The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the NHL Draft in search of a goaltender. They left Montreal still facing the same question. But unlike before the draft, the Maple Leafs now have a variety of options available to them.
GM Kyle Dubas made no secret about their options when he spoke to reporters at the draft. This was after he was successfully able to clear the $3.8 million cap hit of Petr Mrazek from the books.
“With the cap space we have now, every option is available to us,” Dubas said.
Finding the Right Option
The big question now facing the Maple Leafs is what is their best option. With free agency opening on Wednesday, they could go to the market with their new found cap space. They have about $10.2 million available to them.
Could they revisit the Jack Campbell situation? Perhaps. They can check in and see if an agreement can be reached. This still feels like a tricky situation though.
Campbell isn’t likely to accept a hometown discount. Securing him would seem to require an AAV of at least $5 million. Yes, the Maple Leafs can afford it on the surface. But with other moves they need to make, that would make things really tight again.
If they could somehow agree to a number under $5 million, then there’s a chance. The Oilers appear more likely to be able to give Campbell what he’s looking for. But at least the Maple Leafs can check in again. It would have been next to impossible without dealing Mrazek first.
What about other free agent options? Ville Husso’s rights were traded to the Detroit Red Wings. He then signed a new three-year deal with them at $4.75 million. So he’s out.
Then there’s the Darcy Kuemper situation. His performance in winning the Stanley Cup helped price himself out of Colorado. He will be highly sought after with multiple teams interested.
Can the Maple Leafs present the best offer? If not, can they present themselves as the best situation to join? With the Washington Capitals amongst the teams with the most serious interest, there is no guarantee Kuemper ends up with the Maple Leafs.
A Blockbuster Trade
If the Maple Leafs strike out in free agency, they can go the trade route. This does present them with a unique opportunity to once-and-for-all solve their goaltending issue not only this season but for the foreseeable future too.
At the end of the day, the Maple Leafs want to find the goalie that’s going to help them win the Stanley Cup. But who could be available in trade that can help them now and in the future?
One name stands out given the current situation on his team. That’s Anaheim Ducks’ goalie John Gibson.
This is where we have to ask the question can a blockbuster deal be found that would bring Gibson to the Maple Leafs? Let’s set the scene.
Could Gibson to Toronto Work?
Gibson currently has five more seasons left on his deal that’s worth an AAV of $6.4 million. Taking on the full AAV would not be ideal if money wasn’t going the other way. Who would go to the Ducks that could make some sense given their high asking price in any trade package.
In terms of comparable money, William Nylander stands out. Nylander has two more seasons at $6.96 million. It would take a lot for the Maple Leafs to move off of Nylander. It would also take a lot for the Ducks to move off Gibson. Would a one-for-one situation be enough? Our Maple Leafs’ contributor Alex Hobson believes that the team should look at Gibson if the price is right.
Hobson also notes that there is significant risk in acquiring Gibson citing his numbers of late. In saying that, he also believes the team needs to be able to compete in the East with the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin around.
That’s what makes Gibson intriguing. That’s also why the Maple Leafs should consider trading a player like Nylander in a potential deal. The AAV is similar with the Maple Leafs getting some extra space during the first two years. They’d have their net set for the next five years.
Gibson would join a much deeper team in Toronto than he had in Anaheim. The numbers don’t lie. When he’s struggled, he’s been bad. But when he’s right, he’s one of the best goalies in the NHL.
As I’ve talked about in previous pieces, Nylander is a luxury when you already have the offensive firepower of the Maple Leafs. The key missing piece is in net. This is why a blockbuster trade centering around Gibson and Nylander is worth thinking about. If trading Nylander meant getting you the missing piece to the puzzle, you have to think strongly about it.
Of note, Gibson does hold some of the cards with his modified 10-team no trade list. He would have to indicate it’s ok for him to accept a trade to the Maple Leafs.
From the Ducks side, they’d get an elite offensive threat to join their young core in Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish. The thing that could cause some hesitation for the Ducks is what would they do in net if Gibson was traded. But would he stick out his contract knowing that growing pains are still on the horizon? Also would Nylander re-sign with the Ducks after the deal expires?
Hobson believes that the Maple Leafs would need another piece like Maxime Comtois in order to make this a fair deal. He believes that trading Nylander would need more in the return given he’s coming off an 80-point season which was a career high.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, a trade can work in the right situation. The Gibson/Nylander example shows how each player would benefit the new team while also seeing potential weaknesses in the deal.
Still, if the Maple Leafs swing a blockbuster trade for a goalie that turns into money in, money out, it addresses their need in goal while still having cap space to address other parts of the team. Signing a goalie in free agency puts you right back against the cap again.
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This is why the Maple Leafs need to consider a blockbuster trade. It would allow them to finally put an end to their constant search for a goalie once-and-for-all.
But as Dubas said, all options are on the table. This decision could ultimately decide if the Maple Leafs finally get to the place they want to go. That’s drinking out of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.