We’re just under two weeks away from the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline and it’s been relatively quiet on the trade front so far. The only real moves of substance in the calendar year have been the Calgary Flames’ acquisition of Tyler Toffoli and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ acquisition of Ilya Lyubushkin. So, with roughly ten days to go before the big day and nearly all of the top trade candidates still on the board, the next stretch of days is shaping up to be a busy one.
The Maple Leafs have lots of options to do business with at the deadline, namely rebuilding teams, many of which we’ve covered here at THW. One team our Maple Leafs contributors haven’t discussed yet is the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are currently sitting seven points out of a playoff spot, and while making the dance isn’t entirely out of the question for them, they may choose to sell high on their assets towards the deadline and regroup for next season. If that ends up being the case, here are three trade targets the Toronto Maple Leafs could potentially look at on the Jets.
Brenden Dillon, Defense
One of the biggest issues the Maple Leafs have had this year, aside from goaltending, is the lack of a hard-hitting, true stay-at-home defenseman to clear opposing bodies out from the front of their net. Adding Lyubushkin was a good start, but if the Maple Leafs want to give themselves some more insurance in that area and really shape the identity of their back end, they should look no further than Brenden Dillon.
A native of Surrey, British Columbia, Dillon is a 6-foot-4, 225 pound defenseman whose primary purpose would be to protect his goaltender and throw the body. He’s second on the Jets in hits with 146, and also has general manager Kyle Dubas’ favourite thing: term. Dillon has an average annual value (AAV) of $3.9 million through 2023-24, so if the Leafs were to swing a trade like this, they’d be adding a stable piece to their defensive corps for the next two years.
As for the cost to get him, the Washington Capitals traded him to Winnipeg prior to this season for two second round picks. So, you could imagine the price for the Leafs to acquire him would be similar to that. The Leafs may prefer to move a second rounder and a mid-level prospect versus two picks, but if this is the cost to add someone like Dillon, I would do it if I were the Maple Leafs. Especially if Jake Muzzin is expected to miss significant time.
Andrew Copp, Forward
Andrew Copp is one of those names that I don’t think the Leafs will be among the top suitors for, but may check in on to see what he would cost. The 27-year-old can play left wing and centre, and has a respectable 32 points in 51 games for the Jets this year. He kills more penalties than any other Jets forward, and plays on the power play as well, so you can expect consistency at both ends of the ice.
One of the Maple Leafs’ talked-about wants is a permanent top-six winger for John Tavares and William Nylander. Dubas said himself the team will likely be prioritizing defense at the deadline, but if they end up looking to grab a forward, Copp would be a perfect addition to the top six. He has an affordable cap hit of $3.64 million, and would be able to contribute in all three zones. But players like Copp come with a price tag, and this is where things get dicey.
Copp is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season, and Dubas has said this year that his preference lies with players who have term. Based on previous deadline deals for players like Copp, I’d imagine the price would be a first round pick at minimum, with a roster player or a prospect involved as well. Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman said in his latest 32 Thoughts piece that he believed the Colorado Avalanche and the Boston Bruins are frontrunners for Copp, so if the Leafs were to get into a bidding war with two other playoff contenders for Copp, would the price be worth it? Probably not. But hey, you never know.
Dylan DeMelo, Defense
Last on the list of trade targets is one of those players who does all the little things right to the point where you barely notice him. Dylan DeMelo is currently in his second full season with the Jets, and he’s a comparable player to Dillon, and not just because his first name is the latter’s last name. Both players have contracts up in two years, with DeMelo making slightly less than Dillon at an AAV of $3 million.
Remember how I said Copp killed more penalties than any other Jets forward? Well, guess who kills more penalties than any other Jets defenseman, or even player for that matter? Bingo. DeMelo’s average of 2:41 shorthanded time on ice per game is higher than anybody else on the Jets, and his 62.7% defensive zone starts compared to 37.3% offensive zone starts suggests the Jets know where his strengths lie, and utilize him as such.
In terms of cost, DeMelo is kind of hard to gauge. He was traded to the Jets for a third round pick near the trade deadline in 2019-20, but I’d imagine his value has gone up since then. I think you would be able to swing a trade like this for a price similar to what I think you could get DeMelo for, a second round pick and a mid-level prospect or roster player. He’s also right-handed, which would give the Maple Leafs a very solid right side along with Lyubushkin and T.J. Brodie.
Defense Remains Maple Leafs Top Deadline Priority
What the Maple Leafs plan to do at the trade deadline still remains up in the air. They’ve been tied to all sorts of players, and while stable goaltending seems to be the biggest need right now, it doesn’t sound like the Maple Leafs are going to acquire one via trade. So, if their plan is to hope one of Jack Campbell or Petr Mrazek figures it out, then the next-best thing to upgrade is the back end.
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If the Maple Leafs do in fact decide to address their defensive corps, they should definitely check in on the Jets for upgrades. They have everything the Maple Leafs are looking for between term, affordable contracts, and stable defensemen, and unless they decide to look for one of the shinier toys on the market such as a Mark Giordano or a Hampus Lindholm, the Jets could be a worthy option to do business with.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.