By Doug Doucette
The NHL trade deadline is roughly a month away, which means there are 31 GM’s frantically posturing to get the best possible return for the assets that they’re willing to give up. We are in a unique situation this season, as the typical season long bottom feeders with the .250 winning percentage just haven’t been a reality. The expected losers like Ottawa and Arizona have put together somewhat respectable runs and the disappointing seasons from teams like St. Louis, Chicago, Carolina and New York have left them out of the playoff picture, but still on the cusp.
Still, there’s a strong belief across the league the number of sellers is far superior to the number of buyers, and so the price to acquire what could be the missing piece of the puzzle could potentially come at lower cost than any year in recent memory. Let’s take a look at what the Maple Leafs Trade Deadline wish list could include.
First, what are Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan and company willing to give up? We’ve heard that could include this summer’s first round draft choice. We’ve also heard names like Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and Nikita Zaitsev. You can bet that Connor Brown and even possibly Nazem Kadri, with their decreased level of play this season aren’t untouchable. And as far as prospects go, Calle Rose, Andreas Borgman, Jeremy Bracco and Carl Grundstrom highlight the list. Hobey Baker finalist Joseph Woll could potentially be sought after as well, given the difficulty teams have had finding goaltending depth this season.
Now, without getting into what each player might end up costing Toronto–here’s a list of players that you could see attached to The Leafs over the next five weeks.
Wayne Simmonds – 30 – RW/LW – Philadelphia Flyers – $3,975,000
With the exception of potentially Mark Stone, Wayne Simmonds might be the prized forward on the market. While The Flyers claim to be working on an extension, it’s hard to see a scenario where that would work out for them. The team has already made long term commitments to top six forwards Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James Van Riemsdyk and Sean Courturier and given their performance this season, signing an aging winger to a long term deal would be out of character for them.
Alex Pietrangelo – 29 – RD – St. Louis Blues – $6,500,000
Given the shortage of high end right handed defenceman in the NHL, when one potentially becomes available, there is going to be a long line up of interested teams. The rumours connecting Pietrangelo go back to early in the season, before William Nylander was signed. A deal bringing Pietrangelo, at this point, likely wouldn’t include the slumping Swede (3 assists vs WSH), but it does offer a blue print for what a deal could look like. The Blues have turned around their play as of late and aren’t far from competing for a playoff spot. This is a situation much like they were in last season, when GM Doug Armstrong admitted they weren’t good enough to compete and waited until the off-season to make roster moves. Still, it appears as though the Blues aren’t good enough, and even on the edge of the wild card race, The Blues should be sellers in the end.
Josh Manson – 27 – RD – Anaheim Ducks – $4,100,000
The Anaheim Ducks are in a similar situation to the Blues, except they’re coming from the other direction. And while they could be, currently, one of the worst performing teams in the league, their AHL affiliate; The San Diego Gulls, might be the class of the American League. Manson is another name that surfaced during the Nylander discussions showing a willingness on The Ducks’ behalf to move him, despite fighting hard last off season during the expansion draft to keep him. He’s under a fairly team friendly contract as part of a promising blue line that includes Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour. It’s likely the latter, Brandon Montour, that has made Manson a potential deadline acquisition.
Jake Muzzin – 29 – LD – Los Angeles Kings – $4,000,000
Muzzin is available, this we know. He’s spent significant time riding shot gun with Drew Doughty in L.A and we know that he can handle the minutes. He’s done so in big games and he’s’ been through grueling Western Conference playoff series. The only issue in acquiring Muzzin is that he’s a left handed shot who plays the left side and has for many years. It’s hard to look at the success he’s had with The Kings and be able to say with completely confidence that he can do the exact same thing playing in Toronto with The Leafs. That doesn’t mean that he won’t be sought after, and certainly doesn’t mean The Leafs won’t be in the running for him, but in doing so, they may have to consider the possibility of him playing with Nikita Zaitsev, Igor Ozhiganov or Travis Dermott (who has much experience on his off side).
Justin Faulk – 26 – RD – Carolina Hurricanes – $4,833,333
Faulk’s is a name that might get lost a little bit in any rumours involving The Hurricanes, but he might just be the most fitting player they have to offer Toronto. His skating is next level and he plays with an edge. He plays a similar game to that of fellow Minnesotan Jake Gardiner, though he’s shown over the last couple of seasons a potential to improve his defensive zone play to a level that Gardiner hasn’t reached even to date. At only 26 years old, Faulk has played over 500 games and while he lacks significant playoff experience, he’s certainly seen enough NHL action to be trusted with big minutes. Whether his role would be riding shotgun with Morgan Rielly, or playing along side his statesman Gardiner, you can count on Faulk to give you a quality 20+ minutes per night.
