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 defese.
Any meathead that tells you they need a forward more than defense is ignoring the fact that this team is far too top heavy up front and that those forwards are the reason I’m so jaded about this team. Those top end forwards need to get it done and adding pieces to the 3rd line or more options at LW is ignoring the obvious problem, which is the fact that Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are hot garbage when it matters the most. No forward addition, not Tomas Hertl, not Jake DeBrusk, not Evander Kane (not that it would happen anyway), not Phil Kessel or Rielly Smith or any other name that’s been floated around the rumour mill will help to lift those players up and make them into the difference makers they’re already being paid to be. In fact, if one of those forwards managed to do that, if they managed to drag Matthews and Marner into the 2nd round of the playoffs kicking and screaming, it’s those players that I’d want to pay and not Matthews and Marner….. but I digress, that’s an article in itself.
The Leafs are currently tied for 2nd in the NHL in powerplay effectiveness and, surprisingly, are sporting a top 10 penalty kill as well. For years I’ve been screaming about the teams need for a penalty killing centre and David Kampf has been everything I could have hoped for. He’s been a terrific addition to the team and has really helped solidify the penalty killing unit. With so many other options, including Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase and the emergence of Alex Kerfoot to that group, the team isn’t suffering there.
The blueline is a different beast. With Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie continuing to work well together, it’s the 2nd pair that is in need of an upgrade. Some are questioning if Justin Holl is dragging Jake Muzzin down with him, but I feel as if the two players have each taken a step back. Holl moreso than Muzzin, but neither have been themselves this season. None of the depth options have managed to take advantage of the situation either. Travis Dermott appears to have topped out as a 3rd pair/depth defender at the ripe old age of 25, while Timothy Liljegren simply needs more seasoning, but still projects as a 2nd pair defender in the league. He’s been good when paired with Rasmus Sandin and the hope is that the two Swedes have a long, lustrous career in Toronto as a pairing.
In the meantime, if the Leafs could find a partner for Muzzin it could mean Justin Holl leaving town or being paired with Sandin. Timothy Liljegren could find himself on the taxi squad in the latter scenario, which is undeserving, but it could be a neccessary step to take in order to improve the group as a whole and ensure the team has the proper depth to compete down the stretch. Not losing Holl would also mean taking Morgan Rielly off the penalty kill altogether, as he is logging nearly two minutes a night while shorthanded, 4th most among blueliners after Muzzin, Holl and Brodie.
So, without further ado, here are a few options that are floating around the rumour mill:
Just kidding. He’s terrible. Pass.
Not a sexy pick but a necessary name to throw out there. He’s played top 4 minutes for years now, has some experience in all situations and fits the mold of a defender that can skate, doesn’t hit a ton and isn’t a top end shot blocker. He sounds like the defender we would expect Kyle Dubas to add if we’re being honest. The plus side is that he won’t cost as much as some of the other big names out there and with a cap hit of 3.875M, the Leafs should be able to get him on the team without much trouble if the Sabres are willing to eat a little salary.
My favourite pick in the early going, Braun is a veteran of over 750 regular season and 100 NHL playoff games. He’s a prototypical stay-at-home defender that is a pending UFA and he makes just 1.8M towards the cap. The Flyers are having a terrible season thus far, so they may look to recoup some picks/prospects to bolster the ranks going forward. He shoots right, which isn’t necessary but it’s definitely a plus, and at 34 years old he isn’t about to get many more kicks at the can, so it’s my assumption that he’d welcome a trade.
Stop with the pipe dreams, the Leafs can’t afford the assets or the cap space moving forward.
Arizona wants draft picks and the Leafs have….. 3… draft picks…. again…. for the 2nd year in a row. Oh dear. Lyubushkin is a 3rd pairing defender that is good on the penalty kill, so he wouldn’t cost a lot, but the Leafs don’t have much to deal with so there’s that.
In my opinion this would be the wrong type of defender to trade for, but I’m not the guy calling the shots, lucky for us all. Klingberg is a terrific puck moving defender and the only reason I’m adding him in here is because Kyle Dubas once traded for Tyson Barrie, while thinking that Barrie would be a terrific partner for Jake Muzzin. There’s a slim chance he could still consider a puck moving defender the best fit beside Muzzin and Klingberg is the best one on the market. On paper it works, in practice it hasn’t.
Potentially Any Anaheim Defender
At the moment the Ducks are sitting in 2nd place in the Pacific division, which makes it look like they have a firm grip on a playoff spot. However, all of Vegas, Calgary and Los Angelas have better point percentages. Based on those points percentages the Ducks are in a battle for the final wild card spot and that fight includes Dallas, Winnipeg, San Jose and possibly Edmonton if they ever get their shit sorted out. If they string together a few wins it’s unlikely they’ll be selling at the deadline, but if it goes the other way, and they rack up a few losses, then Josh Manson, who some Leaf fans have long pined for, may be on the market. He’d be the perfect deadline addition, as you want that type of gritty game come playoff time and his I-always-have-your-back attitude could really bring a team together. If not Manson, then Hampus Lindholm could also be available. If they’re willing to try him on off side he could be a solid addition next to Muzzin.
The bottom line for me is that the team needs an upgrade on the blueline and specifically the spot that is currently occupied by Justin Holl. However, due to the fact that the forwards are also trash, I’ll write an article on who the team might target up front next. Spoiler alert, I like Max Domi more than you and I’m not even going to apologize for that.