Maple Leafs Should Pursue Sharks’ Meier in a Trade

We’re only about two months into the 2022-23 NHL season, but the trade chatter is always high around the Toronto Maple Leafs. It doesn’t help that the team was extra mediocre coming out of the gate, so fans are already running mock trade proposals whether that’s up front or on defense. This season, you could make the argument that they need an upgrade on both fronts. The need for some secondary scoring has presented itself early on, but there’s also a need for a type of defenseman who brings the same toolbox that Jake Muzzin does.

In an article by Daily Faceoff insider Frank Seravalli, he lists 20 names to keep an eye on in terms of the trade market. One player that stuck out to me was San Jose Sharks star forward Timo Meier. In an excerpt from the article, Seravalli said the following about him:

He is one of the few assets they can move freely. With the gigantic qualifying offer due to him at the end of the season, some teams may view and pursue him as a pending UFA instead of an RFA. If he’s to be considered an RFA, his starting value on the market is considerably less than the Alex DeBrincat deal last summer.

-Frank Seravalli, Daily Faceoff

If you needed a refresher, the Ottawa Senators sent the seventh overall pick and the 39th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, as well as a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft for DeBrincat. If this rumour holds true, the Maple Leafs need to be all over a trade for Meier. 

Sharks’ Meier is the Complete Package

Let me start off by pitching why Meier would be the perfect type of player for the Maple Leafs to pursue. Drafted ninth overall by the Sharks in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Swiss winger does it all offensively, whether it’s putting pucks in the back of the net or setting his teammates up for the same opportunities. He took a little while to blossom into the complete player he is now, but at 26 years old, he’s in the early stages of his prime, and he’s the type of player who would push the Maple Leafs’ forward group from high-end status to top-end status. 

Timo Meier San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Meier’s first true breakout season was in 2018-19 where he tallied 66 points in 78 games. He cooled off a little bit in the following two seasons, with 49 points in 70 games and 31 points in 54 games in 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively. Last season, however, is where he put himself in a tier of his own. The 6-foot, 216-pound winger led the 2021-22 Sharks in goals (35), and hits (162), and finished second in assists (41) only to Brent Burns, who had 44. He also averaged more time-on-ice (TOI) than any other Sharks forward (19:09). Simply put, he was the only thing keeping the 2021-22 Sharks from finishing as a bottom-five team. 

The analytics backed up his game too, as he led Sharks forwards with a 51.3 Corsi-for rating (CF%), meaning that his team had possession of the puck more often than not when he was on the ice. He also had 58.4% offensive zone starts to 41.6% defensive zone starts, which displays the trust he had from his coaching staff in his own end. Typically, there is a much bigger gap between zone starts if you’re a pure offensive player. 

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In 2022-23, it seems like Meier has picked up right where he left off. He has 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games, good for second in scoring on the team behind Erik Karlsson’s Norris-level start to the season. He’s also leading his team in hits again with 53 so far, which would be tied for the team lead on the Maple Leafs. Simply put, Meier wouldn’t just be an addition to help with scoring, he would fit into the mindset of trying to be harder to play against, which the team stressed heading into this season.

Maple Leafs Have the Assets For Rumoured Asking Price

It’s important to note that when I say “rumoured asking price”, that doesn’t mean that this is what San Jose will ask for in return for Meier. Seravalli’s report sounds like it’s mostly his own speculation, but having said that, it’s safe to assume the former Halifax Moosehead could be available for trade as we creep toward the deadline. The report also makes a good point in the comparison to DeBrincat’s situation last summer. With a looming $10 million qualifying offer, the team that trades for Meier may not be willing to cough up that price for next season. 

In the Maple Leafs’ case, they simply don’t have the cap space to afford another forward making $10 million. Giving Meier that qualifying offer would come at the expense of downgrading in other areas of the team, likely in the form of William Nylander or somebody from the back end. So, if he’s to be viewed as an unrestricted free agent (UFA), the acquisition would more than likely be a rental. However, for a player of Meier’s calibre, it would be worth the asking price.

I’d imagine the package would start with a first-round pick and one of the Maple Leafs’ top prospects. They would also have to send back a roster player to help free up some salary as well as a roster spot. Assuming Muzzin is projected to be out beyond his re-evaluation date in late February, they would have $5.6 million to work with, so moving somebody like a Pierre Engvall ($2.25 million) or Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million) would give them some extra breathing room. I know Kerfoot and Engvall are easy players to pick on given their ineffectiveness this season, but both have expiring contracts which would make the return easier to stomach. 

If a package of one of Kerfoot or Engvall, a first-round pick, and a top prospect or a high-end young player such as Topi Niemela or Nick Robertson could get the job done, it’s a deal the Maple Leafs should be taking 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This type of deal would likely involve a late-round pick and/or a lesser prospect as well, but what I just listed would be the foundation of it. The only prospect I would be iffy to move is Matthew Knies, but if it came down to a bidding war and that was the only way out, I’d still have a hard time saying no. Meier would tick off so many boxes the Maple Leafs could use help with, and he would add a massive scoring boost for the playoffs.

Forward or Defenseman? Tie Goes to the Forward 

I know many will disagree with this take, and I don’t blame them, because a top-four defenseman to replace Muzzin is a need in itself, as his absence leaves a big hole. But so far, the Maple Leafs have actually been strong defensively. They’re currently sixth in the league in goals-against per game at 2.64, and they’ve been getting some stellar goaltending in the form of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov so far. And this is all on a team that’s been without Muzzin since the fourth game of the season, without Brodie for the past two weeks, and just lost Morgan Rielly to injury as well. They also didn’t have Timothy Liljegren until early November.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs will be without Morgan Rielly for at least a couple of weeks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Where they’ve struggled, on the other hand, is scoring, specifically at 5v5. They’re currently 14th in the league in 5v5 goals, and while they’ve been improving in that regard lately, it’s still a step down from last season, when they finished third in the league in that category. To me, their main issue in elimination games over the past few years has been a lack of goal scoring rather than defensive shortcomings. Their offense was shut out in Game 5 of the bubble series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, more-or-less silenced in the three straight losses to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020-21 playoffs, and held to one goal in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. 

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The Maple Leafs’ star players held up their end of the bargain in the first round last season, but the same couldn’t be said for their secondary scoring. Adding Meier to this group would be a massive addition offensively, and it would boost them at not only 5v5, but on the power play and in the physical department as well. If there was ever a time to swing big for a trade, it’s this season, and if the Sharks make him available, the Maple Leafs should consider a serious push.

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