News broke yesterday of a request from Nikita Zaitsevs camp for a trade out of Toronto. With Kyle Dubas calling his reasons for the request “personal and private” we can only speculate on what the 27 year old, right shot defender is thinking here, but rumours are currently revolving around an unhappiness with the media.
Of course you won’t hear much about that from the media…. because who wants to admit that they’re part of the problem?
But I digress.
His reasons for wanting out aside, it may be a good time for the Leafs to have Nikita ask to be moved. They’re in a situation where they are trying to re-sign RFAs Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, while also trying to stay below the cap ceiling of 83M.
So rather than dwell on the reasons why he’d want out, and the reasons why the Leafs may want to move on, we get to jump right into trade speculation, which is a fans favourite past time, right? Right!!
Probably not the best of fits at this exact moment considering the Edmonton Oilers have 7 defenders under contract for the 2019-20 season that make 1.9M towards the cap or more, but that’s only at this moment. Rumour has it that Adam Larsson and the Oilers have agreed to find a new home for the top 4 defender, and why not? He had never been able to live up to the expectations thrust upon him after being acquired from the New Jersey Devils for Taylor Hall. Another right shot defender, Matt Benning, has been in trade rumours at times himself, so they may be primed to move on from him as well.
On top of that Andrej Sekera has played just 60 games over the past 2 seasons combined, so there may be questions about the aging defenders health going forward. If you consider the Oilers a team that wants to return to the post season sooner rather than later, then a trade for a player that is locked into a reasonable 4.5M cap hit for the next 5 years may be right up their alley.
Possible trades could see the Leafs take back players such as the aforementioned Adam Larsson or Matt Benning depending on what else the trade contains. If the Leafs are willing to sweeten the pot with a winger that the Oilers think could fit with star centre Connor McDavid, such as Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson, then theres no telling what can happen.
New York Islanders
Wondering if Lou Lamoriello is willing to take back another questionable contract he orchestrated as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs? I bet you’re not alone there.
The previous trade saw Kyle Dubas send Matt Martin and his 2.5M cap hit to the Islanders for ECHL goalie Eamon McAdam. While Martin went back to playing over 11 minutes a night and being a regular contributor to the 4th line, McAdam split time between the AHL Toronto Marlies and the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers (GO GROWLERS!!).
Simply put, it was a pure salary dump trade, but that’s not exactly what I’d expect in a deal for Zaitsev.
Some fans are eyeing the hulking Scott Mayfield in any deal. A 6’5″ 225lb right shot defender, Mayfield brings some of what the Leafs have been lacking since….. well, since they traded Matt Martin. With 4 years left on a contract that carries a 1.45M cap hit, the Leafs would get a player that comes with cost certainty as well as a guy that played over 2 minutes a night on the penalty kill, and 18 minutes a night overall. He isn’t a high skill player, but he’d serve a purpose for a team that could use more size and grit on the roster.
With Johnny Boychuk making 6M for 3 more years, and with his minutes having dropped below 19 minutes a night, the Islanders may look for a player that can help their top 4. With that type of money tied up in Boychuk it could be a smart move to ensure that whoever they get to help comes with a fair cap hit and salary as well. Zaitsev could fit into the group, as he can play a quiet and effective game, and Head Coach Barry Trotz seems to work well with players like that.
After the Ducks moved on from right shot defender Brandon Montour at the deadline they were left with some questions on the right side of their defense. With Josh Manson and Jake Dotchin as the only right shot blueliners that played for the team last year and are still fully under the Ducks control, it may be time for a shakeup.
Korbinian Holzer, Andy Welinski, and Andrej Sustr also suited up in depth roles last season, but all could test free agency and none should be considered top 4 NHLers. As far as players that can log 20+ minutes a night go they should be on the hunt.
The nice thing about the Ducks right now is that while they have just over 9M in cap space, which isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, they also have a lot of players locked in for the upcoming season, and that 9M isn’t taking into account the cap relief they’ll receive when they put Ryan Kesler, who just underwent hip surgery and is expected to miss most or all of the 2019-20 NHL season, on LTIR. They don’t have any big ticket players to re-sign either, so that cap space is basically free to use however they please, and my bet is it will go towards the blueline.
In a previous article I identified the Ducks as a possible destination for Nazem Kadri as well, the reasoning for that also revolved around their loss of Kesler for the year to come. I’m curious about a package deal here that could see some cap relief for the Leafs and a boost up the standings for the Ducks.
On top of some good forward prospects the Ducks also hold two picks in the 1st round this year (#9, #29), and after being asked about the draft (among other things) at the NHL Combine yesterday, GM Kyle Dubas had this to say:
“Well, we have talented players. If we really wanted to get one (a first-round pick), we could probably make it happen. But I don’t even know how likely it is. We’re focused right now on the 53rd pick and rolling from there.”
Nobody would expect the Ducks to move the 9th overall pick of course, but a package of prospects and picks that included #29 could make a lot of sense for both teams.
Considering Zaitsev has a partial No-trade clause that allows him to name a 10 team no-trade list it may be wishful thinking to include the Senators here. On one hand, if a player requests a trade you would think he should accept a deal to any team. On the other hand it’s the Ottawa Senators.
For the Sens this makes sense as they need to reach the cap floor. They also have a massive number of picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts (20 total), so a mid round pick for a player to help them ice a team while they go through a rebuild makes a lot of sense.
For the Leafs it’s pretty simple, moving on from Zaitsev and not taking a penny in return works on the cap. It may be a match made in heaven if Nikita doesn’t get in the way.
It sounds as if the Leafs are going to look for a hockey trade here, and not just look at this as a chance to dump salary. Kyle Dubas had this to say about moving on from Zaitsev:
“It’s not anything definitive that he’s not going to be back. Especially as the year went on and he was paired with Jake Muzzin he began to shine through a little bit more. His penalty-killing, he’s a right shot who plays on our top four and was signed reasonably for a long time. He signed for seven years, but I don’t want to speculate on their behalf.”
The question is if this is tire pumping or just plain honesty? If it’s pure honesty then I expect Nikita to be back, because I think his contract is more than he’s worth and the Leafs need to realize that if they want to move on. The best course may be to free up as much space as possible to simply hit the reset button the blueline, because, as we saw last year, the defense just isn’t good enough right now.