Toronto Maple Leafs Control the Fate of Jeff Skinner

It may not seem like it, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a surprising amount of control over the destination of Carolina Hurricanes’ forward Jeff Skinner. It’s not likely that the younger winger ends up in Toronto’s blue and white, but the organization has made a few moves over the past week that seemed to have kept him in a Hurricane uniform.

The Prelude

Shortly before the draft, both the Hurricanes and the Maple Leafs were making their rounds around the rumor mill, as one Toronto radio station announced that the two sides were in trade talks for enigmatic winger Alexander Semin. In exchange for taking Semin’s albatross contract off the books, Toronto was allegedly going to receive Carolina’s 5th overall pick in return.

It was similar to a deal that was proposed a year earlier, when the Calgary Flames offered to take Cam Ward’s contract in exchange for the Hurricanes’ 7th overall pick that year. Ron Francis refused then, and if there was any truth to the Semin rumor, he refused this year as well. As Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet put it in his 30 for 30 column:

“As much as the organization would love to move Semin, this draft pick is way too important to give away in a salary dump. It’s got to be a significant, legit hockey trade if at all.”

But as rumors surrounding Semin slowly died out, those surrounding Skinner only grew stronger.

Draft Day

As fate would have it, the two teams would pick consecutively on draft day, Toronto at #4 and Carolina at #5. Since the first two picks in the draft were all but decided weeks in advance, both teams were left at the mercy of the Arizona Coyotes at #3. When the Coyotes picked Dylan Strome, that left Toronto in full control of not only their pick, but likely Carolina’s as well.

Ultimately, Toronto nabbed skilled forward Mitch Marner with their pick and Carolina was all too happy to take the big defenseman Noah Hanifin immediately after. Both teams got what they wanted, as Marner will serve as a heir apparent to Phil Kessel if/when the Leafs decide to move him, and Hanifin will only bolster Carolina’s strong defensive prospect pool.

But what Toronto may not have known is that in addition to controlling Carolina’s pick, they likely controlled Skinner’s fate as well. If the Maple Leafs had decided to draft Hanifin, that would have left Marner for the Canes at #5, adding yet another small, skilled forward to a team that has plenty of them. It’s quite possible that, if Toronto had drafted Hanifin, Carolina general manager Ron Francis would have pushed a bit harder to trade Skinner for some help on the defensive side of the puck.

In the Days After

Normally, such control would end once the two sides make their draft selections. Toronto grabbed Marner, Carolina grabbed Hanifin, so Skinner isn’t likely as available as he could have been. However, Toronto wasn’t only focused on their draft pick over the weekend. A long-standing rumor linked Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Obviously, depending on the return, such a deal could work out extremely well for both sides. However, a deal was not completed over the weekend.

Reading between the lines there, Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford believes that whatever Toronto is asking for Kessel is a bit too high, so he makes it clear that Pittsburgh can look elsewhere. And he’s not wrong. The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to trade Patrick Sharp, the St. Louis Blues may let go of T.J. Oshie, and Justin Williams is going to hit free agency.

But according to Pittsburgh beat writer Josh Yohe, Rutherford also has his eyes on Skinner. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Rutherford has a hard time letting go of players he wants, even if he already had them at one time. It’s why Joe Corvo had three separate stints with the Hurricanes and why Rutherford was linked to a Jordan Staal rumor earlier in the season.

So once again, Toronto controls Skinner’s fate. If they meet with the Pittsburgh GM again and work out a deal for Kessel, that’s one less team for Skinner to be linked to. If the two sides continue to posture, Rutherford may decide there will be less hassle dealing with Francis and Skinner may find himself in Pittsburgh’s black and gold.