Brett Pesce – 24 – RD – Carolina Hurricanes – $4,025,000
Everyone knows that Carolina would like to deal from their strength on the blue line to acquire a good young forward who can bolster their offence. If they’re not willing to deal Faulk and with Dougie Hamilton getting the majority of the ice time, Brett Pesce could be the guy to go. Still evolving, Pesce is a big body that plays a physical brand of hockey in his own end. He’s a new school player with size and speed and he can move the puck out of his own end. Much like Manson, he also comes with a fairly team friendly contract.
Michael Ferland – 26 – LW/RW – Carolina Hurricanes – $1,750,000
The secret on Michael Ferland seems to be out. He’s big, he’s physical, he plays with heart and soul and effort. Oh yeah, and he’s a twenty goal scorer. At 27 years old, Ferland is poised to hit free agency, and will no doubt be looking for a contract comparable to the one that Tom Wilson signed to stay in Washington. If the Hurricanes were willing to go there, they likely would have already. Given the player the ‘Canes sent to Calgary in order to acquire Ferland and Hamilton(Noah Hanafin), they’re not likely to lose him for nothing as well as miss the playoffs. He’ll be as highly sought after as Simmonds will be and he does seem to check off all the boxes on The Leafs wish list.
Niklas Hjalmarsson – 31 – RD – Arizona Coyotes – $4,100,000
Hjalmarsson was a name that seemed to follow Toronto around at last year’s deadline as well. While he’s a left handed shot, he’s played more on the right side than he has his strong side. He comes with a winning pedigree and he’s now put together a fairly lengthy career of playing big minutes against top players with really good partners at his side. With his contract coming to and end, it seems like he would be a candidate to be moved out by the ever struggling Coyotes, except that Hjalmarsson seems to have really embraced being a part of the franchise in Arizona, and could potentially stick around for, possibly, the remainder of his career. For a franchise that has struggled to put together anything resembling a consistent contender for quite some time, you have to wonder if he’s a player they’re willing to part with.
Nick Ritchie – 23 – LW – Anaheim Ducks – $1,640,000
Only four years removed from being selected tenth overall by The Ducks, a strong market for big, physical wingers who can hang in the top nine offensively could be all the reason Anaheim needs to move him out of town. Ritchie, who is now in his third full NHL season has failed to live up to what was a prolific goal scoring junior career. And while he should still be afforded sometime to prove that he could do it, that opportunity may not be with The Ducks. The writing seems to be on the wall in Anaheim, and with the exception of Gibson, Fowler and Rakell, no one should feel safe.
Alec Martinez – 31 – RD – Los Angeles Kings – $4,000,000
Martinez could be an absolute steal at the deadline this year. While the headlines could be dominated by bigger, flashier names, Martinez seems like one of the only players who is an absolute lock to be moved. The Kings are hovering around the Jack Hughes sweepstakes and the 31 year old doesn’t look like a fit for their future plans. Martinez has played all situations on both sides of the point and he’s played big minutes in big situations against tough players for several years now. The cost to acquire him should be significantly less than any of the guys listed above, but there’s not a significant discrepancy in the type of play you might get from him.
Duncan Keith – 35 – LD – Chicago Blackhawks – $5,538,463
As we highlighted in a recent piece, a trade for Duncan Keith seem unlikely. But if all of the stars align and Chicago is willing to facilitate a move, Keith brings plenty to the table. While he’s not the world beater of old, he comes with a wealth of experience, leadership and still has something to offer on the ice, in a more limited role than he may have in the past. Under the right circumstance, any team would take Keith, there’s no question about it.
Erik Gustafsson – 26 – LD/RD – Chicago Blackhawks – $1,200,000
The Blackhawks had no idea what they were getting when they signed unsigned prospect Erik Gustafsson. After impressing the club with his play at the American League level, he got his chance with the big club and hasn’t missed a step. This season, he’s playing his off side with the aforementioned Duncan Keith and hasn’t slowed down one bit. He’s not overly big, but doesn’t shy away from physical contact. He moves the puck well both with his first pass and his crisp skating ability. Could The Hawks move him while his value is this high? Or would they prefer to try and extend him as they rebuild what was, not so long ago, a model franchise?
Shayne Gostibehere – 25 – LD – Philadelphia Flyers – $4,500,000
The Flyers seem poised to shake things up, and aside from the big contracts up front, Ivan Provorov seems to be the only safe name on the back end. While Gostisbehere hasn’t shown that his breakout 60 point season from a year ago will be the norm, he’s still a very good puck mover who could keep up with the fast pace with which the Maple Leafs play. It could be something of a risk with 4 more seasons on his contract, but one that I’m sure Toronto and many others would be willing to take.
