Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Trade Targets, Zaitsev, Marleau, Matthews

It’s a busy time for the Toronto Maple Leafs because the NHL Entry Draft begins on Friday, June 21. Obviously, that’s true for all NHL teams, however, the Maple Leafs seem to have more pucks in the air than other teams because Mitch Marner is not yet signed.

Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
Mitch Marner (left), Auston Matthews (Center), and Frederik Andersen (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

That Marner and general manager Kyle Dubas have not yet reached a contract agreement halts other decisions. Sooner or later, that dam of unmade decisions will burst. As I have covered the Maple Leafs, I have found Dubas to be both creative and transparent, but the silence leading up to July 1 is deafening.

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I will focus on what “seems” to be happening around the team. I say seems because things are changing so quickly it’s hard to keep up.

Related: Maple Leafs Trade Rumors: Marner, Kadri, Zaitsev, Marleau & More

Item One: Maple Leafs Trade Targets

Dubas has a number of players he needs to trade, however, he also has to build next season’s team. He needs replacements for players who will no longer be on the 2019-20 roster, though hopefully, some will jump from the Toronto Marlies. The team must also find veteran players from other teams to fill spaces.

On June 20, in a thoughtful article, Leafs Nation’s Ryan Fancey speculated about who might be on the team’s radar for possible trades. His list includes:

Trade Possibility #1: Colin Miller, Right-Handed Defenseman from the Vegas Golden Knights

Colin Miller would be a great pickup. First, he’s a 26-year-old, right-handed defenseman with a good contract (at $3.85 million for three years). For some reason, he hasn’t fit with Golden Knights management. That means he’s ripe to be moved. Dubas knows him from when he was the general manager with the Soo Greyhounds and Miller played there. This trade seems to fit.

Vegas Golden Knights Colin Miller Washington Capitals Andre Burakovsky
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller checks Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (AP Photo/John Locher)

Trade Possibility #2: Chris Tanev, Right-Handed Defenseman from the Vancouver Canucks

Chris Tanev is a solid defenseman, when he is able to play. Sadly, injuries have limited his production and ice time over the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. On June 19, Maple Leafs Hot Stove reported via Pierre LeBrun that the Maple Leafs talked with the Canucks about a trade last season and apparently talk has continued.

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Trade for Puljujarvi

For the past week, Vancouver is the team rumored to be interested in Zaitsev, so perhaps a Tanev for Zaitsev deal would be easy for both teams to consider. If that happens, the Maple Leafs could dump Zaitsev’s contract and, if healthy, Tanev would be an upgrade to the blue line.

Trade Possibility #3: Chris Kreider, Left Wing from the New York Rangers

The New York Rangers will either extend Chris Kreider’s contract or trade him. They seem interested in going after free agent Artemi Panarim, but would have to clear cap space to sign him.

Kreider has a year left on his contract at $4.625 million. He’s big, tough, skilled, fast, and can score. In fact, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup with players like him. He also has a wealth of playoff experience, which makes him more important to a contender than a rebuilding team. If the Maple Leafs can move Patrick Marleau and Zaitsev, Kreider would be a great partner for Auston Matthews and William Nylander on the team’s first line.

Trade Possibility #4: Brett Pesce, Right-Handed Defenseman from the Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes’ Brett Pesce seems to be on every Maple Leafs commentator’s list as possible trade bait, and the rumors continue. Perhaps there’s something to them. Pesce would be a good addition, although he isn’t the catch teammate Dougie Hamilton would be. Hamilton is one of the top defensemen in the NHL.

Brett Pesce Hurricanes
Brett Pesce could be a trade target for the Maple Leafs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Trade Possibility #5: Adam Larsson, Right-Handed Defenseman from the Edmonton Oilers

There was a rumor that the Oilers and Maple Leafs were talking about an Adam Larsson-for-Connor Brown trade at last season’s trade deadline. Although this one hasn’t been discussed much, Fancey noted it as a possibility. On the face of it, it might make sense.

Related: 3 Reasons the Canucks Should Re-Sign Edler

Item Two: Is Zaitsev Headed to the Edmonton Oilers?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are working to make Nikita Zaitsev’s trade request a reality and the Vancouver Canucks seem to be the most likely trade partner. Last week, Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Maple Leafs wanted a defenseman in return. The team might ask for more now that Zaitsev is one of the best remaining right-handed defensemen left on the market.

For a long time, rumors suggested Connor Brown might be traded to the Oilers. However, one possibility Fancey brought up that I hadn’t heard discussed was a straight up trade between the Oilers and the Maple Leafs that moved Zaitsev for right-handed defenseman Matt Benning.

Matt Benning Oilers
Matt Benning, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For all the criticism that has come his way, Zaitsev is a stronger defenseman than Benning. However, I have a feeling the Maple Leafs would jump at a chance to move the 27-year-old Zaitsev and his five-year contract at $4.5 million for the 25-year-old Benning and his one-year contract at $1.9 million.

Item Three: Patrick Marleau Wants to Go Back to San Jose

Rumor has it that Patrick Marleau has asked to be moved back to the San Jose Sharks. However, when Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos was interviewed on Prime Time Sports on June 18, he reported:

Related: NHL Rumors: Sharks, Wild, Maple Leafs, More

“Right now, my understanding is San Jose’s not sure yet. [Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson’s in a position to say, ‘Yeah, maybe I’m interested, but not certainly at the price of the last year of the contract.’ So, I would probably believe that a third team would need to get involved, a team that needs to get to the [salary] floor. The Leafs would have to entice that team to take [Marleau’s] contract, and have to give up something. And then if [the third team] were to buy out Marleau, then San Jose could come in and sign him at a number that they’re satisfied with.”

Toronto Maple Leafs Patrick Marleau Josh Leivo Andreas Johnsson Connor Brown
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Patrick Marleau (left) celebrates with Andreas Johnsson and Connor Brown. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

If a trade unfolds as Kypreos suggests, the enticement might be one of the Maple Leafs’ other RFAs, Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen. That would seem a pretty convincing reason to take on Marleau’s contract, especially if a team had salary cap space to burn for one season. Such a trade would be complicated because Marleau holds a great deal of power in his full no-movement clause, and because by re-signing Erik Karlsson the Sharks removed the salary cap space it had for such a deal.

Item Four: Maple Leafs Announce Pre-Season Schedule

In a bit of news, the Maple Leafs announced their 2019 pre-season schedule this week. Their first game will be in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in September. The team will play eight pre-season games, two each against the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, and the Detroit Red Wings.

Here’s the schedule:

Sept. 17: in St. John’s (a home game), against the Ottawa Senators

Sept. 18: in Ottawa against the Senators.

Sept. 20: at home against the Sabres.

Sept. 21: in Buffalo against the Sabres

Sept. 23: in Montreal against the Canadiens

Sept. 25: in Toronto against the Canadiens

Sept. 27: at Detroit against the Red Wings

Sept. 28: in Toronto against the Red Wings

Related: Should the Maple Leafs Sign Phaneuf?

Item Five: Auston Matthews Named the Cover for EA Sports’ Video Game

On June 19 at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas, it was announced that Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews would be on the next cover for EA Sports’ NHL video game. That’s quite the recognition for Matthews as a bankable commodity. It makes sense because Matthews plays for one of Canada’s iconic franchises. At the same time, he is an American from Arizona. That seems like a good choice by EA Sports for its “NHL 20.”