The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a win-now window. A team that has struggled to meet expectations, there’s no guarantee that all the pieces of this team will be back next season and if the club doesn’t make a long run in the postseason this year, there could be significant roster changes. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens are a franchise that is rethinking what they want to be. New GM Kent Hughes told Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic that the team is “open to everything” and that means big changes.
“We met with everybody, starting with Ben Chiarot. Anybody whose name has been circulating in terms of trade rumours or whatnot, to the extent that we can open the doors for them and say, ‘We’re here, we don’t have answers for you today. We’re going to try to improve this team long term. And you may be a player that moves but we wanted you to know if you have questions along the way you can come and see us.’source – ‘LeBrun: Kent Hughes’ plan for the Canadiens is beginning to take shape’ – Pierre LeBrun – The Athletic – 01/31/2022
On the surface, these two teams look like a solid match: one team is selling, the other is buying. A deeper dive suggests there might also be something to these two teams working together. Some will argue that trading within the division is a mistake, but the NHL has proven it doesn’t really matter. If the deal is right, the teams will make it.
The Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Needs
The Maple Leafs might want some depth at forward, an option on the blue line to limit the burden on players like Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott, and Justin Holl, plus there’s the increasing uncertainty surrounding Jake Muzzin’s injury situation and what the Maple Leafs will do in goal. Jack Campbell is having a great season but has looked more ordinary of late, while Petr Mrazek has been talked about in trade rumors but it is believed the Maple Leafs would rather move him in the offseason.
What if the Canadiens had solutions for most, if not all of the Maple Leafs’ problems? Could Montreal provide Toronto with the depth they’d want at forward, the defenseman they need to play bigger minutes, and a different, but also suitable backup in net? The answer is yes, it’s just not the easiest of trades to pull off.
What the Canadiens Have to Offer
As mentioned earlier, the Canadiens are open to almost any deal. If it makes sense for the club long-term, they’ll make a move. The latest name to pop up is Jeff Petry’s, but players like Tyler Toffoli and Brendan Gallagher are potentially term players available. As far as rentals go, Ben Chiarot, Cedric Paquette, Artturi Lehkonen, and Brett Kulak get the most attention.
For the Maple Leafs, Chiarot, Lehkonen, and maybe even Jake Allen might make the most sense. The addition of Chiarot is obvious. He provides the Maple Leafs with a big-minute blue liner that can play behind Morgan Rielly. Meanwhile, Lehkonen is said to be the most coveted player out of Montreal because, while he lacks finish, he does everything else right. He’s a solid top-nine option and is as versatile a player as the Leafs could find on the market. When it comes to Allen, that’s more a goaltender swap where Mrazek goes out and Allen comes in, saving the Maple Leafs nearly $1 million on their cap.
How a Trade Between the Two Teams Might Work
If we’re talking this many assets we’re talking about a very big trade, rare for the NHL these days. But, there are the pieces in place to make it possible. At the center of the deal is Toronto giving up their first-round pick for Chiarot. Most believe that’s the asking price but not everyone will like the idea of Toronto doing so for another rental. From there, it becomes about the Maple Leafs making a little cap space and finding the right combination of assets to give Montreal for Lehkonen.
Lehkonen is being seen as this year’s Blake Coleman, so the ask will be significant. Do the Maple Leafs offer up a prospect with team control for another prospect with team control? Lehkonen is a pending RFA with arbitration rights making $2.3 million this season. If the Leafs offer up someone like Nick Robertson or Rodion Amirov and a sweetener, does that get the conversation started? Once the two sides get close, it’s about moving one of Nick Ritchie or Justin Holl to the Canadiens and what it would take for Montreal to take on one of those salaries.
The Allen and Mrazek deal is one where injuries are a concern, but they’re a concern for both players. The Canadiens have no real reason to hang onto Allen considering he’s got one more season left on his deal, but the Maple Leafs could use a cheaper backup that isn’t locked in as long as Mrazek is. It helps Toronto this season and next when they try to put together an extension for Campbell.
The Long-Shot, But Interesting Trade
There’s been talk that Kyle Dubas would prefer to add a player with term over a rental. That brings Petry into play, but his cap hit is a problem. The Canadiens would have to eat major salary for that to happen and speculation is they don’t want to do so.
Instead, someone like Josh Anderson or Toffoli would be intriguing and for the right prospect, plus a combination of players like Alex Kerfoot and draft picks, perhaps the Canadiens would have a listen. If you start throwing in names like Pierre Engvall, things could get interesting.
It’s unlikely everything on this list gets done. Maybe none of it does. Still, these are two teams that should definitely be talking.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”