You can tell by the title of this article just how thrilled I am to be talking about what the Leafs might do at the deadline. I just can’t wait to see which players they spend assets on, just to get a few regular season and playoff games out of before bowing out in the first round again like the bunch of jelly soft, heartless, ridiculously overhyped and underperforming group that they are. Yay!!
Of course, in order to talk about who they should get you first need to know what they need.
They need defense.
That’s why I wrote this same article but with defensive options, you can read that here:
Of course we need to speak about the forward group though. I believe the depth there is better in the sense that the team has Nick Ritchie as a regular scratch and could always turn to players such as Nicholas Robertson, Alex Steeves and Joey Anderson. None of those players can really fill the void if another big injury happens though, like losing John Tavares in the playoffs last year. No teams have players sitting in the wings that can fill that type of void, but I guess the point for me is, except for Alex Kerfoot, the Leafs don’t have any centres that can effectively move up the lineup in case of emergency and even Alex Kerfoot can’t really do it.
In fact, if you look at the regular bottom 6 players (David Kampf, Ondrej Kase, Ilya Mikheyev, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Pierre Engvall, Nick Ritchie and Kyle Clifford), it’s really only Ondrej Kase that has proven that he has the ability to jump into the top 6 if needed. Some may argue that Ilya Mikheyev deserves a shot this season, as he has gotten off to a terrific start after missing a chunk of games to injury, but he has gotten looks there before and simply hasn’t appeared to fit. The playoffs are far more hostile than the regular season (hence why they never make it past the 1st round), so injuries should be expected. If you’re going to make a deep playoff run you need a combination of two things: 1) the depth to weather the injury storm and 2) some luck, because a rash of signifigant injuries will crush you.
It’s for this reason that I would try to target forwards that can line up at centre or wing, can jump into the top 6 if needed and have shown the ability to stay relatively healthy.
Some of the players I will mention are going to be too expensive for the Leafs, as they only have 3 draft picks this season, so they may have to trade from their prospect pool if they want to make a splash. Giroux fits that bill. He’s likely to fetch a 1st round pick and a prospect, or possibly more. He’s definitely worth it though. At 34 years old it appears that age can’t slow Giroux down. He has produced 11 goals and 29pts in 34 games this season and can line up at centre or either wing. Adding a player of this calibre would likely mean demoting Alex Kerfoot, which would be a real shame considering he’s having a career year (26pts in 36 games so far). If he were demoted it would likely mean playing alongside Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds, which would only make that line more potent offensively, but it still seems like a waste as he has been a good fit alongside Tavares and Nylander. Of course they could always make a “skipper” line and play all of Giroux, Spezza and Simmonds together. Giroux and Simmonds have some familiarity with each other already, as they were teammates in Philadelphia for nearly 8 years. The thought of having three grizzled vets from Ontario, all over the age of 33 just terrorizing other teams bottom 6 lines does put a smile on my face, but Spezza and Simmonds are currently playing 10-12 minutes a night, while Giroux is logging over 18 minutes a game in Philly, if you’re going to spend big assets to get a player you need them to play big minutes, so the fit may not be there like I want it to be. The final issue is the obvious fact that Giroux makes over 8M towards the cap, so would have to be traded to another team first so they can retain some caphit in order to fit him in.
A lot of Leaf fans hate this option but I love it. Like Giroux, Domi can also line up down the middle or on the wing, but he’s more adept at playing as a winger. He’s having a great year in limited minutes (8 goals, 17pts in 26 games, 13:25 TOI/GP), which shows that he can produce when he’s sheltered. That’s good if you consider the fact that he would likely start with Spezza and Simmonds, as he isn’t a fit on a shutdown line with Kampf and Kase (Mikheyev is thriving there anyway, so why change it, right?), so will face off against other bottom line competition. It’s bad if you consider what I said earlier, and that’s that I’d target players that can fit into your top 6 in case of injury. If the competition gets too skilled he may not be as effective, so you’d have to hope that he either finds a way to pull through in that scenario, or the team gets lucky on the injury front. Either way, we know Domi is a massive Leaf fan, so it’s possible that he’d take a haircut to play in the blue and white. If that’s the case then you can start that negotiation early and you get a look at how he’d fit into your locker room and on the roster. Last point is that he wouldn’t cost as much as some players. Put your 1st round picks and top prospects away, there will be no need for them in this trade. If another team offers up prime assets like that you simply duck out of the bidding.
The return of Phil Kessel would be a terrific story, but with the depth of the teams RWers I don’t see a fit. However, as some point out, having Kessel on the team would be such a big story that a lot of eyes would be diverted away from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who absolutely need to have a major playoff season or else the team will go nowhere. Taking the spotlight off of the young stars may be exactly what they need. I, for one, say you should let the spotlight shine on them so brightly they get sunburned. Both players took a major chunk of the cap and if you want to be paid like a star you should make sure you can play like one when it matters, but I digress.
This is another example of beefing up the depth scoring. Kessel isn’t about to take minutes from Nylander or Marner and, like Domi, isn’t a fit on a shutdown line, so that leaves him playing with Spezza and Simmonds. He can carry an offensive line, that we know, and would absolutely tear apart the depth competition, so I’m not altogether against adding him to the team.
The biggest of splashes, adding Hertl would make the Leafs top 6 forward group the best in the NHL. The big winger has 20 goals and 31pts in 39 games this season and is a constant threat to score. He can produce at or near a PPG with good linemates and that’s exactly what he’d get in Toronto. His cost will be high, and that’s likely what will keep the Leafs out of the running (remember, they have 3 picks this year but they only made 3 selections at last year’s draft as well). It would be easier to forget the future and push your chips into the middle if your roster had proven any type of ability to play in the playoffs, but that isn’t the case so Kyle Dubas may be hesitant to go after the best forward on the market.
I’m getting way too carried away with players the Leafs can’t afford, so this will be the last big name I throw out there. Pavelski has seen a couple of Cup Finals but has never broken through, I’m sure he’d love another shot at that.
Even though he’s a pending RFA, Strome would likely be a rental addition. He needs to be qualified at 3.6M in order to retain his rights and that’s simply too high of a number for Toronto, unless they agree to a contract ahead of time at a lesser number. Like Domi, trading for Strome would give the Leafs an early look at a player that might be a fit longer term and one that grew up in the Toronto area (Mississauga). Since beginning his tenure with Chicago with 89pts in 118 games, he has fallen off by producing just 27pts in his past 66 games. It’s his pending QO and low production that could make him a cheap addition with big upside.
Honourable mentions: Calle Jarnkrok, Johan Larsson, Lawson Crouse, Chris Tierney