpopular name to include in this list. Dermott is young, he’s fast, he’s physical, he’s a great teammate and he’s everything you want to see in a young, developing defenceman. However, with added responsibility this season, he has shown a few warts in his game. And if he does stay after the February 24th trade deadline, and a right side defenceman is brought in, once Morgan Rielly returns, Dermott could be battling with Rasmus Sandin for a regular spot in the lineup. If Jake Muzzin is set to sign an extension, and all signs point to that being the case, it would give the Leafs three left handed guys for the foreseeable future in Muzzin, Sandin and Rielly. The immense trade value he brings to the table might be too significant to turn away from for Kyle Dubas and company. It could bring them into a class of player they wouldn’t otherwise dream of being able to acquire. To get, you have to give. And giving up Dermott would hurt, to be sure. However, it would be to significantly improve the club in an area where they’ve struggled for years.
- Maple Leafs Sign Mikhail Abramov to Three-Year Entry Level Contract
- A Little Love for ‘Marv’
- Dubas’ Deadline Day Dilemma
Now that we got that out of the way. Lets get to the fun part. Here’s the right side defencemen who could be available and who the Leafs will surely be inquring about leading up to the trade deadline:
Josh Manson – D – 28 – 35 GP, 1 G, 5 A – $4,100,000 – UFA 2022
The Leafs will get a look at Manson from the other end of the rink tonight against Anaheim. He skates well for a big man, he’s mean, he’s right handed, and he defends his own zone very well. He could be the crown jewel of all players available in the coming weeks. He’s signed for two more seasons and would go a long way to stretching out the depth on the back end through the 2021-2022 season.
Alex Martinez – D – 32 – 37 GP, 1 G, 7 A – $4,000,000 – UFA 2021
Martinez is a very different type of player than Manson but caters to the needs of the Maple Leafs in many of the same ways. While he’s a left handed shot, he has plenty of experience on the right side. He’s a proven winner who plays a very calm game, moving the puck with poise and precision. He’s provided more offense than Manson in the past, but while he doesn’t shy away from physical play, obviously doesn’t bring the same kind of tenacity to the game you would get out of someone like Manson. His contract expires after next season and he’s a little bit older than some of the other available players, but the cost to acquire him should accurately reflect that.
Jonas Brodin – D – 26 – 53 GP, 1 G, 19 A – $4,166,667 – UFA 2021
Brodin isn’t a name we’ve seen thrown around too much in the last few weeks. He plays the left side and doesn’t quite bring the physical game the Leafs might be looking for, but if there’s an opportunity to land such a big fish, I think Kyle Dubas is interested. Brodin has one more year at just under $4.2M and at just 26 is entering the prime of his career. Like Martinez, he plays a quiet game with poise and doesn’t make many mistakes. An acquisition of Brodin would require some faith in left side guys playing their off side, but it might be worth the risk to acquire this level of player.
Brenden Dillon – D – 29 – 55 GP, 1 G, 13 A – $3,270,000 – UFA 2020
Dillon is a left hand shot and a pure rental, two things we’ve been led to believe are not on the checklist for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he is a big body who plays with an edge and wouldn’t cost as much as some of the others on this list. He has a wealth of experience, being a part of a couple deep playoff runs and logs big minutes along side Brent Burns on the top pair in San Jose. He might end up being something of a fall back plan for the Leafs, but one that has the potential to work out well for both parties.
Jeff Petry – D – 32 – 56 GP, 8 G, 27 A – $5,500,000 – UFA 2021
Petry feels like another long shot, coming from a historic division rival, but one who can provide some stability on the back end. While his defensive play isn’t as strong as some of the other names on the list, he plays well with the puck and chips in more offensively. Whether or not the Leafs are willing to part ways with significant pieces in their own division remains to be seen, but nonetheless, Petry will be a name Kyle Dubas and company are kicking tires on. If the price is right, he could be the guy we see coming to Toronto.
David Savard – D – 29 – 52 GP, 0 G, 8 A – $4,250,000 – UFA 2021
Savard is a name we’ve heard in the past, but one that hasn’t surfaced as much this season. He’s got one more year under contract at $4.25M and plays a very quiet and calm game without much flash or flare. He’s not as strong with the puck as some of the other guys on this list, and doesn’t play quite as many minutes, but he still checks a lot of boxes for this Leafs blue line. He throws his body around and blocks shots. He makes safe plays and skates well enough to keep up with the play. Columbus has hung around in the playoff race, even as the top ten teams in the East begin to separate from the pack, so he could wind up not being available at all, but if they fall back, look at him to be an under the radar target.
Two weeks ago it was difficult to project who might be selling and who might be staying the course, but things seem to have settled, and the playoff hopefuls are beginning to look much more obvious. If you take a look around the league, most teams are looking to strengthen the right side of their blue line because there just aren’t that many strong players available. This will no doubt drive the market up and make things difficult on Toronto if they’re set on adding a piece to the back end for the stretch run.
With the struggles over the last week and being outside of the playoff picture as it stands, a rental doesn’t seem to be the logical way to go. But a trade of this magnitude during the season doesn’t appear to be Kyle Dubas’ style. We’ve heard comparisons of this Maple Leafs team to The Raptors of the last four or five years, and if that’s the case, we might have to wait for another disappointing spring to see another big name brought in. But if the trade presents itself, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Maple Leafs, even two points out of a playoff spot, go all in on a player with at least another year left on their contract.
So what do I think will happen?
I think we’ll see them go for it. I think even if it costs both Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott, we’ll see a big name like Manson or Brodin added to the fold. Everyone knows the window for the Leafs is open, and spending another year watching potential success pass them by doesn’t make too much sense. That being said, there’s other variables to consider, like the uncertainty of next years salary cap and the impending expansion draft, where The Leafs will almost certainly lose a high profile middle six forward, and the expiring contracts of Barrie and Muzzin (and Dermott if he sticks around).
There’s a reason these guys are paid as much as they are to make these kinds of decisions, but the timing feels right to start pushing the chips to the middle of the table and taking some risks.
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