The Toronto Maple Leafs have been beaten twice by the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. It was not just losses, but a humiliating 7-1 defeat, and then a 3-0 shout. Still, of the two teams, some speculate that the Penguins could be sellers during the 2021-22 campaign.
The team had an injury-plagued start to the season and have lost ground in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. At this pace, the Penguins could miss the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. A sell-off would have general managers lining up, including the Maple Leafs. During a recent Maple Leafs Lounge, the writers discussed the developing situation and players Toronto should target.
Maple Leafs Should Target Jeff Carter
Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas has an affinity for the Soo Greyhounds. He grew up in the Northern Ontario community of Sault Ste. Marie and started working for the Ontario Hockey League team when he was 11 (he later became the general manager). Jeff Carter was a big part of the Greyhounds organization from 2001 to 2005, leading that franchise and winning gold for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in 2005.
Carter has gone on to win two Stanley Cups and a gold medal at the Olympics. Now he is in the final year of his contract, playing in the Penguins’ top six. The veteran centre will be in demand at the deadline, and Toronto should be first in line. He brings playoff experience and centre depth—two things Toronto desperately needed during the last playoff failure.
Toronto shouldn’t wait until the deadline to inquire about the 36-year-old. Should Pittsburgh elect to start selling off ahead of the deadline, Carter would be a welcome addition to the Maple Leafs. He is a versatile forward that could slot in throughout the lineup. Pittsburgh gave up a third and fourth-round pick for Carter last season; Toronto is short picks in the near term but could trade some choices further out or a prospect.
Maple Leafs Could Bolster the Blue Line with Brian Dumoulin
Brian Dumoulin is another one of those guys who knows how to win in the playoffs, something Toronto needs to learn to do. The mobile, two-way defenceman has two Stanley Cup rings and is a career plus 71. Dubas likes to acquire players who have term left; this 6-foot-4, 207-pound d-man comes with a $4.1 million cap hit and has another year on his contract.
Toronto’s defence has been questionable this season. Justin Holl’s play has left Sheldon Keefe experimenting with different pairings. There’s no doubt adding Dumoulin to the top four would solidify the unit, but making that happen with the budget will be difficult.
Toronto pulled a few tricks last trade deadline by giving draft picks away to other teams to retain salary. If Dubas and his salary cap specialist, Brandon Pridham, can’t find a taker on a similar deal, they would have to move a current player on the roster who makes around $4 million.
Penguins Fire Sale Would be Good TV
With Brian Burke, the President of Hockey Operations and Ron Hextall as the general manager, a fire sale in Pittsburgh would provide a significant ratings boost to the sports networks on the trade deadline. The team has several quality players, and numerous unrestricted free agents who would fetch a lot of talent, top draft picks and prospects. Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust are all in the last year of their contracts.
A recent rash of wins, including a sweep on a Canadian road trip, may have put a pause on the rebuild speculation – for now. However, Pittsburgh still has a lot of work to do to get back into the conversation in the Metro. Another losing streak or period of underperformance could be enough to kick start the wheeling and dealing, and Toronto would be wise to be first in line.
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.