On Friday, Jan. 7, some unexpected news dropped out of Texas as reports surfaced stating Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg has requested a trade from the team. A pending free agent who is on a reasonable contract, there’s surely going to be a ton of interest in his services. Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs and management’s ears should be perking up with the latest buzz out of Texas. The Maple Leafs and Stars could end up being the perfect match at the trade deadline and provide us all with the blockbuster deal we crave.
Klingberg Wants a Change of Scenery and Fresh Voice From the Bench
So far in 2021-22 the 29-year-old has produced 16 points in 25 games, including seven points on the power play. Compare that to the two points by Rasmus Sandin on the Maple Leafs’ second unit and adding Klingberg could certainly benefit the club’s special teams. While the Maple Leafs’ man advantage continues to be near the top of the league, why not try to improve the second unit? Sandin is going to be a star, but he hasn’t been as productive as people think, especially on the power play.
The 6-foot-3 defenseman out of Dallas is known for his offensive game and is someone who has flown under the radar since his arrival into the NHL back in 2014-15. Since the start of his debut season, Klingberg ranks ninth in the entire NHL for points by a defenseman with 343 points in 503 career games, including 135 on the power play. He’s ahead of the likes of Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly, and Seth Jones, meanwhile playing less games than all of those big names.
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The $4.25 million salary isn’t ideal for the Maple Leafs to manage at the moment as they have some cash constraints, but with the recent flexibility created by shuffling Nick Ritchie, plus some potential salary retention and the pieces likely to head down to Texas, the money is an obstacle that can be overcome.
The knock on Klingberg has been his underlying numbers have dropped off the past few seasons. Nothing more so, however, than the arrival of Stars head coach Rick Bowness late in 2020. His production has dipped on both sides of the puck and it all makes sense why the defenseman would want a change of scenery. He’s not meshing well with the coach or new system, he knows this season means a ton for his future in the NHL and how much money he’s going to earn signing a new deal this summer.
Maple Leafs Would Benefit From Klingberg Acquisition
So, here’s my case as to why the Maple Leafs should acquire Klingberg from the Stars. Toronto is going for it this season — they have a goaltender capable of putting the team on his back, a bunch of depth up front and if they can find ways to plug a couple of holes, a potential first-round exit will be laughed at. The Stars defenseman would be a huge upgrade to Justin Holl, and while he may not play as physical as Holl, he’ll be able to move the puck more efficiently, create more offense and provide more stability to the group.
The Maple Leafs continue to roll out the likes of Pierre Engvall, Nick Ritchie, and/or Wayne Simmonds on the second power-play unit — three players that have combined for one power-play goal in 2021-22. Klingberg would be a massive upgrade and would pair up nicely on the back end with Sandin, creating yet another weapon for the arsenal in Toronto.
Maple Leafs Have Trade Pieces to Finalize a Move
What exactly would the Maple Leafs need to pay to acquire the Stars’ defenseman? At this point it’s hard to tell the asking price and if the Stars are even going to oblige to the trade demands. They are a team that’s fragile and on the cusp of completely missing the playoff picture, which could in turn change the course of their season. If the Stars are not within reach of a playoff spot, they are expected to move a number of players and that’s how this deal between the two clubs could turn into something major before the March 21 deadline.
If the Stars are, in fact, going the route of a fire sale, expect the Maple Leafs to be sitting pretty with a ton of interest. Not only in Klingberg, but also with another Star who is a pending unrestricted free agent — forward Joe Pavelski. He has a ton of playoff experience, can play down the middle or on the wing and is a proven leader. Pavelski owns a no-trade clause but it only covers three teams, and you can bet your bottom dollar he would be open to a potential Cup run in Toronto.
Some would even argue the Leafs would be open to moving Petr Mrazek in the deal and taking back one of Braden Holtby or Anton Khudobin. Expect the unexpected, folks. We’ve seen it year in and year out. Toronto doesn’t have a ton of financial flexibility but are able to pull off deals and bring in talent when many thought they couldn’t. The league is full of teams who are willing to eat salary for a certain price and Kyle Dubas and company won’t be shy trying to get other teams involved if it helps facilitate the deal.
Here’s one deal for Leafs Nation to chomp on and one I feel like could help propel them to the promised land. The Maple Leafs acquire Klingberg, Pavelski and Holtby from the Stars in exchange for Holl, Engvall, Mrazek and prospect Nick Robertson. The Leafs would be bringing in some serious talent for all three elements of their game and three players who have a collective 310 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. The Stars would be receiving four players with team control, including a top prospect, and talent to avoid a complete rebuild and give them an option to re-tool instead.
To bring in talent you must pay the price and the Maple Leafs have shown in the past they are willing to pay at the trade deadline. Last season’s moves didn’t work out, but don’t expect Dubas to become gun shy. The Maple Leafs are once again going all-in and perhaps we will see them shooting for the Stars in early 2022.