Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas didn’t beat around the bush during his recent media availability, the team is going to be patient ahead of the March 21 trade deadline. With the number of injuries, COVID absences and everything in between, Toronto’s 1-A lineup has yet to play a solid stretch together and Dubas won’t be pulling the trigger on any moves until he gets a better sense of what exactly he has from his current group. So while he continues to evaluate the roster, let’s dive into a few interesting takeaways from Dubas’ availability.
Holl and Kerfoot Integral Pieces for the Maple Leafs
Two players who were specifically talked about recently were both defensemen Justin Holl and forward Alexander Kerfoot. Dubas gave both players a vote of confidence and while Kerfoot’s wasn’t much of a surprise, hearing the Leafs GM discuss Holl’s game certainly caught my eye. While he admitted there’s been some rough patches especially early on, he’s been happy with what he’s seen from his right-handed defenseman of late and thinks there is still time this season to turn his game around.
Not sure if that was a bluff or not, but there’s no doubt the team is trying to upgrade the second pair and find a better permanent partner for veteran Jake Muzzin. Holl has recorded six points in 34 games and leads the Maple Leafs’ defense group with 59 blocks. He’s signed for next season at $2 million and is certainly a prime candidate to be moved ahead of this trade deadline to not only upgrade for the playoffs but to create more financial flexibility for next season.
It plays like this were Holl’s game becomes frustrating to watch. At first, it’s a bad bounce but then it turns into over committing and forgetting to lock up the forward who is sitting pretty back door. Luckily Toronto was able to tie it back up and ended up winning the game in overtime.
Related: Maple Leafs’ 2022 Trade Targets on the New York Islanders
Kerfoot, on the other hand, is someone whose versatility is held to a premium in Toronto. He can play either wing and down the middle and has seen some solid production this season on the team’s second line with John Tavares and Willy Nylander. Dubas called the team fortunate to have Kerfoot in their mix and is impressed with his 31 points in 43 games considering he gets no ice-time on the man advantage. While I recently suggested the Leafs forward as a potential trade chip for a move with the Vancouver Canucks for J.T Miller, it sounds like he’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Dubas Holds Limited “Bullets” But Won’t Be Shy
The Maple Leafs executive pointed out during his availability that he doesn’t have a ton of bullets to work with here and will need to get picky with what specific need he wants to upgrade. The team doesn’t have any picks in rounds three to six for the 2022 NHL Entry draft but that doesn’t appear to be something Dubas is too worried about.
As Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff pointed out this week, Toronto has a number of organizational pieces that could be in play prior to the trade deadline. These include prospects Rodion Amirov, Matt Knies, Nick Abruzzese, Topi Niemela, Roni Hirvonen and the team’s 2022 first-round pick. If I had to pick one of those pieces that I felt was the most likely to get moved, my vote would be Amirov.
With how last season’s trade deadline debacle of acquiring Nick Foligno and Riley Nash worked out, you can’t blame Dubas for being patient this season. Even with limited cap space in-season at the moment, don’t count him out from being in on absolutely everyone. When you have a cupboard of young talent that’s as full as the Maple Leafs, you have options to entice other teams.
Maple Leafs Not Interested in Moving Top Prospect
One name that was mentioned specifically mentioned by the Maple Leafs general manager was Nick Robertson’s, who has recently returned to action with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. The youngster has battled injuries throughout the past couple of seasons and the organization is hopeful he’s going to be able to get back on track here in the second half. Dubas pointed out they are playing him on the right-side currently with the Marlies to get him a different look and to see how his game reacts. You can never be too versatile so this is a great element that should be a positive impact on Robertson’s future with the club.
With Michael Bunting, Alexander Kerfoot, and Ilya Mikheyev manning the left side on the top three lines, Robertson is in tough to push any of those trio out. However, if he can find his scoring touch and play himself into a call up, he could push for a look once the next injury takes place or if a player like Mikheyev or Pierre Engvall fall off from their impressive seasons so far. It’s also worth pointing out that Robertson was not listed as a potential trade piece from Seravalli, another sign that the team has made it clear to other teams they are keeping the 20-year-old in their mix.
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Leafs Nation, don’t expect any major deals to go down prior to the March 21 trade deadline as it’s sounding more and more like the Maple Leafs are going to take a patient approach to this season’s transactions. Dubas and company continue to evaluate their roster and want to see how they perform during a busy month of February. As for March, that’s a much different story. Expect to see the rumors flying out early and often in what’s shaping up to be an entertaining and active trade deadline across the NHL. The Maple Leafs will be in the middle of it all, ready to take aim with their limited bullets.