A trade involving the Toronto Maple Leafs is looming; it’s so close that it may have already happened by the time you read this. NHL Insider Chris Johnston thought a deal was done on Friday morning. “We had what might have been a false alarm, about two hours ago, my phone was blowing up – thinking something was cooking that imminently,” he said on the Chris Johnston show Friday afternoon.
The alarm has been ringing since Elliotte Friedman first mentioned the rumors a day prior. However, Johnston said the noise has only increased, “it’s been pretty loud the last 24 to 36 hours. I’d say it sounds like the Leafs are more in the selling mode, maybe then the buying.” Although Johnston reiterated that the team is looking to move a defenceman, “two names that other teams are saying are out there, is Travis Dermott and Justin Holl. Both of whom play on the right side of the Leafs’ blue line.”
Maple Leafs are Sellers
Johnston believes Toronto is looking to get a pick, lower picks, or a minor league player in return for one of those blueliners. Why? It’s the same reason the Leafs have made the majority of their moves, the salary cap. “I think it comes from the fact that this might be a way to free up a little bit of salary cap room, which is useful for a team like the Leafs because they have trouble maneuvering.”
That’s right. The Maple Leafs salary cap issues are so problematic already that they are looking to shed contacts that account for around two percent of the budget. Justin Holl makes $2 million a season, while Travis Dermott is paid $1.5 million. Both players are signed until the end of the 2022-23 season. Dermott signed the two-year deal just a few months ago and has found himself in multiple positions in the lineup, most recently on the top pairing with Morgan Rielly. At the same time, Justin Holl started the season in the top four but has been a healthy scratch for three games.
Maple Leafs Rolling the Dice with Liljegren
Johnston said the Leafs are willing to roll with the guys who were Marlies last year, “they feel that Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin are both top six defensemen this season. For most of last year, those guys weren’t in the Leafs’ top six, and so the fact that they grabbed onto roles there and I think the leafs really wanted them to play. They’re young. They are still in their entry-level deals.”
Holl’s benching allowed for Liljegren to have yet another chance to show he is an NHL defenceman. The first-round draft pick in 2017 has not developed at the pace initially hoped. He didn’t make the team coming out of training camp and only got an opportunity when a player struggled. While he has performed, he’s only played a handful of the games. Toronto is so confident in this short audition that they are willing to let more established players go.
Maple Leafs Playing Salary Cap Tricks
Johnston said this trade might be trying to do right by the players involved. Clearly, there is an odd man out with six spots and seven players. However, it will leave the team short of depth. Johnston addressed that, “I would think if this happened, it would be short-term. Just trying to get by. Because it does leave them a little shy on depth if they run it injuries at some point. But it might help them accrue some cap space as they get closer to the trade deadline. Maybe they trade for defenseman then to go on a playoff run.”
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When these rumors started, I had to double-check the calendar. The NHL season is one month old and is still scheduled to go until April before the playoffs. Trading away depth this early is another indication that Toronto has painted itself into a corner with its spending. Liljegren is making $863,333 this season. This means Toronto is shopping Dermott to save themselves just over $600,000. If they do move a player, they will be holding their breath every game hoping that an injury doesn’t occur. Great plan.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.