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

On June 19 the NHL hosted their annual awards ceremony, and there was an impressive group of winners. I was disappointed that the Toronto Maple Leafs great, young defenseman, Morgan Rielly wasn’t a finalist for the award, but who can argue with Mark Giordano as the Norris Trophy winner? He’s a great defenseman and, at his “advanced” age of 35 years, it was a well-deserved win. I’m looking for Rielly to make another run at that prestigious award next season.

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Between the NHL Awards and the NHL Entry Draft starting on Friday in Vancouver, a number of rumors have impacted the Maple Leafs. Here, I will specifically reflect on TSN’s newest edition of the Trade Bait Board and what this board might mean for the Leafs.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Engvall, Johnsson, Captain, Nylander, More

Maple Leafs on the Trade Board

On June 18, TSN’s senior hockey reporter, Frank Seravalli, released his most recent edition of TSN’s Trade Bait Board. Of the 35 players on the list, six Maple Leafs were included.

#1: Nikita Zaitsev

At number one, and no surprise to Maple Leafs fans, was Nikita Zaitsev. He has suddenly become a hot trade commodity now that Erik Karlsson has re-signed with the San Jose Sharks, Jacob Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers by the Winnipeg Jets, and the Washington Capitals traded Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas (the Capitals needed the cap space – no pun intended).

Zaitsev is now one of the best right-handed defensemen on the market. Last week, the question was, “Who can the Maple Leafs get to take Zaitsev?” Now the question is, “How much can the team get in return for this rare asset?”

Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen Nikita Zaitsev Washington Capitals Nicklas Backstrom
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, Nikita Zaitsev and Washington Capitals Nicklas Backstrom. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Ironically, the Maple Leafs are desperate for a right-handed defenseman: they need Zaitsev but will likely trade him. Fortunately, the team will probably get back a good player in return.

#11: Patrick Marleau

The second Maple Leafs player on the list is Patrick Marleau, who’s at number 11. Last week’s rumor was that the team was talking with the Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings. However, on June 18, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported on Sportsnet radio 590 in Toronto that Marleau has a single destination in mind for next season. That would be back to the San Jose Sharks.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Patrick Marleau: Taking One for the Team?

This trade would be difficult but who knows what’s possible when general managers get creative? Karlsson’s contract limits the Sharks’ ability to take on another large salary. However, having Marleau finish his Hall-of-Fame career in front of Sharks fans must have some appeal to management.

#13: Connor Brown

The Maple Leafs’ young forward Connor Brown is listed at 13 on the Trade Bait Board. Given his scoring success both in the minors and sporadically with the Maple Leafs, another team might believe if he is given more time in the top six, he might become productive. Plus, his cap hit, at $2.1 million, isn’t onerous and because he’s only signed through 2019-20, he would be playing for his next contract. That’s motivating.

Connor Brown Maple Leafs
Connor Brown, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Was Brown a victim of the Maple Leafs’ great depth at forward? If a team thinks that might be the case, Brown is likely gone. I keep thinking the Edmonton Oilers might want him, if only because of his past relationship with superstar Connor McDavid when they both played with the Erie Otters. Perhaps Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas will see Brown as a draft-day trading piece for a higher pick.

#17: Garret Sparks

At number 17, is Maple Leafs backup goalie Garret Sparks. In 2017-18 he was voted AHL goalie of the year, now Sparks has fallen into a sort of goalie limbo. It will be interesting to see if there is interest in the young goalie. Both his physical and his mental game seemed to fall apart towards the end of last season, but he might be a good catch if he can rebound.

Related: Ennis Was Maple Leafs’ Bargain Hero: Who’s Next?

The position of goalie is an odd one, and it’s often heard that a young goalie struggles with a team or two and then turns a corner to become an NHL star. One goaltender who comes to my mind is Devan Dubnyk, who kicked around with the Oilers, the Nashville Predators, and the Phoenix Coyotes before he found a home with the Minnesota Wild.

#20: Nazem Kadri

Nazem Kadri is number 20 on the list. Although he has a team-friendly contract, he should fetch a good return if traded. In fact, because the team’s forward corps is so strong, trading him for that elusive right-handed defenseman might seem like a no-brainer. As I noted in a post from last week, I’m wondering if the Carolina Hurricanes might move Brett Pesce, Dougie Hamilton, or Justin Faulk.

Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri Jake DeBrusk
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara pulls Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri off teammate Jake DeBrusk. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mary Schwalm)

Moving Kadri would be emotionally difficult for Maple Leafs fans. He’s loyal to the team and fans are loyal to him. He’s considered a good soldier, albeit one with a penchant for doing something suspension-worthy at exactly the wrong time. However, he has hung in there with the team through their down seasons. Throughout my time covering the team, fans seem united that he deserves to be part of any team success that might be coming.

#35: Mitch Marner

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, unsigned RFA Mitch Marner made the list at number 35. Until this week, I would have bet the house that Marner would be a Maple Leaf next season; however, this week’s rumor, that salary cap projections might drop to $81.5 million instead of the $83 million projected last December, have put Marner’s future with the team in question.

If these rumors are true, Dubas already difficult task just became more complicated. Like other Maple Leafs commentators, I have already written often about Marner’s situation. If the Maple Leafs are “lucky enough” for Marner to receive an offer sheet worth over $10.2 million, the four first-round draft picks the Maple Leafs would receive in return would give the team a chance to replace Marner over the next four years. It would also immediately ease the Maple Leafs’ salary cap difficulties.

As much as the organization hopes to keep Marner (Dubas named him the team’s first priority), if another team made a pitch for his services, it would be wise to listen. He would bring a great return but, is moving him a short-term nightmare?

Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly celebrates with teammates. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Although letting Marner go would solve problems immediately, any replacement would be a downgrade. He was the team’s top scorer and leader. In fact, if the team does sign him, I believe he should be named the next captain. Trading or signing Marner will be complicated.

Who Wasn’t on the Trade Bait Board

It was a bit of a surprise that Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, the team’s two other young RFAs, didn’t make the Trade Bait Board. These two players have come up often in trade rumors since the end of the season. What happens to these young players will be interesting to watch.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Next Captain – So Many Options

Finally, reflecting on Seravalli’s choices for this edition of the board suggests how dynamic the NHL situation is headed into tomorrow’s NHL Draft. Rumors are flying and things are changing daily. I’m looking for the next three days to tell lots about what the Maple Leafs are thinking.