Welcome back to another episode of Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2022-23 trade targets. The series where I’ll examine a few players from teams around the league who could potentially fit for Maple Leafs general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas. From blockbuster moves to minor upgrades, all will be covered and potential trade packages will be discussed.
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After recent stops in Nashville, Chicago, Philadelphia, Edmonton and Anaheim, let’s make way to the sunshine state and see who the Florida Panthers have to offer. There’s been a ton of speculation circulating around the Panthers, saying they may be looking to create some cap flexibility for next summer. This could mean some major pieces are shipped out before the March 3 trade deadline, here’s a few who should be on the Maple Leafs’ radar:
While Pontus Holmberg has been a solid fourth-line center for Toronto so far this season, adding Sam Bennett to the third line and moving David Kampf down would be the type of depth which could cause other teams fits come playoff time.
Bennett is a very interesting target for the Maple Leafs as he checks a lot of boxes. He gritty, loves to muck it up in the dirty areas and he’s talented enough to play down the middle or be moved up to the wing, if needed. So far in 41 games in 2022-23, Bennett has recorded 25 points.
Recently, hockey insider Frank Seravalli mentioned Bennett’s name as a potential trade candidate out of Florida. If he’s indeed available, the Maple Leafs should be interested and heavily at that. This is not a rental, Bennett comes with term left on his deal as he’s signed through the 2024-25 season. He makes just over $4 million, a salary that’s very reasonable considering the package you get night in and night out.
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The Panthers are likely looking to the future as far as a return goes in any Bennett trade. Dubas has a number of top prospects he could dangle here, including Nick Robertson. Robertson, along with second-round pick and an NHL ready defenseman like Mac Hollowell could potentially advance trade talks here. Hollowell has moved down the depth chart recently and could be on his way out.
While Bennett is a better fit, the Panthers also have forward Sam Reinhart who could potentially be in play ahead of this season’s trade deadline.
Reinhart, like Bennett, can play in all situations and gets minutes on the Panthers penalty kill and power play. He’s recorded 12 goals and 26 points in 41 games so far in 2022-23. Reinhart has mostly played right wing but does have experience filling in at center if his team’s in a pinch.
While their numbers might be similar, these two players have very different playing styles. Reinhart is more of the grace, while Bennett plays like a bull in a china shop. Reinhart’s game is about speed, skill and finesse, outsmarting his opponents and taking advantage of his opportunities. Adding him in Toronto could mean he plays his off wing on the team’s second line, which isn’t necessarily ideal.
Reinhart is signed through the 2023-24 season, over $2 million more than Bennett at $6.5 million and with one less season of service left on his deal. There’s no doubt Reinhart would be an upgrade in Toronto over the likes of Alexander Kerfoot or Pierre Engvall, however, he’s not the most ideal fit and if Dubas had to choose between the two, it’s likely Bennett all day, everyday.
One pending free agent defenseman who is going to attract a lot of attention is Panthers’ blueliner Radko Gudas. He’s a hard nosed defensive defenseman who loves to hit, block shots and piss off his opponents.
Gudas makes $2.5 million against the cap and if Florida’s GM Bill Zito is interested in retaining some salary, Dubas and the Maple Leafs could be interested. Defensemen are like pitching in baseball, you can never have enough.
Even though Toronto has Justin Holl, Timothy Liljegren and Connor Timmins on the right side at the moment, Gudas would be a nice addition and someone who can push Holl for minutes on the penalty kill. Considering all the injuries that have come the Maple Leafs way this season, adding another defenseman who is battle tested and who’s game suits the Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a wise move by management.
Gudas would be a low-risk, potentially high-reward addition. He wouldn’t cost a ton to acquire and as a pending free agent, there’s no commitment past this season. Along with Reinhart and Bennett, Gudas also does not hold any trade protection this season and can be moved at will.
The Maple Leafs are expected to be buyers ahead of the 2023 trade deadline. Dubas is managing for a contract for next season and beyond and if the Panthers are in full sell mode, Toronto needs to be ready with some serious offers for consideration. Out of the three players mentioned above, there’s no doubt Bennett is the best fit for the Maple Leafs, short and long term.