The Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the busiest teams in the NHL ahead of the 2023 Trade Deadline. They acquired Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues and more recently, they added Jake McCabe and Sam Lafferty in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. The moves signal that the Maple Leafs are going all-in this season, hoping to advance past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004 and win the Cup for the first time since 1967.
With a complete roster and the big moves, the only missing piece is in the goaltending unit, specifically a veteran backup presence and Semyon Varlamov can be the goaltender that can put the Maple Leafs over the top. A move for Varlamov is complicated as he has a no-trade clause and it’s hard for a goaltender to move at the deadline. Moreover, he is an essential part of the New York Islanders’ success and if the team is looking to make a deep playoff run, they will keep him as a reliable backup.
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That said, the Maple Leafs can acquire the 34-year-old for the right price and add the missing piece to a well-built roster. Additionally, Varlamov is in the final year of his contract, and with his role declining in each of the past two seasons, he’s become a player worth trading for the Islanders.
Varlamov Can Solidify Maple Leafs Goaltending
The Maple Leafs have been fortunate to have great goaltending this season, particularly from starter Ilya Samsonov. He has a .918 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.30 goals-against average (GAA) on 852 shots with 10.6 goals saved above average (GSAA), making him one of the best players on the team. The problem is that with Matt Murray injured and uncertainty about his return this season, the Maple Leafs need a backup, especially for a playoff run.
Varlamov has only started 20 of the Islanders’ 63 games this season but he’s shown that he can still play at a high level. He has a .914 SV% and a 2.68 GAA on 617 shots with 5.4 GSAA and is coming off a 23-save shutout performance on Feb. 26 against the Winnipeg Jets. Adding him would immediately upgrade the Maple Leafs’ goaltending for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Samsonov would remain the starter but Varlamov could step in at any point and take over in the net.
Varlamov’s Playoff Experience
Varlamov helped the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup Semifinal in 2020 and 2021 as the primary starter. In 2021 specifically, he wasn’t the starter for the First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins but once he took over for Ilya Sorokin against the Boston Bruins, he never looked back. He helped the Islanders defeat the Bruins in six games and pushed the Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink in a seven-game series. If Samsonov gets injured or struggles in the playoffs, the Maple Leafs can turn to Varlamov and know they have a reliable goaltender for a deep playoff run.
Granted, Varlamov is older and isn’t taking on the same workload but he can still carry a team in the playoffs. There aren’t many goaltenders on the trade market with his playoff experience that can provide that spark to the goaltending unit. The Maple Leafs have a reliable starter but there would be a lot of benefits to adding a security blanket like him.
Dubas Putting Finishing Touches on a Great Deadline
So far, Maple Leafs’ general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas has done everything possible to make the team a favorite in the Eastern Conference. He’s strengthened the forward unit with the O’Reilly, Acciari, and Lafferty additions, with O’Reilly notably improving the top six. He has also added the missing piece to the defensive unit with the acquisition of McCabe who upgrades the left side.
The one question mark is goaltending. It’s not a weakness but in the playoffs, it could become the Maple Leafs’ undoing. In the last two years, they were defeated by world-class goaltenders in seven-game series with Carey Price leading the Montreal Canadiens in 2021 and Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the Lightning last year. As a result, they need to strengthen their crease for the playoffs, especially considering their likely opponents in the first and second rounds.
Adding Varlamov would be the final trade that can put the Maple Leafs over the top. The acquisition would leave no doubt about this team going all in and making every move necessary to win the Cup.
What the Islanders Can Receive in Return
The asking price for a goaltender like Varlamov is tough to gauge. He’s a proven backup but can easily take over as a starter if needed. He would be a starter on the majority of teams in the NHL but playing on the same team as Sorokin, who is one of the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy, he plays a minimum number of games. As a result, he should be able to field a second or third-round draft selection, if not more, in a deal.
Varlamov can also be moved in exchange for a player. The Islanders are looking to add forward depth, particularly a scoring presence, to the wing. The Maple Leafs could trade Pierre Engvall, David Kampf, or Alexander Kerfoot to the Islanders and the move would be an upgrade for both teams.
The Islanders, who acquired Bo Horvat during the All-Star Break, are looking to make a push for the playoffs and upgrade their roster at the trade deadline. However, the Maple Leafs have their eyes on the Stanley Cup and can put together an overwhelming offer to add a missing piece like Varlamov.