The overwhelming consensus heading into this year’s NHL Trade Deadline was that the Toronto Maple Leafs had room to make one move. Without much salary cap space, GM Kyle Dubas could focus on upgrading the defense, adding a forward, or trying to fix his current goaltending issues. That said, even he believed he couldn’t tackle more than one thing. Things may have changed and that theory may no longer be accurate.
The priority seems to be a defenseman, but according to TSN Insider Chris Johnston, the Maple Leafs’ pursuit of a blueliner does not necessarily close the door on upgrading at other positions as well.
Maple Leafs in On Jacob Middleton
Pierre LeBrun, Johnston’s fellow Insider Trade panelist, reports the Maple Leafs are among a few teams believed to be interested in San Jose Sharks’ defenseman Jacob Middleton. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins are the others. Middleton has been a great story, coming to the Sharks as an AHL signing but playing top-four minutes and a career-high 42 games this season.
LeBrun notes the asking price is high. The Sharks are looking for a second-round pick and an additional asset for the pending restricted free agent. LeBrun explains:
“A number of playoff teams from the East continue to check in with San Jose on Jacob Middleton. The price is right, $725,000 is his cap hit, he’s had a wonderful year, he’s a great story, he was signed to an AHL deal by San Jose and this year he’s played a Top-4 role alongside Erik Karlsson, alongside Brent Burns. Here is the asking price from San Jose as I know it: a second-round pick, plus another pick or a prospect in that package, pretty high price similar to the Josh Manson deal.
What Other Moves Might the Maple Leafs Make?
There is still talk the team is calling around and doing their due diligence on a goaltender. LeBrun believes Dubas should apply a full-court press on Marc-Andre Fleury, even if he’s not shown interest in leaving the Chicago Blackhawks for the Maple Leafs. He’s the one clear upgrade.
Sources have noted that the Maple Leafs might be trying to convince Fleury to reconsider his lack of interest. Suggesting they might be trying to sell him on the idea that Toronto would be a good place to make another run before the postseason, they want him to know he could be a difference-maker.
Obviously, if the Maple Leafs can pull that off, it means money has to come off the roster. It’s not clear where that money would come from but there’s a belief the Maple Leafs could create room for a deal (or two) if they needed. This is the same team that traded for an injured player last season to use the cap flexibility of LTIR to make other moves. The Maple Leafs are creative and well-versed in using the salary cap rules to get done what they need to.
While they make their move, the team will keep a close eye on goaltender Erik Kallgren, who recorded a 35-save shutout in 1st NHL start Tuesday evening.
Every Day is a New Day In Toronto
Johnston notes that the interest in Middleton and the fact the Maple Leafs are looking around for a goalie just proves that “every day is a new day” in Toronto and what Dubas says one day might not be his stance the next.
It wasn’t long ago that Dubas figured the Maple Leafs would have a quiet deadline and he told reporters he felt that he just had room for one move at the deadline. “I don’t believe that’s any longer the case,” Johnston said. When you factor in everything that has happened, especially with the goaltending, it’s no wonder the Maple Leafs are considering their options.
Johnston added, “my sources suggest the Leafs are still looking at upgrades at all three positions in their lineup.”
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.”