Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2023 Trade Deadline Preview

The NHL trade deadline is less than two months away and the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a fun team to watch leading up to deadline day. General manager (GM) Kyle Dubas will be aggressive on the trade market as the Leafs look to upgrade their roster to finally get themselves into the later stages of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Dubas will have his limitations as the Maple Leafs don’t have much for cap space so any move that transpires will likely be a money in/money out situation which certainly complicates things a touch. While some may disagree, the fact Dubas does not have a contract next season isn’t going to play a factor. He’ll continue to have the team’s short-term and long-term interests in mind as trade talks advance before the March 3 deadline.

Maple Leafs Have Cause for Concern

While the Maple Leafs sit near the top of the Eastern Conference this season, this team is far from a finished product. There’s several areas Dubas will need to focus on leading up to the deadline. For starters, the makeup of the third line is an area of concern.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The trio of David Kampf, Alexander Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall have been together for a few weeks now and while their numbers haven’t been horrendous, Dubas should scale the trade market to see what kind of checking wingers are available.

Kampf isn’t going anywhere, and rightfully so. He’s one of the team’s unsung heroes and Dubas would be smart to re-sign the 28-year-old pending free agent. At this point, it’s hard to say the same for Kerfoot and Engvall who have been very inconsistent this season. Neither of them are a prototypical checking-line winger and given the salary cap constraints, both players could find themselves involved in a multi-player trade to help balance out the books. Kerfoot makes $3.5 million against the cap, meanwhile Engvall makes $2.2 million.

Dubas appears to have enough talent to provide Keefe with fourth-line options as Pontus Holmberg, Zach Aston-Reese, Bobby McMann and Dryden Hunt have all looked good lately. Meanwhile the top line of Auston Matthews, Michael Bunting and William Nylander won’t be touched, and at this point, the same can be said for John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Calle Jarnkrok. The third line however, needs to be addressed if the Maple Leafs want to become an elite hockey team.

Maple Leafs Trade Candidates Mostly Prospect Driven

While the last two trades Toronto has made have been a one-for-one swap, the majority of trades Dubas has pulled off in his tenure with the Leafs have included draft picks being moved. If the Maple Leafs get involved in trade talks for an impact player with term on his contract, a first-round pick could be moved, however it’s more likely Leafs Nation sees their executive team try to move their 2024 second-round pick and prospects instead.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs
Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When it comes to their NHL roster, teams will likely ask about the availability of Holmberg, Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. All three likely remain Maple Leafs for the remainder of this season. As far as prospects go, if a player like Sam Bennett, Patrick Kane or Jakob Chychrun end up in Toronto, there’s going to be some of the Maple Leafs top prospects in play, including:

Topi Niemela

With the emergence of Connor Timmins and the development of Timothy Liljegren, one prospect to watch is Topi Niemela. The 20-year-old is a former third-round pick and is an offensive defenseman who has potential to one day quarterback a power play. He’s likely still two years away, however he could be someone Dubas dangles ahead of this season’s trade deadline.

Joseph Woll

With Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov both exceeding expectations this season and with the fact Murray has term left on his contract and Samsonov is a pending restricted free agent, Joseph Woll is a trade candidate for the Maple Leafs. He’s putting up historic numbers with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (AHL) and at 24 years old is ready for some consistent NHL minutes. Woll is signed through the 2024-25 season at $766,667, which could be appealing for onlooking teams.

Alex Steeves

One of the Maple Leafs’ smartest prospects, Alex Steeves’ hockey IQ is through the roof. At 23 years old there’s still lots of untapped potential. Steeves was a highly coveted late bloomer who scored 23 goals last season in the AHL and is nearly producing a point a game in 2022-23. Steeves appeared in three games last season for the Maple Leafs and looked like he belonged.

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev

One of the Maple Leafs best forward prospects, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is a trade candidate leading up to the 2023 deadline. He’s putting up nearly a point a game in the minors and showed well in his only appearances with the Maple Leafs this season. The 22-year-old is a crafty offensive-minded winger who is best suited in a top-six role. He loves to facilitate and if paired with a sniper, could rack up the assists in a hurry.

Related: Maple Leafs GM Likely to Make Multiple Trades Ahead of Deadline

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Ideally, the Maple Leafs hold onto top prospect Matthew Knies, along with Fraser Minten and the oft-injured Nick Robertson. All three players have the tangibles to be impact players in the NHL and will only be moved should a blockbuster deal transpire where Dubas is acquiring a player with some term left on their contract.

Maple Leafs Likely to Add Another Defenseman

While Dubas needs to be in the market for a power forward who can either play on the team’s second or third line, it’s likely the Maple Leafs go out and add another defenseman before this season’s deadline.

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Chychrun from the Coyotes is the biggest name available, and with Dubas scouting Arizona in person this season and with his trade history with their management group, there’s some potential for a blockbuster between the two clubs.

Losing Jake Muzzin is a giant hole for the Leafs as the veteran was a pillar on the penalty kill and consistently ate around 20 minutes of ice time a night. Muzzin will be re-evaluated next month regarding his neck injury, but at this point all signs are pointing to him being out for the season. Dubas has done a great job adding Timmins to the mix, and his summer additions of Jordie Benn and Victor Mete have also been beneficial at times this season. Regardless of the team’s current depth, injuries have played a major factor and will likely continue to do so leading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Toronto will be in the market for a top-four defenseman, and if it’s not Chychrun out of the desert, it could be one of these potential trade targets:

Vladislav Gavrikov

The Columbus Blue Jackets are headed for the NHL Draft Lottery and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov is a pending free agent who will be on a number of team’s radars, including the Maple Leafs. The 28-year-old 6-foot-3 blueliner loves to throw his weight around and is the type of penalty killer who could help replace what Muzzin brought to the table in Toronto

Mattias Ekholm

One of the more expensive targets could be Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. He’s been recently linked to the Maple Leafs as the Preds are falling out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and could be looking to move the veteran blueliner. At 6-foot-4 Ekholm would provide Toronto with an upgrade in size and physicality and he’s shown in the past he can chip in with secondary scoring. The Leafs offense from their defense has been a concern this season and Ekholm would help address this. He’s signed for $6.2 million annually through the 2025-26 season and would likely cost at least a second-round pick and top prospect to acquire.

Jake McCabe

Dubas has done business with the Chicago Blackhawks in the past and could circle back to acquire defenseman Jake McCabe.

Jake McCabe Chicago Blackhawks
Jake McCabe, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blackhawks are expected to make multiple trades ahead of the deadline and McCabe could be one of the non-rentals to move. He has two seasons left on his contract at $4 million annually and so far this season has registered 11 points in 37 games.

Related: Maple Leafs’ 2022-23 Trade Targets: Florida Panthers

McCabe is an excellent penalty killer and shot blocker and would certainly help the Maple Leafs. He holds seven-team no-trade protection, however it’s likely joining the Maple Leafs would be something he’d approve.

It Won’t Be For a Lack of Trying

Leafs Nation should buckle up because between now and March 3 it’s going to be a media circus. As per usual, Toronto will be linked to just about everyone available on the trade market. Dubas and the Maple Leafs are expected to be one of the more active teams talking trades and Toronto’s GM will be working tirelessly to try and upgrade their roster.

Some have heard this before, but this Maple Leafs team feels different. They are winning games in many different ways and their overall defensive game appears to be better suited for Stanley Cup Playoff success. Dubas should do right by the players and unload a couple of the organizations top prospects to bring in an impact player who can push the needle when the games start to matter the most. This Leafs roster deserves it and so do the fans.