March 21st’s NHL Trade Deadline takes on an even more important significance for the Maple Leafs. The last two playoffs exits have ramped up the heat on management and players to get this offseason right and finally win a round or better yet four in these upcoming playoffs.
As we all know, the common dominator in all successful cup winning teams is defense. So that is where if I were GM Kyle Dubas, I would focus most of my assets and cap space on improving.
As things stand now, here are the defensemen definitely on my open night roster come game one of the playoffs if I were Coach Sheldon Keefe :
I would have Timothy Liljegren as my 7th defenseman for depth as I am concerned the enormity of this year may be too much to put on Lily who has just started to play a more regular role for the Leafs this season. With that said, that leaves two spots open, as I have little faith or trust in Justin Holl or Travis Dermott to have the impact needed for a long playoff run.
So here are key trade targets that would significantly improve the Leafs’ defense and provide the depth and physicality need when the games get tighter and more physical.
Scott Mayfield, New York Islanders
At 6″4 and 205lbs, he has the size and strength to make a pairing with Jake Muzzin look nasty and not one opposing forwards would want to go up against. In last year’s Islanders playoff run, he was called upon to play heavy key minutes on their way to a semi-final appearance.
Even his cap hit of $1,450,000 can be made to fit in the Leafs’ tight cap by moving a combination of Holl, Dermott, Ritchie or even Pierre Engvall if you were so inclined to do. If the Maple Leafs sweeten the pot by adding a pick or prospect as part of the trade, this should help to get this trade done if Dubas’ mentor and friend GM Lamoriello is willing to work something out as his Islanders appear to be on downward trend and a possible retool of the team on the horizon.
Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks
Josh’s name has been brought up yet again in Maple Leafs’ trade rumours over the past week or so. Why not, he brings the snarl and grit that scares the bejesus out of players and fans alike. He is 6″3 and 224 lbs, his physical play and reliability on defense would make his an excellent trade target.
The Leafs saw a drop in their defensive play after Muzzin was sidelined due to injury over the last couple of playoffs, having Manson on the team would provide the Leafs some protection and sandpaper should something happen to Muzzin again this spring.
However, Josh’s $4,100,000 contract would take some creativity to fit into the Leafs’ current cap structure, so a larger contract going out or some salary retention by the Ducks would be required to make this deal happen. But I wouldn’t put this past Dubas, as we have seen in previous trades, when he targets someone, he has had the uncanny ability to make a trade happen.
Jamie Oleksiak, Seattle Kraken
If you have listened to our podcast or read previous blogs, we have stated on numerous occasions that the Leafs should try and acquire Jamie Oleksiak.
When speaking about acquiring a big, rugged defenseman, there are few bigger than Oleksiak. He is 6″7, 255lbs, I mean this guy is a beast. He would bring much like the other names listed above, more of that sandpaper and grit to a roster looking to make opposing teams jobs harder in the corners and in front of the net. There will also be fewer players willing to take liberties on goaltender Jack Campbell with Oleksiak manning in front of the net for the Leafs.
Oleksiak would also provide the Maple Leafs some additional veteran leadership to help mentor guys like Sandin/Liljegren out on their development. He has another 4 years after this one at $4,600,000, but would Seattle bite on one of the Leafs higher-end prospects if the Leafs asked them to retain some salary?
Seattle has two things the Leafs don’t have, which is cap space and time. The Leafs are in a clear win now mode, Seattle being in their first year don’t have the pressure to win now. So by taking on some retained salary for futures would be a win-win for both teams.
Andrew Peeke, Columbus Blue Jackets
This acquisition for the Leafs is one that more casual fans of the Leafs and NHL wouldn’t necessarily stand out at first glance. But the scouting reports out of Columbus tell a very intriguing story about Peeke’s projection and progress since coming into the NHL. He is 23 years old, and at 6’3 and 197lbs, would bring the Leafs a right side shot and would also provide more grit and defensive reliability than Holl/Dermott.
One scouting report had this to say about Andrew Peeke:
“At 6’3”, he has the size to be an effective shutdown defenseman as he enters the prime of his career. He can move the puck well and has the reach to break up plays before they can become dangerous. Is not much of an offensive presence, but should grow into more of a physical force in his own zone as he fills out and gets stronger.
Long Range Potential: Big, physical stay-at-home defenseman.”
This year for the Blue Jackets he has stepped in to fill the hole left by the trade of Seth Jones to the Blackhawks. Peeke would be a great compliment to Sandin on the bottom pairing, and he is on an affordable $1,575,000 contract he signed last August 9th.
His age, contract status and style of play are all pluses for the Leafs if they are looking for a young, defensive minded defenseman with some cost certainty at least for next season and an upgrade over Dermott/Holl in the short-term.
In closing, the Leafs have a couple of holes on defense that require immediate attention, all these players provide the style of play which would make the Leafs harder to play against and would also provide some stability on the back-end as the Leafs near the dog days of February where they play almost every second night.
I would suspect any heavy lifting by GM Kyle Dubas would happen in the next couple of weeks to get ahead of the market and improve the Leafs chances to rise up in the standings.
Covid also hangs over all 32 teams as any form of continued lockdowns heading into March here in Canada will have an impact on the NHL trade deadline, as teams and players consider restrictions on player movement due to quarantining or in some cases players just not wanting to play in Canada due to time away from family over the course of the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.
GM Dubas will have to juggle a lot over the next few weeks and trades being announced soon. I am confident we see a much more well rounded defense after the dust settles in Toronto. One that will be needed and called upon if the ghosts of playoffs past are to be defeated.