Dougie Hamilton – 25 – RD – Carolina Hurricanes – $5,750,000
The Hurricanes seem to be very likely trade partners for the Maple Leafs, as another recent “Virtual GM” exercise here at True Blue somewhat showed. With both clubs dealing from a strength that happens to be the other club’s weakness. Hamilton doesn’t solve Toronto’s woes in their own end, but he does bring a fast paced, physical brand of hockey they could use. His contract comes with another two years at a fairly lofty ticket, but he’s played big minutes in the past and could fall into a good spot on Toronto’s back end under the right circumstances.
Brady Skjei – 24 – LD – New York Rangers – $5,250,000
Skjei would be a buy low asset for the Maple Leafs if they could find a way to make a deal that makes sense financially. Skjei is in the first year of a new deal after back to back strong offensive showings with The Rangers but has been a healthy scratch this year. While the offensive play has picked up, his play in the defensive zone, on a struggling New York team has been a continued issue. Still, Skjei is a big body who can skate and who can move the puck.
Nick Jensen – 28 – RD – Detroit Red Wings – $812,500
Maybe one of the least talked about players who is very likely to be moved at the deadline this year is Detroit’s Nick Jensen. He checks many of the boxes for Toronto and shouldn’t cost anything unreasonable to acquire. He’s not an overly large player, but doesn’t shy away from the physical play. He skates well and makes a good first pass. He’s probably not a candidate to play top pairing minutes, but he plays such a responsible and safe game that having him lower on the depth chart could take big minutes away from other guys who have struggled to perform this year.
Patrick Maroon – 30 – LW/RW – St. Louis Blues – $1,750,000
Even with their recent surge, Maroon appears to be a guy that the Blues will move on from at the deadline. He’s shown an ability in the past to be able to hang in there with elite players and rack up points while playing a very physical game. He’s one of the NHL’s great pests and backs it up any way that he has to, whether it’s by getting on the score sheet, throwing a big hit, or dropping the gloves. There’s a notable drop off in his offensive production when he’s taken away from strong offensive contributors, and it’s shown in a big way this season in St. Louis, but there’s still reason to believe that he can step into a top six or top nine role with Toronto and find his way on to the score sheet at a much higher rate. Maroon is one of the few answers to what the league might consider “a Tom Wilson problem”.
Brayden Schenn – 27 – LW/C – St. Louis Blues – $5,125,000
Ultimately, I don’t think that Toronto will stick around long enough in the Schenn discussion to be serious players, but he could be a name that you see pop up along side the Leafs in rumours leading up to the deadline if only to drive the price up on perennial rivals, the Boston Bruins. Still, if the bidding doesn’t get out of hand, and the Maple Leafs can acquire the help they need on the blue line for a reasonable price, they might just hang in there as contenders for the power forward.
Kevin Hayes – 26 – C – New York Rangers – $5,175,000
Much like Schenn, The Leafs aren’t likely to stay in the Hayes race if the price gets too steep, especially since Hayes plays the middle of the ice–a position that, if Nazem Kadri gets back to the level he’s played at in years previous (a hat trick on Wednesday), is deep to begin with. Competing with the likes of Pittsburgh and San Jose to fill a hole that isn’t necessarily there to begin with will likely take them out of the running for Hayes before they’ll be out of the running for Schenn. But again, under the right circumstance, he’s a player that will have their interest.
Brian Boyle – 34 – LW/C – New Jersey Devils – $2,550,000
A deadline acquisition by the Leafs two seasons ago, Boyle was brought in to help win face offs, kill penalties and be a voice in the room. Those things wouldn’t exactly hurt to add once again this season, but it’s his ability to play a hard, physical game while still keeping up to the speed that makes him a potentially attractive addition to Toronto’s bottom six this season. Perhaps it wouldn’t be the flashiest of moves, and you’d like to see a big body in the top six before adding to the bottom six, but as the deadline approaches, if Boyle can be had for a reasonable price, The Leafs could look to bring him back for another run.
Now that we’ve covered that, here are a few other names that are worth paying attention to: Michael Raffl, Tomas Vanek, Luke Glendening, Niklas Kronwall, Ryan Dzingle, Ben Lovejoy, Mats Zuccarello, Justin Williams, Jordan Martinook, Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz, Nate Thompson, Kyle Clifford, Derek Forbort, Joel Edmunson, Carl Gunnarsson, Derek Stepan, Richard Panik