With the NHL Trade Deadline rapidly approaching, the rumours and speculations continue to grow. We can now start to get a sense of who the buyers and sellers are this year. The New York Rangers are in rebuild mode while other teams that are in playoff contention are looking to bolster their lineup for the post season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are right there in the thick of things in terms of being in the rumour mill. Sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division and a full 17 points ahead of the Florida Panthers, the Leafs (unofficially) appear to be playoff bound. But there are areas of emphasis that they could address in terms of making a deep playoff run.
It’s been said that the Leafs already have three “rentals” in James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov, but a small addition wouldn’t hurt. If they really want to make a splash, they could go for one of the top players available this year.
Two years after being dead last in the league, winning the draft lottery and bolstering their prospect pool, the Leafs could hypothetically make a big move with assets either in the minors or with the big club. They already moved Nikita Soshnikov for a fourth- round pick to the St. Louis Blues. But a minor move like that isn’t enough to try and contend for the Stanley Cup.
The Leafs have been linked to a number of potential trade targets including one of the top names this year.
As mentioned before, the New York Rangers are in seller mode with Michael Grabner and Ryan McDonagh garnering attention. But the biggest one of all is Rick Nash.
It’s well known that Rick Nash has submitted a list of 12 teams he’d accept a trade and it has been confirmed that Leafs are on his list.
Why would this be a good move? Aside from familiarity with Mike Babcock and Mark Hunter, the Rangers would be willing to retain 50 per cent of his contract. This means that Rick Nash’s salary (currently at $7.8 million) if he joins the Leafs, it would be $3.9 million.
Another reason why this would be a bonus is that he can score. While he is having a down year stat wise, it’s not for a lack of trying. He’s recorded 18 goals and has 181 shots on net and he is known for scoring some key goals when he’s in the zone. At 33, he’s not likely to score 40 goals again. As a rental he could be a key contributor. The way I view Nash is that he’s van Riemsdyk but with more speed. If the Leafs are able to move van Riemsdyk for a defenseman and get a first round pick back as well, we could use internal assets as well as the first rounder we get to use as a trade chip in a deal for Rick Nash.
The con? Well, high name rental players have had a history of not performing well when teams have paid such a high price. For example, Martin Hanzal last year. Although he’s an unrestricted free agent, paying that high of a price for a rental who won’t perform is extremely risky. Knowing Lou Lamoriello, I doubt he would mess up the forward group when everything is going according to plan. Especially considering how well the top- six is scoring.
The Leafs have also been linked to Detroit Red Wing defenseman Mike Green from the very beginning. A right shot defenseman and capable of putting up points. Like Nash, while he’s not the premier player that can get 70- plus points, he could still be an asset that could be used in a third pairing role with Travis Dermott and be a power-play quarterback.
While he’s an All- Star, he does come with a cap hit of $6 million. Again, that would be a huge risk to take if the Leafs have to give up assets like Andreas Johnsson, Miro Aaltonen, Andreas Borgman or Andrew Nielsen. All have promising futures, and once again, the Leafs don’t want to derail from the Shanaplan, where they can easily come in and make an impact. He is known to have defensive lapses in his own end and has also had his fair share of injuries, which should be a bit of a concern.
While the big names seem intriguing, nonetheless it is an extremely big gamble considering the Leafs are in a really good spot with an extremely good, young team.
But there is another option that fit their plans at a cheaper price. Instead of making a risky deal with a risky defenseman, they could also look at Nick Holden from the Rangers. He’s not known to be much of a risk taker and he can provide steady defensive play, averaging 2:03 short- handed time on ice per game.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 16, 2018
In again comes Mike Babcock’s former team and a player that he’s familiar with. While he only played for Babcock for two seasons, Glendening would provide the Leafs with another depth option as a fourth line centre. His 14 points is three more than current fourth centre, Dominic Moore and he’s younger at 28- years- old. He has great speed, high compete level, great defensive play and is successful in the face-off circle at 58 per cent.
That sounds like a Mike Babcock- type player.
It’s been recently reported that if a deal is made it’s most likely that it would involve a “ ‘decent pick’ and a prospect’” as reported by Ansar Khan.
Here’s the thing, as much as they may want to add a depth player, this will not sit well with management. There is no sense in giving up a potential top-six forward for a depth piece that at best costs a couple of mid-round picks and an average prospect. There is a better option where the price may be reasonable for the Leafs. In fact, they can look to the Anaheim Ducks.
Earlier last week, Bob McKenzie mentioned that Anaheim forward Antoine Vermette’s name has surfaced up in rumours and talks.
Here is his quote from Insider Trading:
“They’re getting lots of calls on centre Antoine Vermette, a faceoff specialist. They’re not committed to being buyers, but for the first time maybe in a long time, they are contemplating potentially being sellers.”
McKenzie also adds, that the Leafs could be happy with the way the fourth line is playing (and rightfully so) that they don’t make a move at all.
But if the Leafs are looking for depth, Vermette is an interesting player and I think may be on their list. Vermette only has 16 points in 58 games played with the Ducks this year, but he has great speed and impossible to beat in the face-off circle, with a rate almost close to 60 per cent (59.9), which will be key going into the playoffs.
Trade history from NHLTradeTracker.com (a really great tool for trades):
Looking back at past trade history with Vermette, the Leafs could have a viable trade partner with the Ducks. He is an important commodity that the Leafs could add without giving up a whole lot.
The highest price that was paid for Vermette was a decent prospect and a first- round pick from the Chicago Blackhawks. While they may have overpaid for him with a first-round pick, he went on to be a key contributor for the Hawks, winning the Stanley Cup. That skill in the face- off dot and a great veteran presence could be what the Leafs need, almost similar to Brian Boyle last year.
The other two deals, Vermette was worth a few mid-round picks and depth players. The Leafs have a lot of depth players and picks to possibly use in acquiring Vermette. If they were to make a deal I would be okay with either Leivo (depth/ decent prospect) or Martin and, at most, a second- round pick OR a third and fourth- round pick for Vermette. Leafs have depth pieces that aren’t being used in Leivo, so why not give them the opportunity to play elsewhere. They gave Soshnikov that opportunity in St. Louis they should with Leivo.
Should the Leafs add a depth player, it’ll be interesting to see what they do with Bozak. We know he’s a UFA at the end of the season, but we’ve seen him on the fourth line while Moore has moved onto the third. We’ve also seen van Riemsdyk’s ice time diminish the past couple of games as well.
It’s getting more and more likely that those two players may not return next year. Or if it’s possible, after February 26th.
We have a Trade to Announce: The Maple Leafs trade a player than 95% (or higher) of the fanbase did not know we still had on our books.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) February 20, 2018
The Leafs are now down to 48 contracts on the books and add 2 million in Cap Space.
Well done Lou.