The Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins could become business partners early on this season. On one hand, you have the Maple Leafs, where general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas is trying to move fourth-line winger Wayne Simmonds. Dubas has also been reportedly trying to acquire some more depth as some early season injuries have thinned out their blue line. Insert the Penguins, where GM Ron Hextall has a surplus of defensemen, creating an interesting dynamic between the two clubs as there’s certainly some potential we see an early season trade from the two hockey clubs.
Simmonds Make Sense for the Penguins
When hockey insider Elliotte Friedman’s report surfaced stating Dubas and the Maple Leafs were shopping Simmonds around the league, the first thing that stood out was the fact that Toronto’s GM wasn’t worried about the return and wanted to do right about the player.
Pittsburgh is a short flight back to his young family for Simmonds and it’s a situation that could work for everyone involved. The Penguins don’t have a ton of experienced depth for their fourth line and are giving Josh Archibald and Ryan Poehling a chance to prove themselves early on this season.
Simmonds plays a style that Hextall and Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke love. He’s hard nosed, in your face and sticks up for his teammates without any hesitation. At 34 years old, he’s not the fleetest of foot, but his skating has been in question since Simmonds joined the league back in 2008-09.
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Some early call-up options for Pittsburgh include the likes of Alex Nylander and Drake Caggiula — two very skilled forwards who are better suited for top-six roles, playing a more offensive-styled game. The Penguins aren’t in need of any help for their top six as they are loaded and have found a nice balance having Rickard Rakell on the first line and Bryan Rust playing alongside Evgeni Malkin on the second line. The team needs to create more depth for their bottom six and a bang-and-crasher like Simmonds would do the trick. Experienced, hardworking and someone head coach Mike Sullivan could trust, the Maple Leafs forward makes sense for the Penguins.
Penguins Recent Cut Could Make Sense for Maple Leafs
Along with Friedman’s report on Simmonds being shopped, he mentioned the Maple Leafs were looking to add defensive depth and could be considering recently waived defensemen as options. Insert Mark Friedman of the Penguins, who was cut by the team out of training camp.
Friedman, 26, is a Toronto native and happens to be right-handed, something that makes him an ideal candidate for the Maple Leafs. They currently have Timothy Liljegren out due to sports hernia surgery and not expected back into the lineup until the middle of November. This leaves Justin Holl as Toronto’s only right-handed defenseman, an area that’s a cause for concern considering how Holl can struggle at times.
Friedman is signed through next season at $775,000, giving Toronto a potential replacement for Holl as he’s a pending free agent who is making $2 million against the cap in 2022-23. Friedman’s and Simmonds’ salaries match up relatively close, something that’s always a factor with NHL deals, but even more so with these two clubs who are pushed tight against the salary cap.
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Dubas has Victor Mete who could be recalled from the American Hockey League (AHL), but again he’s left-handed and there could be a need on the right side. Besides Mete, there’s very limited options for Dubas, so the trade route makes a ton of sense on many levels. Moving Simmonds to a good situation and improving your depth on defense is the perfect outcome for the Maple Leafs’ GM.
Maple Leafs’ First Move Won’t Be a Blockbuster
Everyone in the league knows Simmonds is available and a move will transpire in the coming days. He wasn’t sent down to the AHL and Dubas is working diligently to construct a deal. Leafs Nation can expect a trade, but again, it’s not going to be a major move and will only be a minor tweak, but one that could have some early season implications on the win-loss record.
If Friedman doesn’t make the list for Toronto, some other options include Seattle Kraken’s Michal Kempny or Gavin Bayreuther of the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. Two names most of you just went… “who???” but two defensemen who have NHL experience, are cheap, and can play the right side.
As for the Penguins, they have a surplus of defensemen and could use some more rugged depth for their bottom six. Swapping Simmonds for Friedman is something to keep an eye on as it makes a level of sense for both hockey clubs. A trade to Pittsburgh is doing right to Simmonds and so, too, is moving Friedman back to his hometown. Now, we wait to see if both GMs feel it makes enough sense for their hockey clubs.