The recent COVID outbreak experienced by the Toronto Maple Leafs revealed the team is not as deep as previously thought. General manager Kyle Dubas still has some work to do to ensure this team will not only make the playoffs but get past the first round for the first time since 2004. The Buffalo Sabres have traded away the big names like Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen, but some remaining players could fill critical roles in Toronto.
The Sabres, seemingly stuck in a permanent rebuild, have three first-round selections in the upcoming draft and a full complement of picks. At this point, the team may be better to look for prospects who already have a few minor league seasons under their belt. However, the Maple Leafs have several players who fit that description and could tempt Buffalo.
As we saw at last season’s trade deadline, capologist Brandon Pridham has some tricks regarding the salary cap. The most important thing he needs to do his magic is a team with a lot of cap room. According to Cap Friendly, the Sabres currently have more than $26 million in cap space. So while Toronto may not trade for a Sabres’ player, they may need the team’s bank account to make some moves happen.
Peter Baracchini recently wrote about adding Colin Miller to the Maple Leafs’ top-four. At the time, it was a great idea. However, since that article, Miller underwent surgery for an undisclosed ailment and is now on the long-term injured reserve list. He will miss at least six weeks, meaning his return would be sometime in mid-March – if all went well. As a result, this player may now be too big of a gamble for the Maple Leafs.
With Miller out, perhaps his partner could take the spot of helping Toronto’s less than impressive blue line. Will Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award winner for best player in NCAA in 2017, has the skills that will come in handy down the stretch.
He is a minute muncher, averaging more than 20 per game but with a plus/minus of -10. The 27-year-old is in the last year of his contract; therefore, this could be an early tryout for Toronto’s roster next season. The only snag is that he is a right-handed shot, and Toronto would like a blueliner on the left side.
Mark Pysyk is a unicorn, a defenceman who plays forward. That versatility alone should have this 30-year-old on the Leafs’ radar. Toronto has been lacking on the fourth line and the blue line throughout the season. The former first-round draft pick quietly signed a one-year, $900,000 contract last summer. Dubas, who has the team tight to the salary cap, wouldn’t have to find much space to fit this contract on the books.
The right-handed shot doesn’t have spectacular offensive numbers, but that is not what Toronto needs. Pysyk has an impressive plus three on the plus/minus stats column. Not remarkable until you consider he plays 20 minutes a game for a team with an overall goal differential is -31. Remember, Toronto experimented with 11 forwards and seven defencemen a few times last season. Pysyk’s capabilities could give Sheldon Keefe another opportunity to tinker with that set-up.
Cody Eakin could perhaps be sporting the best hockey hair in the NHL and add some much-needed fourth-line assistance. At 30-years-old and a pending free agent, Buffalo is likely to unload him for cheap at the deadline. Eakin was part of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft and went on that improbably Stanley Cup playoff run in the 2017-18 season. That experience could be helpful for a team lacking in successful playoff history. Eakin was also a teammate of Jason Spezza’s for three seasons in Dallas.
General manager Kevyn Adams will be getting several phone calls with Buffalo’s cap space and pending free agents. Does he want to help a division rival that plays just a couple of hours away? Maybe, but that help is likely to come with a significant price tag.
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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.