The Toronto Maple Leafs are near the top of the standings and there are only 43 days before the NHL trade deadline. As a result, they will be looking to add another player or two to strengthen their top nine. It has been known that the team has had difficulty in the playoffs in the past, and as a result, their targets should differ from previous deadlines. Riley Nash and Colin Blackwell were acquired in back-to-back seasons, and both played bottom-six minutes, which didn’t have as much of an impact on the team as, say, a top-nine forward would have.
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Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs’ brass would be smart to consider one or two top-nine forwards who can be acquired for a low cost but offer a greater return in the final stretch and throughout the postseason. A few teams outside the playoff picture might be sellers before the deadline to obtain picks or long-term prospects. Although the Maple Leafs don’t have a ton of picks, they still have mid-tier prospects that could help facilitate a deal.
The Maple Leafs appear to perform best with defensively-minded players in their bottom six. One player who comes to mind is David Kampf. They signed him due to his defensive skills, and since then, he has developed into a key member of the club. The same can be said for Noel Acciari, who plays with a defence-first mentality and would be used by the team to help close out games in the playoffs. He is a player who should be on their list of targets, because of the St. Louis Blues’ position in the standings. They have struggled throughout the season, and things don’t appear to be moving in the right direction, so they would be a good match to try and acquire a player or two from.
Acciari joined the Blues this past summer, agreeing to a one-year, $1.25 million contract with no bonuses. His cheap asking price might make him a highly sought-after player at this year’s trade deadline. The Blues shouldn’t be considered a full-fledged seller, despite the way their season has gone, since they have the players to compete for the foreseeable future. They might part with some of their depth pieces to make room for younger players they see as essential to their long-term success, which would lower the cost of Acciari for the Leafs.
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Toronto should make an offer that includes a lower-end pick in next year’s draft and, if necessary, a prospect whose value has dropped. However, Dubas won’t be willing to give up too many assets to acquire Acciari if he doesn’t believe that he can re-sign him in the offseason. In the end though, if he and the management team believe he is a solid addition, they will find a way to make the move and have him slotted into the lineup in hopes of making a deep playoff run.
Max Comtois is a player that would benefit from a change of scenery as he hasn’t had much success since joining the Anaheim Ducks in 2018-19. Each time, the team missed the playoffs, and his play seemed to suffer as a result. His 33-point performance in 2020-21 marked a career-high for points, and in each of the other seasons, he failed to score 20 points even once. After five years with the organization where he was selected in the second round of the draft in 2017, he is in desperate need of a change.
Related: NHL Trade Bait List
Let’s discuss the Maple Leafs as a potential suitor, a team that will be hoping for an extended playoff run. As previously noted, they should consider acquiring players that aren’t only part of the 11 to 13 forward group, but instead, search for players to fill the eight to 10 spots in the lineup. Comtois falls into that range; he is a player who could achieve great success if paired with Alex Kerfoot or John Tavares. The Maple Leafs may be able to work out a deal with him as well; he has an expiring contract for $2 million and is slated to become a restricted free agent (RFA). Furthermore, he is eligible for arbitration, which, as we all know, will interest Dubas because he isn’t a rental.
James van Riemsdyk
Remember James van Riemsdyk? The former Maple Leaf is in the final year of a five-year, $35 million contract he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was extremely productive while playing for Toronto, tallying 294 points in 413 games, but 2017-18 is the season he played his best hockey in. He played with Mitch Marner, during which he notched a career-high 36 goals. The organization has a spot up for grabs on the second line alongside Marner and Tavares, which makes van Riemsdyk a near-perfect candidate.
As previously stated, Dubas dislikes sending significant trade packages for players whose contracts are about to expire. However, it happened when he acquired Nick Foligno during the 2020-21 campaign. He was a rental and in the offseason, after being acquired for a first-round pick, he ended up signing with the Boston Bruins. Perhaps, van Riemsdyk might be a player that wants to re-sign with the team after this season. The opportunity for an extension exists for a lower price than he is receiving this season because they are a perennial playoff team. He is also 33 years old, and it would give him a good chance to win a Cup before he retires.
The one aspect of the deal that doesn’t make sense is his salary for this season, but it could still go through with a third-party broker like the Arizona Coyotes. Due to the Leafs’ salary cap situation, his average annual value (AAV) of $7 million makes it difficult for the trade to be completed. However, if both sides can engage a third team, that team can assume 50 percent of van Riemsdyk’s contract, lowering it to $3.5 million. To bring him on board, Toronto would still need to manipulate the cap, which could involve making another trade or sending a player to the Flyers in exchange.
Dubas will undoubtedly work the phones before the trade deadline. The organization will likely add depth at all three spots, just based on previous seasons, but their primary focus should be the forward group. It’s not a bad group by any means, but they need a couple more pieces to provide insurance. They need players who can step up and fill in for injuries, as opposed to using someone who will only play six to seven minutes per night and has split his time between the NHL and the American Hockey League (AHL). This is something the Maple Leafs have lacked in previous seasons.