With just three days remaining before the NHL’s April 12 trade deadline, it’s crunch time for teams around the league to make their moves. The first major chip fell on Wednesday night with Kyle Palmieri going from the New Jersey Devils to the New York Islanders, but there is still plenty of fish in the sea for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
If you’ve been keeping up with our trade deadline coverage here at THW, you might’ve seen my recent piece about how the Leafs could use help at all three positions. General manager Kyle Dubas has made it clear that his main target is a top-six forward to play alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, but it also makes a lot of sense for the team to add a depth defenceman and potentially even another goaltender depending on Frederik Andersen’s health.
Given that they have about $2.5 million of cap space to play with – and maybe even more if Andersen ends up on LTIR – they have a lot of options. That said, let’s look at three potential blockbuster moves the Leafs could pull off to plug those holes and gear up for a playoff push.
Buffalo Sabres: Hall, Montour, Ullmark
Starting with the Buffalo Sabres, the Maple Leafs could acquire arguably the top forward available in Taylor Hall along with a depth defender in Brandon Montour and a strong tandem goaltender in Linus Ullmark.
The move makes sense for a few reasons. The Leafs would obviously be adding a former Hart Trophy winner in Hall – a proven scorer who, despite a down year in terms of scoring, is still driving shots and scoring chances at an excellent rate. In fact, Hall has been one of the unluckiest shooters in the league this season. With a change of scenery, a better surrounding cast, and a shot at the Cup, Hall could easily find his peak form once again.
Ullmark’s name has been out there for a while as a cheap option in net for the Leafs to target. He’s posted a solid .918 save percentage (SV%) behind a dreadful Sabres team and assuming Andersen heads to LTIR in the next couple of days, he would be great insurance add as a backup or even third-string goalie for the playoffs.
Finally, Montour has had a rough year in Buffalo – but who hasn’t? The 26-year-old Brantford, Ont., native has 13 points in 36 games with pretty poor underlying numbers, but he’d still be a fine option as the No. 7 defenceman in Toronto. All the Maple Leafs really need is another body as insurance in case of injury, and Montour is good enough to step in and at least eat some bottom-pairing minutes.
The cherry on top is that all three players are pending unrestricted free agents, meaning the Leafs won’t have to protect any of them in the upcoming expansion draft (although they may end up wanting to retain Ullmark). With a collective cap hit of just over $3.5 million, Toronto can easily fit all three players if Andersen heads to LTIR and the Sabres retain some money on Hall.
Obviously, the price would be relatively steep with a likely package of a first-round pick, A or B-level prospect, and maybe even more going the other way, but the Leafs should be willing to pull the trigger on a move that will put them over the top.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Foligno, Savard, Merzlikins
After beating the Maple Leafs in last season’s play-in round the Columbus Blue Jackets have had a pretty miserable season, now sitting well out of a playoff spot. There’s been lots of talk about Nick Foligno and David Savard as potential trade chips which is why the Jackets look like a perfect trading partner for the Leafs.
Foligno certainly isn’t an offensive powerhouse with just seven goals and 16 points through 41 games this season, but his two-way acumen, physical style, and leadership would certainly help a Maple Leafs club looking to make a deep playoff run. Adding him to the Leafs’ top-six would give them another Zach Hyman-lite, so to speak, freeing up space for Tavares and Nylander to work their magic.
Savard would be another excellent addition for the Leafs as he’s been one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL over the past three seasons. He would essentially be a much better version of Zach Bogosian, allowing Toronto to bolster their bottom pairing with either Bogosian or Travis Dermott sliding into the No. 7 spot. If you think the Leafs need to strengthen their blue line ahead of the playoffs, Savard should be their main target.
Finally, we have goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who you probably remember from last year’s play-in round. The Latvian has put up a solid .916 SV% through 17 games and, as a bonus, is signed through next season and exempt from the expansion draft. This means that the Leafs would have two solid goalies in Jack Campbell and Merzlikins for the upcoming playoff run and all of next season, for a total cap hit of just $5.65 million – not too shabby.
This package comes in at just about $3.5 million as well – easily doable for the Leafs with some salary retention.
Calgary Flames: Mangiapane, Stone, Rittich
Last but not least, we have a trade proposal within Canada, mitigating the worries of a seven-day quarantine for players crossing the US-Canada border. In this trade, the Leafs would be receiving up-and-coming winger Andrew Mangiapane, defenceman Michael Stone, and goaltender David Rittich from the Calgary Flames.
Mangiapane has been an analytical darling for a few years now, driving both offensive and defensive results for the Flames. The Toronto, Ont., native has 12 goals and 21 points through 40 games this season and would certainly complete the Maple Leafs’ top-six. He is signed for $2.425 through next season, meaning that the Leafs would have to protect him in the expansion draft. That could be something to worry about in the offseason as it would likely mean leaving someone like Justin Holl unprotected, but perhaps it’s worth the risk.
Stone has only suited up for five games in Calgary this season but has been a steady depth defenceman throughout his career. Obviously not a huge additon, but at least he would give the Leafs some added insurance in case of injury.
Rittich has been pretty unremarkable this season, posting a .904 SV% through 15 games. We have seen him put up a few outstanding performances against Toronto, though, including a 34-save shutout back in February, so he’s clearly able to shut the door when he’s on his game. Even if the 28-year-old is just mediocre, all the Leafs really need is an upgrade over Michael Hutchinson and that’s exactly what Rittich would be.
The three-piece deal comes in at just over $1.5 million, by far the cheapest option so far.
Of course, a three-player blockbuster trade is always a long shot but it’s hard to deny how much the Leafs would benefit from such a splash. But no matter what the Maple Leafs do at the deadline, it’ll be exciting to see what they finally pull off after all the talk and speculation.
Time to sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
Player stats from hockeydb.com
Chris Faria is a contributor for The Hockey Writers with a focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs. A hockey player and self-proclaimed analytics nerd, his work aims to combine both stats and a deep knowledge of the game. He is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in sports journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.