With the 2018 NHL trade deadline approaching, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in an interesting position. A decent case could be made for them to be buyers, sellers, or even to do nothing. Here are the Leafs’ top three options for the upcoming NHL trade deadline and the first option is to make a huge splash with a blockbuster deal.
Option One: Trade for Erik Karlsson
Full disclosure, when I began writing this article I had this option near the bottom of the list of players I was considering and almost as a joke, but through the course of writing it, I’ve managed to convince myself that this is the way to go.
The Leafs’ path to the Stanley Cup will include playing against the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators (or something similarly difficult) and Toronto would not have home-ice advantage against any of them. That’s a tall task and none of the players on TSN’s trade bait board would make a huge difference.
Ask yourself, would adding Mike Green or Mark Letestu or Jack Johnson improve the Leafs’ chances of getting through that gauntlet of strong teams to win the Stanley Cup? Is that small uptick in their chances worth giving away draft picks or prospects? I say no. That type of negativity can lead you to want the Leafs to be sellers and trade away pending unrestricted free agents James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov for some draft picks. I don’t like that option either.
The Leafs’ chances of winning the Cup may not be great but they aren’t zero either. Anytime you can make the playoffs you have a chance. There are also plenty of wingers for sale right now, such as Rick Nash, Evander Kane, Max Pacioretty and Mike Hoffman. With that talent available, the price of a winger at the deadline will be driven down and JVR and Komarov won’t get enough of a return to make it worth giving them up this year.
So, if buying a rental isn’t the best option and selling isn’t either, that means the best thing to do is nothing, right? Maybe flip Josh Leivo for a fourth line centre and call it a day? That’s probably what WILL happen at the trade deadline, but what SHOULD happen is much more fun to consider.
Let’s talk about next season for a moment. With JVR, Bozak, Komarov, Dominic Moore and Roman Polak coming off the books, the Leafs will have some cap space, but it will be very difficult to spend it given the fact that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will both be due significant raises in 2019. The free agent class is also weak, assuming John Tavares doesn’t want to sign a one-year deal with Toronto and John Carlson re-signs with the Washington Capitals. The Leafs will be worse next season unless Lou Lamoriello makes a trade at the deadline or this summer.
That’s where Erik Karlsson comes in. Rather than spending the next two years content with simply making the playoffs, the Maple Leafs can become Stanley Cup contenders by adding an elite defenceman with a history of lighting it up in the playoffs.
Karlsson is the perfect addition to the Leafs roster as he’s a right-shooting defenceman who will boost the power play, penalty kill, five-on-five, four-on-four, three-on-three and any other combination. He would literally make the Leafs better at everything. He’s also signed through next season on a team-friendly contract.
I considered Drew Doughty and Oliver Ekman Larsson in this spot as well, but I assume that the Kings won’t trade Doughty given they’re in their own playoff race and it’s difficult to tell how good Ekman-Larsson really is and what he’d be like in the playoffs given the fact that his team has been awful almost his entire career.
To date, the Senators have claimed that Karlsson will not be traded and perhaps they believe they can get a better haul for him in the offseason but they should trade him at some point. It’s pretty clear that Karlsson will not re-sign with Ottawa given the fact that he’s said he won’t take a hometown discount and Eugene Melnyk feels he already spends too much on the Senators.
In order to entice the Senators to trade Karlsson now instead of wait, the Leafs will have to pay an extremely high price. I expect they would have to part with some combination of multiple first and second-round draft picks, Connor Carrick, Garret Sparks or Calvin Pickard and Josh Leivo or Nikita Soshnikov.
The cost will be painful but the Leafs can handle it as their pipeline of prospects is already strong with Andreas Johnsson, Timothy Liljegren, Justin Holl, Jeremy Bracco and Miro Aaltonen all playing for the AHL’s best team, the Toronto Marlies (more on the Leafs prospects down below in option three).
Option Two: Trade for Derick Brassard
Sticking with the Senators as a trade partner and with a player that is signed through next season as well, Derick Brassard could replace Tyler Bozak as the Leafs’ second/third line centre. Bozak’s struggles this season haven’t been publicized often as the media has chosen to focus on the temporary slumps of players like William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri, but he’s only on pace for 40 points, which is well off of his typical 50 points per season.
Brassard is having a down year offensively as well but he’s much better than Bozak in his own end and he would bring a ton of playoff experience, having made it to at least the Conference Finals once with the Senators last season and twice with the New York Rangers in 2014 and 2015. Brassard has performed extremely well in those playoff runs, with 55 points in 75 career games.
If you’re wondering why the Senators would even consider trading with a division rival, these trades will only help the Maple Leafs for the next two seasons; seasons that the Senators will be spending closer to the bottom of the standings rebuilding, and trading with the Maple Leafs will help replenish some of the future assets Ottawa lost in the Matt Duchene trade earlier this year.
Option Three: Trade Josh Leivo for a Centre Prospect
If you believe that this season is still about gaining experience for Toronto’s young core and the Leafs are far more likely to win the Cup in 2020 or beyond, than this is the option for you. Josh Leivo requested a trade, having played just 25 games in the past two seasons and given how he’s handled the situation he deserves to get his wish.
The appropriate return in a Leivo trade would be a mediocre draft pick or a prospect and the Leafs’ target for that prospect should be a centre.
When considering their pool of prospects, it’s strong at every position but centre:
- Goaltenders: Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard
- Defencemen: Travis Dermott, Timothy Liljegren, Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen, Justin Holl, Eemeli Rasanen
- Wingers: Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Nikita Soshnikov, Kerby Rychel, Jeremy Bracco, Carl Grundstrom
- Centres: Miro Aaltonen, Frederik Gauthier…..
The centres are lacking, to say the least.
No Rentals for the Maple Leafs?
I purposely left Mike Green or any other pure rental players off of this list. The small uptick in the Leafs’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup this season wouldn’t be worth the assets Toronto would have to give up. Adding a defenceman would also push either Connor Carrick or Travis Dermott out of the starting roster and preventing them from gaining playoff experience is counterproductive.