Maple Leafs Would Be Smart to Acquire Blue Jackets’ Nyquist

The Columbus Blue Jackets were dealt a huge blow on their trip to Western Canada. Even though they went into Edmonton and defeated the Oilers in overtime, they lost one of their most experienced players to injury.

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To add insult to injury, this player is a pending UFA after the season and a big part of the recent trade rumors. For Gus Nyquist, it was an injury at the worst possible time.

The Blue Jackets announced on Jan 28 that Nyquist was placed on injured reserve due to an upper-body injury and was out indefinitely. They have since clarified that the injury is a shoulder injury and he’s now expected to miss the rest of the regular season.

While the initial reaction was doom and gloom, a deeper look suggests that not only is there still a trade deadline opportunity for Nyquist, it’s a unique situation in which there may now be many more teams interested in him.

Gustav Nyquist Columbus Blue Jackets
Suddenly, Gus Nyquist might be one of the more attractive trade deadline options for contenders. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This is especially true for the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you know the way they conduct business, it’s easy to see why Nyquist suddenly looks a lot more attractive to them.

Maple Leafs & LTIR

The Maple Leafs live in the land of LTIR. With Jake Muzzin currently on the list, that has allowed them to spend over the cap. Nick Robertson and Victor Mete are each on LTIR as well.

How can cap strapped teams get around the salary cap? One option would be to trade a player and their cap hit to another team. Another option would be to acquire players that can be placed on LTIR right away.

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Enter Nyquist. Since he’s not expected back until close to the end of the regular season, any team including the Maple Leafs can acquire Nyquist and make the necessary moves to maneuver the cap and then utilize his LTIR dollars.

Nyquist’s cap hit is $5.5 million. A contender could acquire Nyquist, place him on LTIR and then wouldn’t have to activate him until the playoffs when there is no salary cap.

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One important note. In order for a team to place Nyquist on LTIR, they’d have to be able to acquire him while being cap compliant. One way this could be done would be for the Maple Leafs to place Auston Matthews on LTIR.

That would allow them to acquire Nyquist. Then they could place Nyquist on LTIR and activate Matthews when he’s ready to return.

A Truly Unique Situation

It’s not often situations like this come up. Normally bad injuries mean the player becomes untradable. Instead this injury could allow teams acquire a player for less than market value.

The cost to do something like this shouldn’t be too bad either. Even if healthy, Nyquist was not expected to net a first-round pick for the Blue Jackets. Because there is an injury involved, this points to a conditional situation in which the Blue Jackets would get more if Nyquist plays a certain amount of games in the playoffs.

A plausible trade scenario would go something like this. The Blue Jackets would trade Nyquist and his entire cap hit to the Maple Leafs for a conditional draft pick. The more Nyquist plays, the more the Blue Jackets get in return.

This would be smart business by the Maple Leafs since the cost of doing business is well within their range.

Maple Leafs Won’t Be Alone

When healthy, Nyquist is a good player. He can play in all situations on both special teams units while chipping in points on a middle-six role. Contenders would love to add him as depth.

Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs would have competition on this unique situation which could increase the return for the Blue Jackets. Suddenly the Vegas Golden Knights without Mark Stone are desperate to make moves by the deadline. They could do the same as the Maple Leafs and utilize the LTIR route and activate him for the playoffs.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs will have competition for Nyquist from other contenders. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The same can be said for other contenders using LTIR. The Edmonton Oilers come to mind. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins come to mind. Jarmo Kekalainen should get an increase in phone calls given the uniqueness of the situation.

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That would be a best-case scenario for the Blue Jackets. If there’s more demand, they can charge a higher price to get the player. What was once thought of as a lost opportunity might turn out to be one of the best opportunities available.

Nyquist wants to play again this season. He’ll do everything he can to be ready for that chance. He’ll add value to a contender and add to someone’s LTIR pool.

The Maple Leafs would be smart to do everything they can to acquire Nyquist. But so would everyone else. Let the bidding begin.

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