I know we have said this every year of this core around the NHL Trade Deadline but this season needs to be the year, with GM Kyle Dubas without a contract extension in his back pocket, Auston Matthews and William Nylander due for new contracts with those discussions coming in the summer and that is just the tip of the iceberg. How do you push the clouds that hang over this group to another day? Win even a couple of rounds and it buys this group a stay of execution, lose in the first round and everyone around this team will need to look over their shoulder as the winds of change will arrive swiftly.
Before I go into some of predictions of possible trades, we have have to look for the weaknesses in this group and where the biggest issues arose in the playoffs past. If you want different results, then you need to find the problems and fix them. Or you only repeat the same errors, expecting different results (lunacy, I know but many want to see the Leafs and Dubas do just this).
In the 8 playoff potential clinching games since 2018/2019, the Maple Leafs have gone 0/17 on the Power Play, out of these 8 games they lost 5 of them by just one goal. The margin for error in the playoffs is so razor thin, and one bounce in the Maple Leafs favour in any of the 8 games would have change the trajectory of the series and possibly translated to an extended playoff run.
If we take the series against Tampa Bay in insolation, we can see that the Maple Leafs depth scoring and poor goaltending was the difference in the series. The goaltending tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray has held up and with proper defensive support has even been one of the best in the NHL, so I am positive GM Kyle Dubas won’t be acquiring another goalie (which in some media & on social media circles has been suggested). As for the bottom six production in the series against the Lightning, the Maple Leafs bottom six scored 6 goals amongst the six forwards. That simply isn’t good enough when the series was up for grabs and it was Tampa Bay’s depth scoring that was the determining factor for the team’s game clinching win.
So now that we have a better idea of what the problem has been and what I would suspect the management group is looking resolve, let’s look at what needs to go out and what I suspect the team is looking at to bring in.
- Matthew Knies, Not ideal but if you want to acquire a player of value that will move the needle to improve the Maple Leafs fortunes, Knies will most definitely be part of the mix. His rising profile with the University of Minnesota and some of his highlight reel goals are exactly what rival teams will covet in any trade trade for a big ticket forward.
- Draft Picks, I have been one who has advocated not to mortgage too much of the future as we have seen rivals such as the Florida Panthers and so on do with minimal success. If you objectively look at this team, you will see that they are so close so why take draft picks off the table if you can hit a home run or two to really acquire the depth scoring needed to get over the hump, you simply have to do it no questions asked.
- Alexander Kerfoot, trading Kerfoot at probably his worst value would be more of a cash in, cash out move but something needs to be done to free the team of his cap hit needed to open up cap space required to bring in a bigger ticket forward. Same applies with Pierre Engvall, I know he is an advanced stat darling but his under utilization of his size and lack of playoff scoring, he too needs to be out even if for cap reasons only similarly to Kerfoot.
- Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks. Timo brings a mix of size (6’1, 220lbs) and skill that would look to be a perfect compliment to Captain John Tavares and William Nylander on the Maple Leafs second line. Timo is having himself a season, in 54g he has 51 pts, 30 goals and 21 assists. He also provides that grinding and heavy play that is missing on this line as the games get more physical come the playoffs.
- Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. He would be the perfect fit as the Maple Leafs third line centre, he can with limited minutes drive some offence but also provide reliable defensive acumen to strengthen the team’s middle six group, dropping David Kampf to more reasonable 4th line assignment gives the Maple Leafs a defensive matchup which should give Tampa Bay fits come the playoffs. The Maple Leafs could also deploy Toews on the power play or late in games if they looking for a goal. I trust in players who have done it, Toews is as decorated of a forward available than any this deadline. It would take some cap retention to make such a deal possible, but that is where the Maple Leafs prospects and picks can be the sweetener to get this deal done.
- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. Patrick Kane interests me on so many levels. He is a proven playoff performer, has the knack for timely goals and should find his game alongside his buddy Auston Matthews on the power play or spot duty on the 1st line should there be need for a goal or the lines aren’t clicking in any particular moment. Much like Toews trade above, there would be some cap retention to complete this trade but I would be all over this acquisition of GM Dubas can make the money and trade assets work.
- Other notable names include: Tyler Bertuzzi (Red Wings), Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis Blues), Max Domi (Chicago Blackhawks), Conor Garland (Vancouver Canucks).
GM Kyle Dubas will need to make some bold moves to help the Maple Leafs get over their first round hurdle, but the main pieces of a team that can and should go on a run are there. The trick is finding the right mix in the bottom six that can contribute on both sides of the ice that may mean the difference between defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning or being on the outside looking in again with the winds of change blowing in quickly in the spring.
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