The trade deadline offers a pivotal point of reflection for every NHL franchise. Those in a position to push for the ultimate prize are willing to spend whatever it takes to encourage that outcome, whereas all others are taking every call they can to secure a return that improves their future outlook. As the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline approaches, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks find themselves on opposite sides of such negotiations.
Toronto is at the point in their trajectory that the window to win is beyond being open. Rather, it’s been so for a few years and is slowly starting to feel the force of gravity. Chicago, on the other hand, has finally taken a more explicit approach to call their current situation what it truly is — a rebuild.
Fortunately, for both organizations, each has pieces that can help the other enhance their current strategies. Even if reports have indicated that prior conversations between the clubs haven’t resulted in a deadline deal, that doesn’t mean they don’t still have time to pave another path towards one.
Toronto & Chicago Both Benefit From Swap
As the Maple Leafs scramble to regain their early-season dominance, the Blackhawks have accepted a less than ideal fate. Simply stated, each now has a drastically different goal to achieve in order to claim success throughout 2021-22.
It’s no secret that Toronto’s goaltending situation has become a little more complicated than Kyle Dubas and company would have envisioned, given Jack Campbell‘s sparkling start to the season. Now out with injury, it’s not as though the Maple Leafs can rest assured with an anticipated bounceback. What’s more, with Petr Mrázek failing to bring forth what was expected, a change of scenery might help him rebound back into his pre-Toronto form.
Meanwhile, it’s in Chicago’s best interest to extract value out of Marc-André Fleury before he walks into free agency without offering any type of return. Despite the Blackhawks failing to accomplish as a unit, Fleury’s individual ability to continue performing like he already belongs in the Hall of Fame would elevate Toronto’s collective effort.
When it comes to defensemen, a similar scenario aligns these two teams. As the Maple Leafs worry about a less than sturdy blue line, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Jake Muzzin, the Blackhawks are witnessing a veteran effort from Calvin de Haan be mostly wasted.
One of the league leaders in blocked shots and logging over 19:00 per night, de Haan would help Toronto better balance the defensive side of their strategy. Whereas welcoming Travis Dermott would decrease the average age on Chicago’s blue line in a way more suitable to their rebuild.
Dubas would have to be realistic, though, when it comes to what it would take to acquire the type of experience that comes alongside players like Fleury and de Haan. If he truly is committed to winning sooner than later, that is. As such, sweetening his side of the deal is a must.
Leveraging a name like Nick Robertson, one of Toronto’s most highly anticipated prospects, might be a price Toronto has to explore paying. Let alone the fact that Chicago will most certainly demand that draft picks be part of the discussion, too.
Blackhawks Require Youth & Maple Leafs Can Age
With the Blackhawks finally owning the fact that they are facing a rebuild, they are fully aware that it’s now necessary to shave age off their roster. Yet, it’s not in their best interest to simply give it away if there’s an opportunity to extract value in the process. On the other hand, the Maple Leafs need to be willing to lose some of their future, in exchange for enhancing their present.
Fleury is 37 and de Haan is 30. Each is set to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) by season’s end and both are still more than capable of performing among the league’s best. Chicago letting them walk is certainly an option, but trading them to a team like Toronto is a better one. Especially since the Maple Leafs will pay for the reassurance of consistency that such athletes provide.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks filling both voids by adding a 25-year-old in Dermott and a 30-year-old in Mrázek makes sense. Dermott is a mostly unproven defenseman, working his way into his prime and committed at only $1.5 for at least one more season following this one. Whereas, although Mrázek’s price tag is a higher one at $3.8 million until the conclusion of 2023-24, mentoring Kevin Lankinen throughout that span could create the type of tandem that was hoped for in Toronto.
That the Blackhawks will then also have another dynamic forward in their fold with 20-year-old Robertson offers fans a reason to watch, while easing the loss of Brandon Hagel. Robertson has proven he can produce in the minors, but hasn’t yet been granted a suitable opportunity to replicate those numbers in the NHL.
Toronto has underutilized the winger, given the prowess already present within their forward group. Whereas Chicago won’t have a choice but to rely on the type of talent a player like Robertson possesses, if they want to remain at all relevant throughout the coming years.
Salary Cap Creativity
The financials involved aren’t necessarily straightforward, as each piece within this trade proposal involves a drastically different expense. Ultimately, if their respective salaries followed these athletes, Chicago would be freeing up more of their budget than Toronto. But, with both currently near the ceiling of their cap, that won’t work.
Simply stated, the Maple Leafs can’t afford to take over the $11.55 million in contract value that comes alongside Fleury and de Haan. Despite the fact that they’d be unloading an additional paycheque, Mrázek, Dermott, and Robertson combined barely account for half of that total.
As such, these two sides would have to work out a deal that involved Chicago retaining at least some of that amount. It would only be for the remainder of this season, since Fleury and de Haan enter free agency by the end of it, so it’s a small price worth paying if the Blackhawks value what the return means for their future plans.
Undoubtedly, Toronto will also have to let go of at least one draft pick to make this exchange a reality. An easy decision to make, since the outcome promotes propelling their present.
With the Maple Leafs fixated on finding whatever it will take to win now and the Blackhawks shifting their focus to building a better foundation, these two sides could come together to create the type of blockbuster deal that makes sense for everyone involved.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.