Trade Candidates in Rumored Maple Leafs’ Big “Summer of Kawhi” Deal

Elliotte Friedman wondered if this summer will be the “Summer of Kawhi” for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Suggesting he sees this offseason as the time when GM Kyle Dubas might make a big move and send one of his top players off the roster for a top player from another roster, he made a comparison to the Toronto Raptors when they moved a shocked Demar DeRozan, then added Kawhi Leonard. That was the season the Raptors wound up winning the NBA Championship.

Our own Peter Baracchini of The Hockey Writers discussed the pros and cons of such a move and while Friedman didn’t specify who he might be talking about in the trade, it’s fairly easy to put some of the pieces together. There are ways to deduce who won’t be going, who could be going, and who the Maple Leafs might target in such a trade. In other words, who is the Demar in a potential Maple Leafs’ deal, and who is the Kawhi?

Who the Maple Leafs Won’t Be Trading

DeRozan was shocked when he was traded by the Raptors. Whoever leaves the Maple Leafs probably won’t be nearly as surprised. In part, no-trade and no-move clauses will factor into Kyle Dubas’ ability to actually trade certain players. Also, so many names have been out there in trade rumors, almost everyone is fair game by now.

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Among those likely staying are John Tavares and Morgan Rielly. Both players have full no-movement clauses and Tavares specifically signed with the Maple Leafs to play for the team he loves as a child. It would take exactly the right trade for him to waive and his cap hit and decline in production don’t make him an easy move even if he did. So too, he’s probably not bringing back someone that will be a huge ground-shaker for the Leafs.

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Rielly just signed an extension and he’s perhaps the most important defenseman on the Maple Leafs’ roster. Don’t expect Dubas to be talking to other teams about Rielly, at least not yet.

Among the stars who could be traded but won’t be is Auston Matthews. Sure, he could dart in free agency at the end of the 2023-24 season but he’s simply too good and there’s no player (other than Connor McDavid) that the Maple Leafs could get in return that would help their team more than Matthews will.

Trading Marner Would Be The Real Risk

If the Maple Leafs wanted to make a move that would shake the team to its foundation, Mitch Marner is the guy. He’s making close to $11 million on the salary cap, has tremendous value in a trade and there would be teams willing to fork over a huge return to get him on their roster. He’s the closest thing to a surprise trade the Maple Leafs have and even then, it wouldn’t be a total shocker because his name has come up plenty of times in the past.

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The question would be, who can the Maple Leafs acquire that helps them more than Marner would? If Marner is DeRozan, who is Kawhi? The way Marner and Matthews click, it would be hard to imagine that comparable exists. In fact, Marner is probably the Kawhi in this equation. Only if Dubas believes the sum of the parts is greater than the whole would the Maple Leafs send Marner out and essentially add two players in place of one of the team’s best players. Even then, he better be sure because having a trade like that go sideways is grounds to lose one’s job as a GM.

William Nylander Could Make Sense

Remember, the kind of trade Friedman is talking about is one where a big name leaves the roster that a lot of fans likely won’t be happy is leaving. At the same time, the player coming back is meant to be the difference-maker that puts the Maple Leafs over the top. As such, the sacrifice becomes worth it. In that scenario, — and as Barachinni wrote in his piece — William Nylander immediately comes to mind.

Nylander possesses incredible skill and talent. He might be the most naturally gifted offensive player the Maple Leafs have. He can also drive a head coach crazy with the on-ice decisions he makes. All of that can happen in the same game and sometimes, in the same shift.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At the end of the day, his talent and salary would be enticing for teams and Luke Fox of Sportsnet wrote in a recent mailbag segment that he believes Toronto could get a big haul for Nylander if they looked to move him. Fox adds that Nylander is the closest thing the Leafs have to a DeMar DeRozan.

Who Might the Maple Leafs Target In This Deal?

If the Maple Leafs move Nylander, Fox believes that would clear the road to bring in someone like J.T. Miller. He’s certainly not the only candidate out there that would qualify as a big add.

In terms of other difference-makers, Fox wonders if Jakob Chychrun and his beautiful cap hit would be an option. If so, would moving someone like Jake Muzzin make that trade possible? At forward he wonders if Timo Meier, Nikolaj Ehlers, or Dylan Larkin would be good fits? All three have salaries lower than their perceived value and all three are on teams that might be making changes. Sending out Alex Kerfoot would be the start of a move like that.

Tyler Bertuzzi’s name has come up in connection to the Maple Leafs before, but his vaccination status might be a concern. It shouldn’t be logistically as the Edmonton Oilers have proven Josh Archibald’s situation hasn’t slowed them from using the forward when they think they need to.

Swapping Out Stud Goaltenders?

The most obvious change is in the goaltending position. If the Maple Leafs don’t work out a deal with Jack Campbell, and Dubas is able to dump Petr Mrazek’s salary, there’s a window open to add a top-tier goaltender and one could argue that no position is as important to the success of a team. Fox mentions John Gibson out of Anaheim, but Darcy Kuemper is also going to be available out of Colorado.

It would come as a surprise if the Maple Leafs simply chose to let Campbell walk and/or traded his rights around the NHL Entry Draft. The talk is they’d like to get a deal done and even if whispers are that he might come in at a price tag higher than the Leafs want to pay, many believe this extension will ultimately get done. But what if the Maple Leafs simply go another direction?

If Dubas identifies and believes he can acquire a different goalie, that’s a big move that would fit under this “summer of Kawhi” criteria.