Despite a sizzling start to their 2017-18 NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen back to Earth.
After notching six wins in their first seven contests, it appeared as though the Leafs were destined for a campaign defined by nothing other than success. However, as the month of October came to a close and November began, Toronto began to struggle.
While the team certainly had no issue scoring goals, the Leafs instead found themselves battling desperately to keep the puck out of their own net. Now, although Toronto’s immensely inflated GA/GP average will surely deflate over the course of the season, significant issues are clearly present within the team’s roster which could jeopardize the outcome of their season – and potentially future – if not addressed.
In order to tackle these difficulties — the major concern of which being defensive depth — I have conceived two possible trade scenarios which the Leafs would do well to seriously consider.
Given the fact that concocting trades at the NHL-level is no easy task, the deals which I plan to recommend result strictly from Toronto’s current organizational surplus’ as well as deficiencies.
At the moment, the Leafs are loaded offensively, as there are a vast number of players developing at the American Hockey League level who are undoubtedly deserving of NHL opportunity. Further, there are players within Toronto’s current NHL roster whose development is being stunted due to the team’s overwhelming depth.
On the other hand, the Leafs have visible needs, the most notable of which being aforementioned depth defensively. Yes, Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen, and Roman Polak were added to the team in order to address this issue, and Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen are close to NHL ready, however, arguably none of which boast the potential to become elite defenders at hockey’s highest level.
In order to address these issues, the two deals below are those which Toronto should consider if they wish to bolster their blue line while also strengthening their roster as a whole.
Trade JVR for Defensive Depth
Acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Luke Schenn on Jun. 22, 2012, James van Riemsdyk has become the reliable power-forward which the Leafs hoped he would be following his arrival in Toronto.
In fact, no Leafs player has scored more points than van Riemsdyk over the past five seasons, as his 240 points in 332 games played as of the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign was a greater total than the likes of both Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel.
However, despite his consistent play and productive style, van Riemsdyk is poised to become an unrestricted free agent as of Jul. 1, 2018. Although he has indicated his desire to remain with the Leafs during this exciting period in the team’s history, the salary and cap hit he is expected to fetch will surely complicate matters.
JVR on his future: "I'd love to stay here. This is the place I want to be. I've really enjoyed my time playing here."
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 24, 2017
At the age of 28, van Riemsdyk has plenty of hockey ahead of himself and is arguably in the prime of his professional career. Given his consistent production in years passed, the native of Middletown, New Jersey, has undeniably secured the right to pursue a lucrative long-term deal. Realistically, van Riemsdyk could command a deal in the six to seven-year range worth roughly $6 Million per season.
Given the Leafs’ impending cap crunch, re-signing van Riemsdyk to such a deal could create a wealth of financial issues in the immediate and long-term future. With all of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner in search of new contracts in the coming years, locking down van Riemsdyk to such a substantial deal could risk the long-term sustainability of the franchise.
The Ideal Situation
Unless van Riemsdyk is willing to take a significant pay cut in order to stay in Toronto, the best option for both he and the Leafs would appear to be a trade.
As a pending UFA, van Riemsdyk’s name would certainly draw an incredible amount of interest league-wide, and especially so later in the season as teams strengthen their rosters prior to the playoffs. Incredibly valuable as a potential rental player, van Riemsdyk would fetch Toronto a substantial return if traded – an exchange which would undoubtedly provide the Leafs with quality assets.
One trade which acts as a solid reference point in this discussion is T.J. Oshie’s departure to the Washington Capitals in 2015. Previously an integral member of the St. Louis Blues, it cost the Capitals goaltender Pheonix Copley, Troy Brouwer, and a third-round pick in order to nab Oshie, whose playing style and level of production are vastly similar to that of van Riemsdyk’s.
A Potential Deal?
So, with that being said, the Leafs would surely be able to nab a strong return in exchange for van Riemsdyk’s services.
One player who Toronto could – and should – target in particular in exchange for van Riemsdyk is John Carlson of the Capitals. Like van Riemsdyk, Carlson is a pending UFA who is in the prime of his career. A legitimate number-one defender of great size and ability, Carlson would log major minutes for the Leafs in a number of situations if acquired.
Now, pulling off such a trade would not be simple, as Carlson is arguably of greater value than van Riemsdyk based upon the position which he plays alone. As such, Toronto would likely be forced to part with another asset in such a deal. However, given the franchise’s wealth of prominent prospects and draft picks, doing such in order to acquire a lethal defender such a Carlson would surely be an easy decision.
Who knows, maybe the Leafs would even be able to sign Carlson to a long-term deal, as, at the moment, Toronto’s financial situation is largely dependant upon the outcome of the current season.
Deal Komarov for Organizational Depth
A sixth-round selection of the Leafs in the 2006 NHL Draft, 180th overall, Komarov’s road to the NHL was long and arduous, yet is a path which ultimately paid immense dividends.
Signed by Toronto to a four-year deal prior to the 2014-15 campaign, Komarov will become a UFA following the 2017-18 season if not signed to an extension. One of the team’s most versatile and driven players, Komarov’s presence within the Leafs’ lineup on a nightly basis has brought both leadership and accountability to a young Toronto roster.
However, with the Leafs bursting at the seams with capable and proven offensive prospects, it appears as though the time has come for Toronto and Komarov to part ways. Yet, this should by no means be considered as the end of the road for Komarov, who undeniably plays a significant and valued NHL game.
As such, there should be a considerable amount of interest in Komarov’s services from throughout the entire NHL, as the native of Narva, Estonia, remains an incredibly capable force.
A Potential Deal?
Given the fact that van Riemsdyk could very well be re-signed by the Leafs, the organization could instead attempt to address their defensive deficiencies through Komarov’s pending departure. While his value in a potential trade won’t be reflective of his true worth considering his UFA status, trading Komarov would still provide Toronto with an opportunity to substantially improve their organizational depth.
One particular trading partner who could be of interest to the Leafs is the Carolina Hurricanes. In need of scoring depth and in possession of an incredible number of young defenders, the Hurricanes boast exactly what Toronto needs and desperately require what the Leafs already have.
However, amongst the seemingly endless number of defenders which the Hurricanes possess, there are a slim few who could, realistically, be included in any potential trade.
One of which is Roland McKeown – a former second-round choice of the Los Angeles Kings who, since being acquired by Carolina in trade, has yet to play an NHL game. A terrific defender who plays a sound two-way game, McKeown’s ability to think, process, and adapt to the game as it develops is his strongest ability, as it allows him to proactively disrupt plays before transitioning the puck to his forwards.
What’s more is that McKeown loves to jump up into the play – yet only when it is safe to do so. While he prioritizes his own zone, McKeown can act as a threat offensively and boasts a powerful shot from the blue line.
Now, if the Leafs were to pursue a defender such as McKeown, it would surely come at a greater cost than Komarov alone. As mentioned before, Toronto boats a wealth of prospects, and it would appear as though one would have to accompany Komarov in order to nab McKeown from the Hurricanes. If the Leafs were able to complete such a deal, it would immediately open up a full-time roster spot for Josh Leivo, whose game is similar to that of Komarov’s yet boasts greater offensive frequency.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.