Maple Leafs News & Rumors: JT Miller, Chiarot, Trade Bait & Marchment

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll specifically look at some of the trade rumors surrounding the team – some closer to true than others and some even possible. However, some rumors are simply fictitious, and I’ll take a look at one of those.

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At the same time, I’ll comment upon an area that hasn’t received much consideration given the geopolitical backdrop of NHL hockey, and that’s the potential fate of Russian hockey players in the NHL. Finally, I’ll look at some of the potential trade chips the Maple Leafs might have if they did choose to make a trade-deadline deal.

Item One: Could the NHL Ban Russian Players from NHL Teams?

The Maple Leafs currently have two Russian players on its roster – Ilya Mikheyev and newly-acquired Ilya Lyubushkin. I’ve not heard Lyubushkin speak at all during an interview, but there’s nothing I’ve seen to suggest that Mikheyev is overtly political in any way. However, it’s been on my mind to wonder what these two players – and other NHL Russian players – must be thinking about their hockey future given news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin, when he was with the Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Furthermore, the question of how the invasion will impact Russian NHL players has been in the back of my mind for more than a few days. Thus far, there’s been a growth of active support for Ukraine. This support includes the Ukrainian National Anthem being sung by the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus at a recent game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Canadiens at games in Winnipeg and plans to do a similar thing in Edmonton tomorrow.

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The fate of Russian NHL players might be up in the air, and certainly will be a developing story. It has to be an area the NHL is watching closely. I’m unsure where it might land; however, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become a consideration for both players and the league. There are a large number of Canadian players playing in the KHL as well. What might happen to these players?

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What happens if Russia, Canada, or the United States close their borders, or if NHL teams cannot obtain visas for Russian players? In the backdrop of the life-and-death situations of Eastern Europe, obviously, NHL hockey isn’t the most important consideration. Still, the situation is one to watch.

Item Two: Of Course, the Maple Leafs Are Interested in J.T. Miller: Everyone Should Be

Another interesting storyline popping up with the Vancouver Canucks visiting Scotiabank Arena tomorrow is the rumor that Maple Leafs’ assistant general manager Laurence Gilman has been heavily scouting the Canucks; and, among other players the team might be scouting is winger J.T. Miller. The news is that the Maple Leafs would be interested in him on the team. 

JT Miller Vancouver Canucks
JT Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They should be. He’s an amazing player, who’s a bit of an old-school throwback to both skill and in-your-face hockey. I think he’s a great player, who’s driven to carry a team. If he’s a player the organization is watching, it shows the organization is wise.

That the Maple Leafs have been linked to Miller isn’t surprising. The team seems linked to everyone of value, but some of the trade scenarios that even respected hockey writers are tossing around border on silliness or clickbait. Where’s this stuff coming from? 

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I can’t imagine that Miller could land with the team this season. Nor can I imagine the Canucks even considering trading him. To my mind, he’s the beating heart of the team. He’s also – by almost 20 points – the Canucks’ leading scorer with 21 goals and 40 assists (for 61 points) in 54 games. The great young defenseman Quinn Hughes is second on the team in scoring with 43 points on four goals and 39 assists. 

The Canucks won’t likely trade him – nor should they. It would take a King’s ransom for them to consider it. At least not this season. He makes $5.25 million through next season as well. Maybe next season, but not this one. 

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I also think the Canucks, under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, have a decent chance to make the playoffs. Last night they beat the general manager Lou Lamoriello, coach Barry Trotz, and the New York Islanders on the road 4-3. They’re only four points out of the postseason now. Miller, who’s the team’s engine, scored a goal in last night’s game. 

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, rumored to be on the move Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I don’t think the Canucks currently see themselves as sellers. Certainly, they know goalie Thatcher Demko can carry them on a successful post-season run, as he’s shown before. Miller would be great on the Maple Leafs, but it seems like one of those “dream on” scenarios to me. The Blue and White don’t have the kind of prized assets they need to pry him loose, especially when he’s signed to such a team-friendly contract for another season.

Item Three: Crazy Tweet, Improper Punctuation

Speaking of crazy tweets, there was one yesterday that feigned the Maple Leafs’ official logo and even the organization’s twitter style to suggest that the team had “acquired defensemen Ben Chiarot and a third round pick from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for prospects Topi Niemela and Matthew Knies and this years first-round pick.”

The fact that the tweet did not use the possessive on “this year’s” or didn’t hyphenate “third-round” was a hint. You’d think an organization with the funds the Maple Leafs spend on public relations would have someone who gets punctuation.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Speaking about trade possibilities from the Maple Leafs, other than draft choices, who might the team be willing to move to make a trade at the deadline?

Would the team trade any of its young defencemen — Justin Holl, Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, or Travis Dermott? Sandin would likely fetch something good. And, for all his issues with fans, I believe Holl is held in higher esteem outside Toronto than in Toronto. 

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Forwards Ilya Mikheyev needs a new contract next year and Pierre Engvall is an RFA after this season. I think they, too, might have value somewhere else. I’d take them. Alex Steeves, Matthew Knies, Nick Abruzzese, and Topi Niemelä might also be desired prospects. What happens with Josh Ho-Sang?

The point is that there are possibilities without touching the team’s draft choices. However, I likely think differently than many fans. I value developed players more than draft choices – unless it’s a really high choice in the top half of the first round, for example. 

Related: Maple Leafs Mason Marchment: A Long Shot Worth Rooting For

For me, the clearest example is undrafted but organizationally-developed Mason Marchment. He’s turned into a player with the Florida Panthers. The 26-year-old forward is better than a point-a-game player, with 12 goals and 18 assists (for 30 points) in 29 games this season.